Schooling soldiers

March 3, 2019 by Legion Magazine
VAC

Canada, military service and education go hand-in-hand. Every phase of a soldier’s training represents some form of education, of course. But that training is designed to build a successful army. What about preparing soldiers to succeed as civilians?

In 1916, Canadian soldiers fighting at the front and training in England began to ask for educational support in anticipation of postwar life. As demand grew, a government-funded initiative, called the Khaki University of Canada, was started (see page 28). By the end, tens of thousands of Canadian veterans came home with newfound skills and knowledge, in addition to what they learned about warfare.

Following the Second World War, with financial aid from the Veterans Rehabilitation Act, 54,000 veterans went to university. In the 1970s, the Canadian Forces offered low-interest loans for post-secondary education to serving members, veterans and dependants. Today, the Canadian Armed Forces continues to offer paid education plans for college, university and graduate-level programs. And Veterans Affairs Canada is doing its part too. But it should do better.

Launched on April 1, 2018, VAC’s Education and Training Benefit is designed to support veterans who want to advance their education and be more competitive in their pursuit of a civilian career.

They have to be honourably released from the CAF and have at least six years of service to qualify for up to $40,000, or have at least 12 years of service to qualify for up to $80,000. And they must apply within 10 years of their release date and attend schools that are on Employment and Social Development Canada’s list of designated educational institutions.

But the program has several shortcomings.

It does not offer a living allowance. This eliminates many veterans who simply can’t afford to return to school full-time.

It is a taxable benefit, which feels like a financial penalty right at the critical time when veterans are in a transitional stage of their lives, especially those who are holding down a job while taking night courses. It should be a tax-free benefit.

It is available only to veterans who left the military after April 2006. It should be available to all veterans.

Veterans must apply within 10 years of their release date (with the exception of the cohort released between April 1, 2006 and March 31, 2018; they have until 2028 to apply.) As the working world continually evolves, some veterans will need re-education or training beyond the decade since their release.

If education is the key to success, then the government should unlock even more classroom doors for those who have served.

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