Troops need new GI Bill
Our country has not served its war fighters as faithfully as they have served us. Extended deployments, multiple combat tours, and high-profile outrages like the Walter Reed scandal and the failure to provide adequate armor have caused many Americans to believe that we are not giving service members and veterans the support they deserve. The new GI Bill proposed by Sen. Jim Webb offers a fresh opportunity to honor our service members and veterans, while also making a sound investment in our country’s future
The bill promises robust educational benefits to those who have served in the military since Sept. 11, 2001. The original GI Bill, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt near the end of World War II, provided similarly generous assistance, sending eight million veterans to college, in recent years, benefits have not kept pace with rapidly rising educational costs. Sen. Webb’s bill would provide veterans with up to four years of in-state tuition at a public university, as well as a living stipend tied to local housing costs. These benefits are comparable to the original GI Bill. The new bill would also meet private schools halfway in covering tuition above public-school levels — good news for talented veterans striving to attend the country’s most prestigious private colleges.
Not surprisingly, Sen. Webb’s bill has broad bipartisan support. One might even expect unanimous backing for a measure that would open up solid educational benefits to over a million and a half young veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Sen. John McCain, in lockstep with the Bush administration, has actively opposed this bill on the flimsy, patronizing, and ultimately unsubstantiated theory that it might entice too many service members to abandon the military in order to seek a college degree.
Sen. McCain and the president are wrong. There is no evidence that strengthening the GI Bill’s benefits would hasten a mass exodus among military service members who have chosen, for many reasons, to continue to serve even in the face of significant hardships. Indeed, rather than threatening troop levels, the Webb bill would significantly improve sagging recruitment efforts by providing a powerful incentive for talented, ambitious, high-aptitude men and women to join the military. Surely a measure calculated to attract promising young people — many of whom might not otherwise consider military service is a wiser recruitment strategy than a desperate campaign of lowering enlistment standards, sanctioning “moral waivers” and doling out cash bonuses.
The new GI Bill represents a powerful investment not only in those veterans who have served and sacrificed, but in our country’s future. The promise of educational benefits is the military’s single most effective recruitment incentive. Strengthening those benefits would boost recruiting efforts, broaden the appeal of military service, and foster a class of educated veterans — tomorrow’s civilian leaders — who have familiarity with and respect for the military. These returns would serve both civilian society and the military in the short and long term. And an influx of college-educated veterans into the work force would have positive and far-reaching effects on our economy
The annual cost of the new GI Bill is estimated at between $2.5 billion and $4 billion. While hardly an insignificant sum, this is less money than we are spending per week in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sen. Webb’s bill calls for a sound investment in our veterans, our military, and our country’s future.
Apart from its strategic and economic benefits, Sen. Webb’s bill answers our moral duty to support service members and veterans. “Supporting the Troops” should be more than a slogan or a sound bite. True support requires positive action and tangible effects – and in this case, it requires money. As President Roosevelt said of the original GI Bill’s beneficiaries, today’s veterans have made “greater economic sacrifice and every other kind of sacrifice than the rest of us, and are entitled to definite action.” After more than five years of one-sided sacrifice, our refusal to bear this burden would be a disservice to those who have served so well.