Search This Blog

Friday, September 9, 2011

Veterans, 9/11, and Community Colleges

A story in Inside Higher Ed touches on several themes of our book: military service, the role of veterans in American society, patriotism, immigration, and bureaucracy.

Blondene Leys isn’t the type to boast or complain.

Not about the fact that she’s an honors college student.

Not about the fact that she’s also a single mother caring for a son who is autistic.

And certainly not about the fact that, following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, she spent a year doing supply runs, maintaining vehicles and working with the infantry in Iraq.

“My main reason for joining the military was so I could get the college benefits,” Leys says. “It kind of changed after 9/11. It was more so about -- I guess it made me proud to be in the military and go to war, and all of the things that came with it.”

What came with it included roadside bomb explosions and grenade attacks on her military compound -- but also a small community of friends with whom she can talk about these things.

Leys is one of hundreds of students here at Prince George’s Community College who, as a decade of war winds down, are enrolling with the help of the benefits they’re entitled to through the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Depending on how long a student spent in active service after 9/11, and how many classes he or she is taking, the program covers up to 100 percent of veterans’ tuition and fees, which it pays directly to institutions.

For Leys, a native of Jamaica, it means that after being out of school for a decade, she can finally pursue a degree. Leys enlisted in the military a year out of high school, spent four years there as a logistical specialist and was in Iraq from April 2003 through 2004. But when she returned to the United States, not everything went according to plan. Instead of starting college, Leys gave birth to her son, who was later diagnosed with autism. She spent five years working and taking care of him before finally enrolling at Prince George’s in fall 2010.


The implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill has been fraught with complications, according to a Government Accountability Office report released in May. Chief among them is a lack of communication between the federal Department of Veterans Affairs – which distributes the benefits to colleges and students – and institutions, recipients and the U.S. Education Department, causing botched payments to eligible and ineligible veterans alike.

“Without critical program information, such as eligibility for benefits or how payments have been calculated, schools will continue to face administrative burdens in administering this program,” the report says. “Schools play a critical role in helping students identify and evaluate the various financial resources available to them. Lacking critical program information, schools may not be able to help students determine the best options to finance their education.”