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Steven Ferraro, a veteran attending Middlesex County College in New Jersey, was named the 1 millionth post-9/11 GIBill beneficiary on Friday. Ferraro served 10 years in the Army, including a deployment to Iraq.
Steven Ferraro, a veteran attending Middlesex County College in New Jersey, was named the 1 millionth post-9/11 GIBill beneficiary on Friday. Ferraro served 10 years in the Army, including a deployment to Iraq. (Courtesy of Steven Ferraro)
Steven Ferraro, a veteran attending Middlesex County College in New Jersey, was named the 1 millionth post-9/11 GIBill beneficiary on Friday. Ferraro served 10 years in the Army, including a deployment to Iraq.
Steven Ferraro, a veteran attending Middlesex County College in New Jersey, was named the 1 millionth post-9/11 GIBill beneficiary on Friday. Ferraro served 10 years in the Army, including a deployment to Iraq. (Courtesy of Steven Ferraro)
Steven Ferraro, a veteran attending Middlesex County College in New Jersey, was named the 1 millionth post-9/11 GIBill beneficiary on Friday. Ferraro served 10 years in the Army, including a deployment to Iraq.
Steven Ferraro, a veteran attending Middlesex County College in New Jersey, was named the 1 millionth post-9/11 GIBill beneficiary on Friday. Ferraro served 10 years in the Army, including a deployment to Iraq. (Courtesy of Steven Ferraro)
Steven Ferraro, a veteran attending Middlesex County College in New Jersey, was named the 1 millionth post-9/11 GIBill beneficiary on Friday. Ferraro served 10 years in the Army, including a deployment to Iraq.
Steven Ferraro, a veteran attending Middlesex County College in New Jersey, was named the 1 millionth post-9/11 GIBill beneficiary on Friday. Ferraro served 10 years in the Army, including a deployment to Iraq. (Thomas Peterson/Middlesex County College)

WASHINGTON — Army veteran Steven Ferraro is taking communications classes at New Jersey’s Middlesex County College, thanks to his post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. Without them, he said, getting a higher education degree would be almost impossible.

“I always wanted to go to college and further my career,” said Ferraro, a 30-year-old father of three. “When it was time to leave the Army, this just made sense.”

On Friday, Veterans Affairs officials announced Ferraro as the symbolic 1 millionth post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiary, marking the popularity of the veterans education program.

In a little more than four years, the department has doled out more than $30 billion in tuition and stipends to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan war era, military spouses and their children.

VA Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey noted that’s enough to cover the combined tuition bill for the entire undergraduate class at Virginia Tech, Ohio State University, West Virginia University and University of Florida for eight years.

The post-9/11 GI Bill was a dramatic update of the original veterans education benefit, offering a full four-years tuition at public universities and a generous living stipend to help young veterans focus on their classwork.

Ferraro said after 10 years in the Army — including a 2008 deployment to Iraq — he decided to leave the service because of the stress on his family. The education benefits made it “easy” to pursue a civilian career in public relations.

Troops who serve 10 years can transfer the benefit to their spouses or children. In 2010, Congress updated the benefit to include more vocational and technical skills programs and a host of online programs.

Veterans advocates in recent years have worried that Congress might rethink the generous payouts as the wars overseas wind down. On Friday, Jill Biden — who has been active in the White House’s Joining Forces military outreach campaign — said the benefit continues to be a critical tool for troops and their families.

“There are still going to be veterans looking for jobs,” she said. “This is the perfect way to help them transition to new careers.”

shane.leo@stripes.com Twitter: @LeoShane

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