In-Depth: Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to support veterans pursuing STEM careers. Last Congress, Rep. Dunn originally introduced this bill to support veterans pursuing STEM careers. At that time, he said:
“Our service members should have every opportunity to succeed when they transition to civilian life. This bill ensures our government goes above and beyond to bring STEM career opportunities to our veterans. By educating more veterans to become STEM professionals, we help keep our promise to those who serve and also maintain America’s competitive edge as a global technology leader.”
After this bill passed the Senate Commerce Committee last Congress, Rep. Dunn added:
“With the surge in technology over the last decade, we desperately need more experts in the science and math fields. Our veterans are equipped to take on this challenge and many have already worked in the technology field while serving our country.”
This Congress, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) has also introduced this bill in the Senate as part of his VA Readiness Initiative, a package of several bipartisan bills that’ll ensure the federal government is already ready to assist veterans and fulfill its promises to them. Sen. Gardner’s VA Readiness Initiative consists of four pillars: Expanding Access to Services, which entails reducing regulatory barriers and promoting expeditious care for veterans at both the VA and in their communities; Encouraging Innovation, which seeks to leverage modern technologies and pilot inventive solutions to solve health care challenges specific to veterans; VA Accountability, which seeks to eliminate bureaucratic incompetence and preventable mistakes; and Empowering Transitioning Service Members, which seeks to promote veterans’ civilian career success. This bill is part of the fourth pillar, along with a bill enhancing the Boots to Business program. Sen. Gardner says of his VA Readiness Initiative:
“I’m thrilled to launch my VA Readiness Initiative and fight for the well-being of veterans and their families. The United States should always be ready to provide our veterans with the care they deserve. We must honor the immeasurable debt we owe to past and present military members for their dedicated service by ensuring there are tools and support to navigate civilian life.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), an original Senate cosponsor of this bill, adds:
"Veterans are the teachers, engineers, scientists, and inventors who will lead us to a brighter future. By encouraging veterans and tapping their talents, employers can better meet their hiring needs, and veterans can enjoy the benefits of well-paying jobs in science, technology, engineering and math. This legislation will help support veterans and their families transitioning to life at home and work – benefiting veterans’ families and our whole economy."
Veteran advocacy groups say that although many veterans leave their time in the armed services with practical experience in STEM-related fields, they need more educational resources for private sector work. In a blog post for Student Veterans of America, Francisco McGee, a Navy veteran, summed up the problem:
“All the new jobs are in tech. Roger that. So why aren’t more enlisted vets pursuing STEM degrees and joining the tech workforce? One of the major roadblocks is education, in particular the STEM prerequisites. For STEM degrees, the reality is that veterans have to start back at pre-college math, such as pre-calculus and algebra. The same is true with the rest of the sciences: chemistry, physics, biology, and so on. This easily pushes graduation past the standard four years allotted by the current G.I. Bill. On the one hand, this discourages many veterans from pursuing STEM who cannot afford that extra year or more. On the other hand, it encourages veterans to rush through a STEM degree, leaving them less prepared and less competitive when they enter the tech workforce. A plan to provide one extra year of G.I. Bill benefits to STEM degree-seeking veterans would alleviate both of these concerns for veterans, giving us the extra time we need to make the risky jump into tech… Tech companies like Google are aware that they don’t have enough veterans, particularly in Software Engineering. They want to hire veterans, they try to hire veterans, but they say that they simply can’t. This is because veterans aren’t passing their programming interviews, and if you can’t get past the interview phase then they can’t give you the job. Veterans aren’t passing the interviews because we don’t have a strong enough STEM education. My guess as to why is that they we’re trying to cram all our courses in before exhausting the G.I. Bill.”
This bill has one cosponsor, Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA), in the current session of Congress. The current Senate version of this bill, introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), has three bipartisan cosponsors, including two Republicans and one Democrat. Last Congress, this bill passed the House by a 401-1 vote and then passed the Senate Commerce Committee, but didn’t receive a vote in the full Senate. Last Congress, this bill had 10 bipartisan House cosponsors, including seven Republicans and three Democrats.
Of Note: At the end of 2018, the White House released a five-year strategic plan to promote STEM education. The White House’s report focused on advancing STEM literacy and work-based learning among all Americans and emphasized the need for education programs to foster greater inclusivity. The report outlined three goals: 1) preparing the STEM workforce for jobs of the future, 2) increasing the STEM workforce’s diversity, and 3) expanding STEM literacy across the population. It also emphasized the importance of non-traditional post-secondary STEM degree programs, such as two-year-degrees and apprenticeships.
There are other efforts to help veterans into STEM careers underway. The Forever GI Bill STEM Extension — which extends G.I. Bill eligibility for veterans in STEM fields for up to nine additional months or a maximum lump sum of $30,000 — goes into effect on August 1, 2019.
In early 2018, the Dept. of Labor predicted that roughly 2.5 million STEM jobs would go unfilled that year.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / DanielBendjy)