For more than four years the Post-9/11 GI Bill has given a new generation of Veterans the opportunity to pursue their education and stay competitive in today’s job market. As a new student Veteran, Steven Ferraro understands the importance of having that chance and using it to better the lives of his family.
After 10 years of service in the U.S. Army, Ferraro decided it was time to finish his degree. The OIF Veteran sat down with his wife, Roxanna, and weighed the family’s options. Leaving the Army to go back to school would be challenging, but Ferraro was convinced it was the right choice.
“Our biggest question was whether or not we could afford it,” he said. “We went over the kinds of benefits the GI Bill offered, did the math and made the decision to go for it. It can obviously always be more, but the benefits are a definite helping hand.”
With his family’s backing, Ferraro started making plans to end his military career and begin his new life as a student. The former Army Drill Sergeant had no idea, however, that he would become the one-millionth Post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiary when he applied at Middlesex County Community College earlier this year.
“I think it’s an honor,” he said on being the face of VA’s successful implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. “It’s not going to change much for me personally, but I do get that more people will be looking at me and what I do as a student. I can’t be a Cs and Ds student, that’s for sure.”
A LEGACY OF HELPING
VA’s Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs Dr. Tommy Sowers had already completed his undergraduate degree through ROTC, and was moving toward a Ph.D. when he had the opportunity to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2009. The former Green Beret and educator said he immediately saw the benefits of the new program.
“When I first joined, the GI Bill didn’t apply to officers or graduate school,” he said. “The Post-9/11 GI Bill was incredibly flexible, incredibly adaptable, and allowed folks like myself to take advantage of it. It’s ‘Dr. Sowers’ because of the VA.”
According to Sowers, a huge burden was lifted when he no longer had to depend on student loans to further his education. He says the change was “huge” for him and his family. “I just finished repaying the debt I accumulated prior to the post 9/11 GI Bill kicking in. Because of the Post 9/11 GI bill, over a million veterans and their dependents will be able to emerge from their studies debt free or with far less debt than they would have incurred.”
“The Post-9/11 GI Bill fundamentally alters lives for the better,” he said, “it’s as simple as that. Much like other programs that VA offers –such as home loans and healthcare– it strengthens Veterans in their ability to find work, raise a family and contribute back to society.”
However, as Ferraro continues his course work, and hundreds of thousands of others further their education thanks to VA, Sowers wants to make a point. Although the awareness and popularity is high because of the quality and generosity of the program, he wants Veterans to prove the importance of the program by graduating or completing their training programs.
“It’s something that Secretary Shinseki speaks to quite a bit,” he said. “It’s incumbent on those of us who are using the GI Bill to use it properly, and appropriately, to get the most out of this incredible benefit, and prove its worth.”
Ferraro agrees, but understands that proving a program’s worth can be a little different for the one-millionth beneficiary. The added attention, however, isn’t fazing Ferraro too much. The 30-year-old father of three said he already holds himself to a higher standard, and the pressure he puts on himself to turn in assignments on time and get good grades is enough.
“The discipline instilled in me by the military always makes me want to lead from the front,” he said. “If I’m going to ask my children to do well and get an education, then they need to see their father doing it too. I’m a big believer of doing as I do and not just as I say.”
Ferraro does have advice for service members who are about going back to school.
“If you know what you want out of college, and you’re comfortable with the cost of going back to school, then go for it,” he said. “It’s not always an easy choice, but if you’re proactive with getting your benefits and you listen to your VA rep., then you can go back to school too.”
For more information, read the entire Department of Veterans Affairs press release here.