Politics & Government

Pact promises help to soldiers in school

Numerous state agencies have joined forces to assist in the transition from boots to books for the expected influx of veterans heading back to the classroom.

This will be the first school year in which veterans who served on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, can receive tuition and other assistance under the expanded GI Bill that Congress passed last year. The benefits took effect Aug. 1.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and education, government and military leaders signed an agreement to support those veterans Thursday morning during a ceremony under the Capitol Rotunda. It was the eve of the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that were followed by the deployment of hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops to war.

The agreement calls for the partners to increase awareness of veterans’ programs, foster a welcoming environment for them on campus and encourage use of the new federal benefits, among other things.

“It is now our turn to serve our service members and their family members and help them reach their academic goals,” said Saint Martin’s University President Roy Heynderickx, who signed the agreement on behalf of Independent Colleges of Washington.

Timm Lovitt, state director of the Student Veterans of America, said veterans face a difficult transition to the classroom after multiple or extended combat tours, many while grappling with the physical and emotional wounds from their wartime experiences.

Lovitt, who served as an infantryman in Afghanistan and Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division, said he was pleased the agencies were taking these steps.

“The leaders of the state of Washington heard our SOS and have come to our aid,” he said.

Gregoire said the agreement demonstrates the state’s commitment to its veterans, and the education and vocational skills they receive will help it emerge from the recession stronger and better.

“It’s an investment in Washington state’s future,” she said.

Christian Hill: 360-754-5427