VeteranAid.org Announces 2016 Veterans Benefits Scholarship Winners
Editor's note: We are no longer offering this scholarship.
Three college students were selected for their innovative proposals to improve the lives of senior veterans and the benefits offered to them.
VeteranAid.org today announced the winners of their first annual scholarship program for American students enrolled in an accredited two-year college or four-year university program. Of the nearly 100 students who applied from 78 different schools nationwide, only three students were selected to receive the scholarship award.
VeteranAid.org is the leading free resource for information on the veterans Aid and Attendance pension benefit. The organization launched its annual scholarship program this year as part of an initiative to bring awareness to younger generations of the unique benefits and challenges being a senior veteran presents, while helping to fund the costs of higher education for the recipients, such as books and tuition expenses.
Winners were chosen based on their essay response to the question, “Give an example of one veterans benefit and explain how it helps senior veterans. Then propose your own benefit to help senior veterans.” Three students were selected to receive the $2,000 Veterans Benefits Scholarship award.
The winners of the VeteranAid.org 2016 Veterans Benefits Scholarship were Parys Alexander, Mary Biller, and Mingjie Feng.
Ms. Alexander moved to Florida when her father was stationed at the Eglin Air Force Base and currently attends the University of West Florida and is seeking a degree in Healthcare Administration. She proposed creating a Veterans Housing Act to utilize 50% of the currently available 42% of unused housing on military bases to provide affordable subsidized housing to military veterans and their families.
Ms. Biller is currently pursuing her degree in management at Southwestern College in Chula Vista. She proposed privatizing the health care provided by the VA at its many facilities.
Mr. Feng is a U.S. Army veteran who served from 2009 - 2013 as a 91H Tracked Vehicle Mechanic in 2/4th FA, 214th Fires Brigade, stationed in Fort Sill, OK. He is currently pursuing his Master's in Business at Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. He proposed a veterans benefit called the Veterans Student Loan and Pension Fund which is a mix of a retirement plan where veterans can put away money into a portfolio to be fun by a non-profit organization. The portfolio would then use that money to loan to student veterans at a rate much lower than private banks' market rate that also pays an annuity to senior veteran pensioners.
Response by Parys Alexander, University of West Florida
I am the dependent of a 100% disabled veteran. My father; after completing 27 years in the United States Air Force, receives benefits granted to him for his service. One of these benefits is the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The GI Bill, was made law by the congress in 2008. This law was responsible for the amendment of Chapter 30, title 38 of the U.S. constitution and Public Law 110-252. This policy expansion was completed to include a third chapter, which included an extension of educational benefits for veterans who have been in military service since on September 11, 2001.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill, in my opinion, is the most significant benefit to a veteran, his family and the economy. Veterans who elect to obtain the Post 9/11 GI Bill in service may have the opportunity to utilize their benefits in several ways that previous generations did not. Service members now have a choice; they may use their GI Bill during their service or upon retirement for a secondary education to increase their inter/intra service marketability. Additionally, members may transfer all or some of their unused GI Bill benefits to eligible dependents in order to attend colleges, trade schools or apprenticeships.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill ensures that service men and women (or their eligible dependents) can receive 100% funding for a four-year undergraduate program. This program is managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and is modeled after the original GI Bill created after the Second World War. The Post 9/11 GI Bill helps senior veterans through its versatility in utilization. This benefit affords not only the servicemen with the opportunity for higher education, but gives them the opportunity for their family to obtain a secondary education as well. The servicemen and women of the Armed Forces today train and operate on some of the most technologically advanced instruments that rival and or lead private industry. The Armed Services vocational and Professional Military Education are now accredited with colleges that award Associate level degrees which increases their marketability. Thus, having the ability to transfer the Post 9/11 GI Bill gives the servicemen and women the ability to cultivate a second generation of qualified and educated professionals that may contribute to the market economy rather that deplete it through social aid or be overwhelmed with student loans.
The GI Bill serves to promote a generation of educated Americans that descended from a generation of faithful servants to our nation. I propose the Veterans Housing Act. The VA reports there are more than 120, 000 homeless veterans in America, which have served in every conflict from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom. The VA intended to reduce this number to zero by the year 2014 through the provision of home support funds, but has not gained traction on this program due to the Global War on Terror and the increase in the veteran’s population.
According to the Eglin Air Force Base housing office manager, Mr. Vasco Milord, GS-07, only 42% of base housing is utilized on bases in the continental United States. These homes range from 1100 to 2000 square feet and are in a secure and controlled environment. The Veterans Housing Act I proposal would allow veterans to utilize 50% of the available 42% of unused houses nationwide. This would allow for the utilization of homes, and provide affordable subsidized housing to veterans close to a Military Treatment Facility (MTF). 45 percent of all homeless veterans suffer from mental illness and half have substance abuse problems. I believe that bringing these veterans back to installations and providing a stabilized structured living environment can serve to rehabilitate the aging veterans force and recoup monies that may go otherwise uncaptured. The funds that are used to pay for treatment facilities outside of the MTF and the retirement or disability entitlements paid by veterans for housing on the free market potentially could be reduced by 40% if moved back to installations. My proposed Veterans Housing Act serves to benefit the senior veteran with qualified medical support, financial stability, security and a rehabilitative environment that benefits the member and the economy.
Response by Mary Biller, Southwestern University, Chula Vista, CA
Someone who has served in the military for an extended period of active duty and may have also seen active combat is considered a veteran. Once you have either retired or been honorably discharged from the service you are qualified for many different benefits, some of which you are qualified for while serving. Senior veterans usually get the short end of the stick, in my opinion, in the usefulness and availability of these benefits. Since I am currently seeking employment with the military after my associates degree this subject touches me deeply and I am worried that we are headed in the wrong direction for our people in active service and those who have been discharged honorably.
