Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Staff Sergeant Nathaniel Rose, ARNG, North Liberty, IA
Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley and Members of the Subcommittee. I would like to extend my gratitude for being given the opportunity to testify at this hearing today. It is an honor to lend my voice to my fellow veterans and the ongoing economic struggles we face.
My Name is Nathaniel Rose. I am currently a Staff Sergeant in the Iowa Army National Guard as well as a senior at the University of Iowa. I have been deployed to Iraq and I have just returned from a deployment to Afghanistan in July. To help pay for my studies I currently receive the GI Bill along with state and federal tuition assistance. I speak based solely on my experiences in the Iowa Army National Guard and experiences of those that have served with me. I cannot accurately speak regarding any other branch of service or any other state’s National Guard.
I decided to join the National Guard during my freshman year of college, looking for adventure, but also for economic reasons. I come from a hard working middle class family and if I wanted to attend college I would have to pay for it myself. I did not receive many scholarships and I did not want to incur a large amount of student loan debt so I joined the National Guard because the tuition assistance and GI Bill would pay for my education. If it wasn’t for tuition assistance and the GI Bill I might have quit going to school or not have joined the National Guard at all. Joining the military is a very hard decision to make but the benefits one might receive help make the decision easier.
The GI Bill has been one benefit that I have come to appreciate more over time. When I first began receiving the benefit it was not a large amount. This was fine because state and federal tuition assistance paid for all my tuition and fees and I could use the GI Bill for other things. After two deployments I now receive a much larger amount because it is prorated based off the active duty amount and how much time I’ve spent deployed. The amount is actually enough, when coupled with my drill pay every month, that I do not have to work. I am able to concentrate completely on my studies, which any senior will tell you, is a hard thing to do.
I, however, do not have all the obligations that a number of soldiers I know have. I have no wife, no children, no car payments and so on. Many National Guard soldiers cannot go to school full time and take care of their family with tuition assistance and GI Bill alone, especially if they have not been deployed and receive a smaller pro-rated amount. This forces them to work while attending school. There is nothing wrong with working while going to school but for some soldiers I know personally they have had to stop going because they needed to move to full time at work, their grades were slipping or they weren’t spending as much time with their family as they wanted to. The Post 9/11 GI Bill has attempted to address some of these issues by paying basic allowance for housing to students. The only problem with this is that once again it is pro-rated for National Guard members. One solution to this problem might be to have National Guard members pay into the GI Bill like active duty members do. Another possible solution would be to put everyone on the same level and not pro-rate the payments. Neither of these solutions is perfect but they might be a good starting point.
Education benefits, to me, seem more complicated. If a soldier doesn’t sit down with an expert it’s hard to figure out the ins and outs of the benefits. The difference between the 5 GI Bill programs is not easily ascertained by looking at the website or reading pamphlets. If soldiers are better informed about their benefits it’s easier for them make decisions about whether they can afford to go back to school or not, especially those with families. The GI Bill needs take into account that soldiers do have families. They may not be able to support a family and go to school at the same time.
The National Guard has delayed my education twice but I cannot fault them for that because they are essentially paying for it. Also I believe that my time in the National Guard has made me a more marketable person and when my education is over I hope being more marketable aids me in securing not just a job but a career. The problem with this is how do I convey to potential employers the significance of what I’ve done, experienced and learned in the National Guard?
Resumes are the most popular way of conveying these things. Some of my experiences are difficult to put in a resume. If I put “led over 150 combat missions in Afghanistan” in my resume most employers would not understand the significance of that nor would many soldiers know how to convert that into a resume friendly statement. One way soldiers could translate their skills into civilian terms would be to get help from a resume writing professional. I could receive help on my resume from the career center at my school but I feel that they don’t understand what I’ve done either, so the significance of it won’t be conveyed in my resume if they help me. I’m lucky enough to go to a school that has a large veteran population, someone is always available to critique my resume if need be. Many National Guard soldiers are not that lucky and must either drive long distances or email resumes to more qualified help. Educating job recruiters or resume helpers better on the military may help remedy the problem, but it is easier said than done. I believe that by bringing in military resume writing professionals on drill weekends or by incorporating them more at demobilization sites might be the help that soldiers need.
I am set to graduate in May and I have been exploring job possibilities and what I am qualified for. The economy may be down but there is a plethora of job postings on internet job search sights, companies’ websites, in newspapers, etc. The hard part becomes determining what employers are looking for and if I am qualified. I have spoken to many soldiers since returning from Afghanistan and this process is the one that they are having the most trouble with. A suggestion that a fellow veteran presented to me would be to bring job recruiters from the mobilized units’ area to the demobilization site and recruit from there. Soldiers and recruiters would have a chance to speak about qualifications, job descriptions and even do interviews if need be. Even if soldiers did not get hired they would have an understanding of what employers are looking for and how to better prepare themselves for the job search once their mobilization is over.
Another cause for problems is that many civilian employers don’t know enough about the military to effectively hire or help a veteran. If soldiers can learn to effectively market themselves and civilian employers can learn more about the military both sides could reach a common ground so soldiers aren’t passed over for jobs and employers don’t miss opportunities to hire great workers.
I appreciate what the government and the military has done for me but I think more can be done to help soldiers, sailors, airman and marines. I have noticed things improving in my six years in the military, from drill to drill and deployment to deployment. There are many new programs starting up throughout the country and within our government that are dedicated to helping veterans which is a sign of forward progress. Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I would be honored to answer any questions that the committee might have. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify and thank you for all that this committee does for my fellow veterans.