Providing service to Maine’s 127,000 Veterans a University priority and a
critical step in addressing the state’s workforce challenges

AUGUSTA – The University of Maine System is lauding the largest expansion of educational benefits for veterans in a decade.

Signed by the President yesterday after it received unanimous support in both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 removes the 15-year time limit for veterans to use their educational benefits, effective for those who enlist beginning in January 2018.

The bill also expands benefits for National Guard members and Reservists, as well as dependents, and provides 100 percent eligibility to Purple Heart recipients who previously may have been medically retired before reaching the three years of active duty required to receive full GI Bill benefits.  

About 1,000 veterans or dependents using their veteran-parent’s benefits are enrolled at Maine’s public universities, which have increasingly focused on recruiting veterans and setting up supports and services to help them transition successfully from soldier to student.

Four of the System’s seven campuses have been designated Military Friendly Schools, with the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maine both earning Gold status and the University of Maine at Augusta being recently recognized by Military Times as a Best for Vets College for the fifth-straight year.   

Still, just 23 percent of Maine veterans have a four-year college degree compared to 29 percent of non-veterans, noted University System Chancellor James Page in a letter to the state’s Congressional Delegation urging them to support the landmark legislation commonly called the Forever GI Bill.

“The Forever GI Bill increases educational and economic opportunity for those who have fought for the very freedoms fundamental to public higher education,” Chancellor Page said.

“This legislation is not just the right thing to do for our veterans but is also necessary for the success of our state’s economy which will require 158,000 more workers with a postsecondary degree or credential by 2025 than exist today. Given declines in the number of students graduating from Maine secondary schools, engaging adult learners in higher education including some of the state’s 127,000 veterans will be critical to meeting this workforce challenge. National data shows that veterans who used their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits have greater completion rates than non-veteran students and predominantly earn degrees in the very fields in which Maine lacks skilled workers including the health professions, education, computer and information science, and other STEM areas.”

Camden Ege, an Air Force veteran who graduated from USM last year and now works for the school’s Veterans Services office and is pursuing a master’s degree, said he regularly hears from veterans who are finally returning to school and discovering they no longer qualify for benefits.

The Forever GI Bill will ensure that there isn’t a new generation of veterans with the same challenges,” he explained. “I think this is a great step forward in providing benefits to the right people. I’m most excited that this will extend benefits to more veterans, including Guard and Reservists but especially Purple Heart recipients.”

Maine has long led the Nation in honoring and helping veterans and active military members and that extends to the state’s educational benefits programs, which include in-state tuition rates at Maine’s public universities for all current and former service members or Veteran-dependents studying with the support of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits regardless of their residency and more recently, free tuition to members of the Maine National Guard.

According to the Student Veterans of America, public postsecondary schools like those in the University of Maine System enroll 56 percent of GI Bill students and account for 64 percent of the total degree completions, yet take in just 34 percent of the total GI Bill funds.

For more information about the services and communities for veterans on campuses within the University of Maine System, visit www.maine.edu/veterans.

A summary of benefit expansions included in the Forever GI Bill can be viewed at MilitaryTimes.com.