When leaving active duty not all benefits are still obtained by the person who was discharged. Veterans will be able to keep certain benefits in the healthcare area that are termed as needed. The VA (Veteran Affairs) defines “as needed” as care or service that will promote, preserve, and restore health. Health care costs can most of the time be much lower than civilian health care but not always. Almost all veterans have to go to their local VA offices to get their required medical needs treated. A great part of being able to go to the VA is that the doctors and nurses there are much more familiar with the special needs of the senior veterans.
The downfall of being a part of the VA is that in these offices the lines and wait times are horrible, especially when compared to civilian primary doctor facilities or an emergency room. It is a sad commentary on the conditions that our veterans are put through in this modern era. People are being denied service and help after their selfless and heroic acts and this country has seemed to brush them under the rug, while the veteran is left optionless. We praise them for their service but must of us do not understand what war can or has done to them mentally, emotionally, and physically.
What really needs to be done to make such a simple thing as health care for our returning warriors is to change some of the politics and bureaucracy that ties the hands of many doctors’ offices that are willing to help. A law was passed allowing civilian hospitals and doctors to accept patients from the many overflowing VA’s. Some of them were so far from the patients and the waiting periods in the understaffed VA’s were actually leading to the deaths of our veterans. This law was known as the “Veterans Choice Act”. The next step in this much-needed help for our veterans is to privatize the organization. As it stands the VA is run by the government and it is a non-profit organization but as most of us know the government does not utilize the money made very well and incorporate it back into the VA where the money could do so much for the veterans. The pros outweigh the cons in my opinion when this subject is broached in debates. The government has done a poor job for the people of its great nation and does even further injustice for our veterans. Privatizing the VA and its facilities may take may years to completely accomplish but when finished I believe the veterans of our nation will be better off than they are now. Awareness lately has been raised to the normal everyday citizen and recent laws that have been passed are because of that. This law that was passed was my intended proposition to help senior veterans but it can always be improved by some of my suggestions that I just noted.
How is it that we as a nation, who is defended by brave men and women, would let them die without the proper medical care they need, as they grow older? When will enough be enough? The Veterans choice act helps to close the gap on the much needed help our veterans face but it is still not enough. Privatizing, awareness, accountability, compassion, and lesser greed would push us in the direction, which will lessen the deaths, pain, and uncertainty in the minds of our veterans. Spend time talking to those senior veterans and see how much they have to go through just to be seen by a doctor and you may know just a small portion of the anxiety and worry that our people are suffering through.
Response by Mingjie Feng, University of Maryland
Nearly every elderly veterans, survivors, and spouse are eligible to apply for an additional monthly retirement pension under the Aid and Attendance (A&A) program. This is a very generous pension money paid to honorably discharged senior wartime veterans with over 90 days of active duty service, and to their spouse either with bedridden disabilities, in a nursing home, eyesight limited to 5/200, or require help to perform daily functions. The up to $1,758 per month to an individual veteran, $1,130 to a surviving spouse, or $2,085 to a couple’s additional retirement income can make a huge difference in a senior veteran’s life. I think this is one of the best and the most beneficial program for senior veterans, because of how many senior veterans can qualify for it and because of how much money you get, for free! The qualifications are not difficult, so long as you don’t have a net worth of over $80,000 excluding car and home, almost every veteran can be financially taken care of by the VA under this program when they are old enough to apply. In 30 years or so, I can see myself and many of my old Army battle buddies surviving on the Aid and Attendance program for our retirement; joining the large number of Vietnam and Korea War veterans who have been using it today. While I think this program is very well explained through the website at veteranaid.org/, more can be done to improve the marketing outreach through Social Media networks, peer to peer, and other veterans programs like collaborating with the Wounded Warrior Project, Four Block, or even the program I am currently working at; the Veterans Curation Program.
The benefit I’d like to propose is what I’d like to call the Veterans Student Loan and Pension Mutual Fund. It’s like a merger of social security, FAFSA, and a hedge fund, but for the benefit of veterans only. College is becoming more and more expensive. Many veterans are using and exhausting their Post 9/11 GI Bills, just like I will in 3 more months. Having to end up borrowing over $100,000 for their Master’s and their Ph.Ds. But student loan can also be a very lucrative business. I am proposing a retirement plan where veterans can put away money into a portfolio to be run by a non-profit organization like veteranaid.org/. And the Portfolio will use that money and loan it to student veterans at a rate that is a lot lower than the private banks’ market rate. Enough to help student veterans save money, but also profitable enough to pay an annuity to senior veteran pensioners. It’s like a Bond mutual fund, that is at its core non-profit and with strict business operational standards. So, the more student veterans that take out this subsidized student loan and help pay for their college, the more money senior veterans will get back from the retirement annuity and live a better retirement life. I really like this plan because we don’t know how long the Direct Stafford Loan programs will stay the way it is forever, even the Perkins Loan Program is due to expire soon. Which will leave both regular students and student veterans at the mercy of private loan companies. This mutual fund portfolio program, aka Veterans Student Loan and Pension Mutual Fund, will not only help finance the education of tomorrow’s veterans, but ensure that there will be money to pay for senior veterans’ wellbeing even if Congress one day decide to slash the VA’s budget.
As a MBA student, I found it necessary and easier to show my explanation in numbers. So below is an amortization chart of how much one can earn by putting away their money into this Fund for a student veteran to borrow, at a rate of 5% APR for 20 years. With more investees and more borrowers, I believe we can expand this program to a size and influence not unlike that of USAA.
Congratulations to the Winners!