Abstract: Does the GI Bill Support Educational Attainment for Veterans with Disabilities? Implications for Current Veterans in Resuming Civilian Life (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12154 Does the GI Bill Support Educational Attainment for Veterans with Disabilities? Implications for Current Veterans in Resuming Civilian Life

Saturday, January 16, 2010: 10:30 AM
Pacific Concourse N (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Alexa Smith-Osborne, PhD , University of Texas at Arlington, Assistant Professor, Arlington, TX
Background and Purpose: The political debate on entitlements of veterans has tended to shift away from the social equity argument with the elimination of conscription and initiation of the all volunteer force, associated with the erosion of the GI Bill from the original Servicemen's Readjusment Act of 1944 to the current Montgomery GI Bill. The status of the veteran with disabilities has figured significantly in these policy deliberations. Currently, the VA had noted a dramatic increase in the filing of disability claims related to PTSD since 1999. This paper reports a study of Gulf War veterans to investigate whether the GI Bill and related VA benefits and non-VA financial aid mediate the effect of service-connected disabilities on educational attainment for veterans. This veteran cohort is the group closest in characteristics to the current OIF/OEF military force for which a large, population base random sample was available.

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.