Educating Returned Soldiers

Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on Philadelphia in the winter of 2012, and for the first time in my adult life, I was out of money. I had just emptied my bank account on my tuition bill that semester. I walked through the deserted streets of Philly with a box of coins I had kept on my fridge – I was looking to buy supplies before the hurricane struck. The bill for my post-graduate education totalled $225,000 US dollars, not including living expenses.

That winter, seven years ago, was a tough one.

I chose to head to a US business school because I had a feeling that my service and skills would be highly valued. I knew that institutions and companies in the US coveted veteran recruits to a greater degree than they do in Australia. Graduating from a US school would provide a near-certain guarantee of employment, and two years as a student would provide time and space for me to recover from war service. I was exhausted from repeated deployments. My post-graduate education was an investment, but it truly saved me – I recovered well and found my way into a good job after graduating in 2014.

The path out of the military can be a dangerous one. Unemployment amongst veterans is five times higher than the national average, with a staggering 30% of veterans unemployed. The links between unemployment and mental illness are well documented. This ‘at-risk’ group is only marginally supported to educate themselves for the workplace.

The Career Transition Assistance Scheme (CTAS) allows soldiers who have served 12-18 years, regardless of war service, a total of $1100 in Career Transition Training, plus other minor benefits. To give you an idea of the training opportunities that will afford you, a Hairdressing Certificate III will cost you $12,350.

Contrast the CTAS offering to the US post 9/11 GI Bill. For US soldiers who served more than 90 days active service since September 10, 2001, educational benefits include:

  • 100% Tuition and Fee Coverage (up to the national average of USD $22,805.34)
  • A Monthly Housing Allowance (based on where the school is located)
  • $1000 a year for Books and Supplies
  • A One-Time Relocation Allowance
  • The Option to Transfer Benefits to Family Members

The original GI Bill was raised after WWII to assist the millions of service personnel that had to readjust to civilian life in the US. It allowed veterans to access college education, at a vastly reduced cost. It was an educational and economic success. By 1957, the Bill was estimated to have created 22,000 dentists, 67,000 doctors, 91,000 scientists, 238,000 teachers, 240,000 accountants and 450,000 engineers. According to a congressional study the Bill led to a “… massive expansion in higher education, but also helped expand the nation’s economy as a whole. Congress estimated that for every dollar spent under the GI Bill, the economy got seven dollars back.”

The inadequacy of the existing transition program has been acknowledged by Government and the CTAS review conducted in mid-2018 is an early step to addressing the issue.

My charge to Australian Government is to form, fund, and execute an Australian equivalent of the Post 9/11 GI Bill as a pilot program to the 2021 cohort of discharging ADF members. Ideally, the pilot program would include:

  • fully or partially funded transition education for members who meet active service criteria
  • a ‘search’ stipend for service personnel looking for employment or training prior to discharge

As we commemorate our fallen today, it’s worth remembering there are plenty more lives at stake in the future as veterans leave the service looking to contribute to society. Subsidising beyond $12,350 needed to become a trainee hairdresser would be as strong start.

At the invitation of the Australian Government, I am willing to volunteer 12 hours a week in 2020 to assist raising the pilot program – please share or respond if you would like to assist.

For veterans looking for employment before or after discharge, WithYouWithMe is a great job placement and training agency for Aussie service personnel. For MBA scholarships, the AGSM Military Scholarship is an outstanding start. The Wandering Warriors provides support, training, education and funding for service personnel and have a great network of companies that recruit veterans.

Sign up for Mark's updates & thought leadership pieces direct to your inbox: