Jared Lyon remembers his first Student Veterans of America conference when he, then an SVA chapter president from Florida, and about 350 other veterans met at Georgetown University in 2010.
“I could just see all the potential in the world for student veterans to have the opportunity have a national network,” he said, recalling the organization’s early days — before he was its president and CEO addressing an audience of nearly 2,000 Friday at a Marriott resort ballroom in San Antonio.
Now celebrating its 10th year, SVA has grown to the largest chapter-based student organization in the country, Lyon said. The nonprofit, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has 1,500 chapters in all 50 states and four countries, representing 700,000 of the 1.1 million student veterans in higher education.
“We are living proof that if anyone ever looks at you and says college is not for veterans or they don’t belong there, they are wrong,” he said.
Lyon lauded his team’s 2017 National Veteran Education Success Tracker research project, which found that overall, veterans perform better in college than their comparable civilian peers. Veterans have higher GPAs and better success rates than their nonveteran counterparts, and educated veterans also have higher salaries upon college completion, according to the report.
SVA also recently helped lead a team of advocates on Capitol Hill, who lobbied for a large expansion of GI Bill benefits for post-9/11 service members and veterans that came to fruition in a landmark piece of legislation affectionately known as the “Forever GI Bill.”
And there are more changes to come in 2018, Lyon said. SVA has begun tackling the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, currently in Congress. Its staff is also working toward securing greater representation for economic opportunity programs at the Veterans Affairs Department and working with the Defense Department to overhaul its Transition Assistance Program, or TAPS.
“The next 10 years is up to all of us,” he told the audience. “It is your obligation to take command of what’s to come and to together define our future.”