This afternoon, approximately 200 other people braved the sweltering August heat to gather in the International Suite in Sewall Center at Robert Morris University for a special meeting with U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter and retired U.S. Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The purpose of the meeting was to allow members of the audience discuss various issues concerning veterans. About half of those in attendance were veterans, with those who served in World War II all the way up to those who have served in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After a brief welcome from RMU President Gregory G. Dell’Omo, Sen. Specter addressed the room, voicing his intentions to do what he can for local veterans. Both Specter and his brother are veterans themselves, and their father served and was wounded in World War I.
Before the members of the audience were given the floor, Secretary Shinseki stated that it was his goal to make the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) the “provider of choice for all vets” within the next five years. He also said that the new G.I. Bill is “as good as or better” than that of 1944—a bill that provided a college education for millions of veterans. Shinseki added that the V.A.’s budget would be increasing by 15% in 2010, which will be the largest increase for the department by any president in the past 30 years.
As the floor was opened up to questions, various veterans voiced their concerns over such issues as the lack of benefits, joblessness, and even homelessness among veterans. In fact, at least three of those in attendance were homeless vets themselves. As each issue was raised, both Secretary Shinseki and Sen. Specter responded with their intentions to do whatever was necessary to find a proper and timely resolution.
RMU has made a strong commitment to members of the armed services through things like the Yellow Ribbon Program, the Veterans Business Outreach Center, and ROTC. Earlier this year, the university announced its new Military Service Award, which will enable veterans who qualify for full benefits under the new Post-9/11 GI Bill to enroll tuition-free in any of the university’s undergraduate or graduate programs. We were among the first private universities in the country to offer such a program.