Written by: Jared Lyon, EBV and EBV-F National Program Manager
On June 22, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly referred to as the GI Bill of Rights. This one piece of legislation fundamentally shifted the way in which veterans from Europe and the Pacific returned home. The Veterans Administration, as it was known at the time, was responsible for carrying out the law’s provisions—highlights of which included loan guarantee for homes, farms or businesses, unemployment pay and most prominently, resources for education and training.
Historian Milton Greenberg estimates that the original GI Bill enriched the United States by producing 450,000 engineers, 240,000 accountants, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors and 22,000 dentists. This feat led these men and women to earn the moniker of the “Greatest Generation.” Their legacy returned $7 to the American economy for every $1 invested in the GI Bill, a serious return on investment.
As the original GI Bill celebrates its 69th birthday, I want to reflect on what this landmark legislation has done for my life. I am a post-9/11 U.S. Navy veteran and the product of both the Montgomery GI Bill (Chapter 30) and the Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33).
My educational journey has been anything but traditional. When I returned home from my last deployment, I was lucky to find my first civilian job right away at Northrop Grumman in Melbourne, Fla. The culture there was welcoming and familiar; I was surrounded by veterans, had a security clearance and was immersed in a language of acronyms. My direct supervisor at work was a salty old retired Navy chief petty officer who strongly encouraged me to register for classes at the local community college. He said, “don’t wait; you earned your GI Bill—use it.” It was good advice and I’m glad I took it.
I earned an associate degree from Brevard Community College at night. While I was in school and working full time, two other Navy buddies I served with returned home from Afghanistan, moved in with me and did the same thing. We were each other’s support structure; whether it was over the frustration of being a non-traditional student or just a friend to share a beer with, we had each other’s backs.
After finishing at Brevard, I leveraged my connections in business to land a job with the Washington Nationals as their Manager of Florida Operations. I loved my job and life was going well, but despite the leadership abilities I gained while serving in the Navy and management experience from my previous job, I was still missing that “something.” I couldn’t help but hear Chief’s words echoing in my head to make use of my GI Bill. After three seasons in baseball, I decided to follow his advice and enrolled at The Florida State University (FSU) as a transfer junior to gain the civilian credential that backed up my professional experience—a bachelor’s degree.
I won’t lie, despite my experience in the military and the civilian world to this point, I was intimidated to start at FSU, a university of 40,000 plus students and a far cry from the structure and fast paced work environments to which I was accustomed.
The GI Bill made it possible for me to transfer successfully to FSU and removed some of the financial burden of moving to a new city with no income—and allowed me access to the veteran resources that shaped both my college and post-collegiate life. While on campus at FSU, I met other veterans like myself through the university’s Student Veterans of America (SVA) Chapter—the interaction, mentorship and friendships I gained from my FSU SVA chapter were invaluable.
Similar to how the original GI Bill fundamentally shifted the way veterans returned home nearly 70 years ago, the legacy continues with my generation of veterans. Were it not for the GI Bill and the encouragement I needed to attend school, I would not have had the credentials to serve in my current position as a national program manager at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF). Further, thanks to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, I am now nine credits away from earning a master’s degree in public administration from Syracuse University.
There is no telling where I would be without the GI Bill, but my education stands as one of my proudest achievements and I’m thankful for the opportunity to continue to pursue my dreams. Any hesitation I had about going back to school was quickly alleviated after I took the initial step and enrolled in classes. Through the GI Bill, it is my sincere belief that, like the generations of veterans that came before us, my generation will continue to improve and strengthen our nation and serve our fellow citizens through the power of education. My advice to future veterans considering the use of their GI Bill is the same that was given to me by that salty old Navy chief: don’t wait; you earned your GI Bill—use it. You won’t regret it.
Jared Lyon is a U.S. Navy veteran, a graduate of The Florida State University and the 2011 National SVA Student Veteran of the Year. He is now the EBV and EBV-F National Program Manager at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF).