DENVER — Colorado's military veterans are frustrated that after years of service to their country they often are treated like recent high school graduates when they enter a college classroom.
They arrive older and wiser but with no credit for the time spent and skills acquired in highly technical and often dangerous fields, said Travis Weiner, a University of Colorado law student who served two terms in Iraq in the Army infantry.
This occurs even though the military is creating a new generation of high-performing medics, nurses, drone operators, intel analysts, computer programmers, and logistics and mobilization specialists.
"You can't tell me that someone who has served overseas and learned to speak two languages is not qualified enough to earn college credits toward a political science degree," said Weiner. "It doesn't make sense."
That's why Weiner and law school classmate and Army veteran Karthik Venkatraj are lobbying state lawmakers for a measure requiring the state's colleges and universities to have a firm policy to award credit for military service.
Currently, credits for military experience are awarded at the discretion of each institution, said Megan McDermott, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Higher Education.
It can be frustrating, Weiner said, and many veterans quit college because they are stuck in classes "learning" things they already know.
Others don't even enroll because it requires navigating individual Prior Learning Assessment programs to find the most relevant classes, said Weiner. "I've seen so many really good, viable veterans who can offer so much, just don't even try," he said.
It's also a huge waste of taxpayer dollars, said Venkatraj, who served one tour of duty in Iraq. The average cost of training an active member of the military in 2004 was $112,000 and many experts say that cost has increased considerably.
Meanwhile, $9 billion in education benefits were provided to service members and veterans in 2010, according to the General Accounting Office.
"The taxpayer is paying twice for the same amount of learning" in some cases, Venkatraj said.
Veterans are two to three times more likely to graduate when they're given full credit for military education and training, he said. "Veterans are a good bet if they are given a chance."
House Bill 1004 would require each institution of higher learning to use the American Council on Education's recommendations on evaluating college-level learning acquired in the military and assigning maximum equivalent credit to student veterans.
Colleges and universities would also provide specific guidance to each active duty and veteran military student in selecting a program of study and ensure each veteran student receives the maximum eligible GI bill benefits.
The bill has attracted bipartisan support. It passed the State House by a 63-0 vote in April, with each representative co-sponsoring the measure.
The measure is now in the Senate. The Colorado Department of Higher Education is working closely with the bill's sponsors, said McDermott.
It's not surprising lawmakers are lining up for the bill, as they realize it will offer Colorado's 395,000 veterans a better shot at completing a degree, said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, whose son is a Marine.
"Our goal is to make Colorado the best place in the country for a veteran to come home and get some value for their training," said Michaelson Jenet, one of the original co-sponsors of the bill.
She said lawmakers were especially struck by the testimony of a former Army field nurse who was not awarded enough credits to continue her civilian career as a nurse.
"I know veterans get frustrated when they come home and find themselves just starting out with a group of high school graduates while their peers have already graduated college and are making an impression in their professional field," Michaelson Jenet said.
"We need to recognize and honor the knowledge and experience these veterans picked up in the military," she said, "and the sacrifice they made for our country."