When reductions in defense spending forced the U.S. military to downsize three years ago, Amy Meuchel had to rethink her career.

“With the cutbacks in 2011, I was unable to re-enlist,” said Meuchel, a Standish resident and 12-year Navy veteran.

Fortunately, the Navy gave her a precious parting gift: a promise to pay for her college education.

Meuchel is one of thousands of Mainers who have taken advantage of student financial aid offered by the military through the Post-9/11 GI Bill and other military college funds that preceded it.

At 33, she is using the GI Bill to attend Southern Maine Community College. Meuchel, who serviced F-18 Hornets in the Navy and also worked as a cook, already has earned an associate degree in culinary arts and is now working on an associate degree in psychology.

The GI Bill pays for Meuchel’s tuition and fees, which she said cost about $8,000 a year, in addition to a housing stipend and $500 a year for books.

Meuchel still feels a close connection to the military and plans to use her education to help fellow sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines.

“I would like to focus on working with (post-traumatic stress disorder) veterans,” she said.