Written by Alyssa Walker

Veterans in medical school pay higher costs than in other graduate programs.

Last month, Northwestern University issued a public release detailing a shortfall of financial aid to veterans attending medical school.

The Northwestern Medicine study, published in the September 2018 issue of JAMA, found the US Department of Veterans Affairs covered a smaller proportion of tuition for medical students than it did for other programs. 

Despite the GI bill, medical schools had a median shortfall of $27,500 per year, or about $110,000 that veterans have to pay out of pocket. 

For veterans, only about 45 percent of medical school tuition is covered by aid, compared to 85 percent for law and 100 percent for MBA students. 

Stephen Graves, a fourth-year student in the dual MD/MBA program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and ten-year veteran of the US Marine Corps said, "This means veterans who deployed to combat zones or served on active duty since 9/11 will incur significant debt despite receiving the GI bill."

He added, "Medical schools could be using their scholarship dollars much more effectively."

Graves says that the disparity arises because medical schools are not as familiar with Veterans Affairs (VA) tuition aid programs.

VA tuition comes from the Post-9/11 GI Bill, a scholarship program for honorably discharged veterans seeking undergraduate and graduate expenses, and from the Yellow Ribbon (YR) program, an opt-in program that matches aid from a contributing program.

Graves explains that medical school participation in the YR program is low compared to law and business programs. "Other graduate programs are more experienced with providing scholarship support to veterans," he said.

He explained, "While the Post-9/11 GI bill is mandatory, there are no requirements for participation in the YR program, so it's not as consistent and contributes to the discrepancies in aid we found."

He added, "All professional programs should re-examine their participation levels and determine if they are adequate."

Graves also said participation in the YR program is not enough. He wants to make it clearer to medical schools that veterans play a critical role in medical education. 

He said, "Veterans bring a distinct perspective to professions and occupations. Research has shown ten percent of the US populace are veterans, and around half receive their care at the VA. With recent shortfalls within the VA health care system, all avenues to improve care should be explored, such as increasing the number of veteran physicians in practice and prompting policymakers to consider how healthcare education can enhance care for veterans."

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Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.
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