Policy Fellow Interview Featuring Michael Stinnett
Name: Michael Stinnett
School: Boston University, Class of 2016
Major: Political Science and International Affairs
Coolest thing you've ever done? The thing that most people are impressed by when I talk to them is the fact that I was a weapons instructor for the Navy for 8 years. I worked with and taught specifically helicopter weapons systems, including Hellfire missiles, torpedoes, aircraft mounted machine guns, and small arms.
Why did you apply to be a policy fellow? I became involved with the CSA chapter at Boston University when I first started school here. I was impressed by the level of commitment that everyone displayed towards advancing policies that would help Millennials not only at BU, but across the nation. Students were not just looking to advance their own ideas and beliefs, but looked for ways to help each other, even if beliefs and views were contrasting. I had the honor of accompanying our Chapter President, Abby Fletes, to the AGE Summit in Washington, D.C. this past January. I was overwhelmed by the number of students who had traveled from all over the nation with one common goal: to do what they could to better the lives of our peers, regardless of background or political affiliation. After this, I jumped at the chance to further contribute at the national level, researching various policies with like-minded individuals as a policy fellow.
What area of policy are you most interested in? As a veteran, I think it is important to advocate for veterans' issues. I am fortunate to be attending such a prestigious university after serving, but I am part of an extreme minority. Many veterans leave the service after having served their country honorably, only to find themselves facing an uphill battle alone, whether they are trying to find work, attend school, or simply receive the medical attention that they need to live a normal life. I hope to bring more veterans' issues to light, as many people want to help in general, but lack knowledge of the intricate details. There are many avenues in traditional education and politics to take to advance military and veterans' issues, but the two worlds seem to be on opposite sides of the fence.
What is your biggest goal pertaining to public policy? How are you going to change the world? Almost everyone whom I have encountered since leaving the military has expressed some level of interest and desire to help with veterans' issues, but lack an overwhelming knowledge of what they are or how they can help. I think the single most detrimental problem that we as a nation face in this regard is the complete disconnect that exists among civilians and the military process in general. I hope that through CSA and my future career in law and/or politics, the divide between civilians and the military process and veterans will be significantly diminished. Although there is not one single policy or issue that is more important than the others, if civilians can gain an overall understanding of the military process, the affects of war in the short and long terms, and what issues affect veterans today, we will all be better off and can start addressing the issues one by one.
If you could get any policy passed what would it be? If I could get any policy passed, regardless of feasibility, then I would change the availability and payment rates for the GI Bill. Whenever I talk to someone new and tell them my story, they are briefly content to know that after serving 8 years in the military, at least I am attending school for free. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The GI Bill only pays “in-state” tuition rates for public universities, regardless if the university considers the veteran an “in-state” student or not. The veteran must pay the difference. For private universities, such as my current university, Boston University, veterans are awarded a flat rate of $18,077.50 (2013). Unfortunately for myself and others, tuition for these universities can exceed $50,000. If I didn't have the luxury of having a family member who was able to co-sign a student loan for my entire Spring semester tuition ($25,000), I don't know where I would be right now, but I wouldn't be in school. Programs such as the Yellow Ribbon Program can help some veterans in this situation, but they are not mandatory and many, such as myself, are left out. Even if I had attended a public university, the tuition may have been cheaper, but still not covered 100%. As members of the military, we go wherever we are told, often with little notice. Many veterans can say they have been stationed all over the nation and world, only to be told they don't fit the criteria for an “in-state” student, and subsequently have to dive into debt to fund the sole purpose they joined the military for in the first place: a college education. Because tax-payers aren't involved in the military process or veteran policies, they assume we are taken care of, one of the few areas that they actually don't mind paying taxes towards; sadly, that is not always the case. As veterans, we are accustomed to striving to be the best, so naturally, we try to attend the best universities that we can, only to be told to aim lower because of the price tag. Since education is a positive externality, and veterans attend school thanks to, in large, tax-payer funds, shouldn't we aim to attend the best universities possible, if nothing but to give the tax-payers the best return for their money? If I could enact one policy, veterans would be able to attend any university or vocational training for free for a full four years. If we as a nation can't afford our veterans, then we can't afford war in the first place.