Methods: A secondary data analysis of the 2001 National Survey of Veterans for 2075 Gulf War-era veterans was conducted to investigate whether the GI Bill, considered as a social welfare policy, demonstrated protective effects for veterans with disabilities in terms of successful re-entry and sustained enrollment in higher education. Regression analyses to test the mediation effects of use of the GI Bill, use of non-VA financial aid, and use of VA health services suggested mediation effects. An alternative multiple mediator model using bootstrapping strategies yielded significant results.
Results: An initial regression analysis examining the association of VA policies and non-VA financial aid as potential protective factors with life time educational attainment was performed. The policies were the GI Bill applied to postsecondary education, VA treatment for mental health and substance abuse conditions, and non-VA financial aid for college. The model was significant (F = 14.99; p<.0005), but accounted for only 18% of the variance in education attainment, with the two forms of financial aid being the significant predictors. Analysis of this and an alternative multiple mediator model using bootstrapping strategies (the final model was significant: CI = .0001-.0048) for assessing indirect effects suggested that total and nonlabor income and social support, not the GI Bill, mediate the effects of disability on educational attainment among this population.
Conclusions and Implications: Implications for policies to support this population's access to and success in post-secondary institutions are highlighted. This study's implications for educational access are parallel: for this population, the availability of the GI Bill is not sufficient to support their access to higher education without effective collateral social and income support systems. It is possible that the more generous provisions of the post 9/11 GI Bill, to be implemented in August, 2009, may function as a more protective factor for the OIF/OEF veterans with disabilities than the Montgomery GI Bill for the study's sample of Gulf War veterans. However, the literature on the higher education experience of non-veteran populations with disabilities similar to the signature conditions of the current wars suggests that more intensive and multidimensional assistive services may be required.