G.I. Bill Needs Updating

G.I. Bill Needs UpdatingWes Clark and Jon Soltz take to the op-ed pages of the LAT to urge John McCain to support a massive increase in educational benefits for our veterans.

The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, sponsored by Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), will restore the promise of a cost-free education to those who serve in the military. The original GI Bill transformed American history, providing education for returning soldiers. The GI Bill not only recognized our nation’s moral duty for the enormous sacrifices of our World War II veterans, but it helped create America’s middle class and spurred decades of economic growth for our country. Economists estimate that the original bill returned anywhere between $5 and $13 for every dollar we spent on it. But the original GI Bill has become woefully outdated, to the point where the average benefit doesn’t even cover half the cost of an in-state student’s education at a public college.

The Post-9/11 Veterans Act, which has an estimated cost between $2.5 billion and $4 billion, is common-sense legislation. With 51 cosponsors, including nine Republicans, the three other Vietnam War veterans in the Senate and former Secretary of the Navy John Warner, the bill simply updates what the late historian Stephen Ambrose called “the best piece of legislation ever passed by the U.S. Congress.” Yet, faced with unprecedented filibusters, it needs 60 cosponsors. As de facto leader of the party, McCain could signal to other Republicans to sign on to the bill and assure passage.


The White House has voiced concern on the bill, arguing that if returning troops are offered a good education, they will choose college over extending their service. This is as offensive as it is absurd.

First, it is morally reprehensible to fix the system so that civilian life is unappealing to service members, in an attempt to force them to re-up. Education assistance is not a handout, it is a sacred promise that we have made for generations in return for service.

Second, falling military recruitment numbers are just as serious as retention problems. To send the message that this nation will not help you make the most of your life will dissuade a large number of our best and brightest from choosing military service over other career options.

McCain has not committed himself one way or the other on this legislation, claiming he hasn’t had time to read it. Certainly, it’s time to make time.

Kevin Drum is right: “Updating the GI Bill seems like a political no-brainer. Even if it were a bad idea on the merits, it seems like the kind of thing that would get huge bipartisan support. After all, who’s opposed to a college education for returning Iraq vets?”

One could reasonably argue that this particular bill is too expensive or larded with poison pills but, surely, McCain is in an ideal position to take the lead in proposing whatever changes might need to be made to fix it.

An NPR story on this issue this morning noted that the original G.I. Bill was sufficiently generous that vets could attend even the most elite private institutions. Given how much tuition has soared compared to inflation, that’s probably not feasible. Certainly, though, a year of military service ought earn a year’s in-state tuition and books at a public institution. And it would be awfully nice, indeed, if the elite private schools considered a G.I. Bill voucher payment in full.

Image: The History Cooperative

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, 2008 Election, Congress, Education, Military Affairs, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. just me says:

    Seems to me this is a good idea. I know when my husband got out of the service over ten years ago, the GI bill wouldn’t have covered the full cost of an education, not even sure if it would have covered half. It ended up being moot for him, since he qualified for VA education assistance.

    And if cost is a concern, then maybe working with the states to accept certain negotiated rates for veterans under the GI Bill would be a fair alternative.

  2. Bithead says:

    I’m down with this, James. I think it worth it.

    The issue of course, is how to pay for it.
    Perhaps if we were to spend just a little less on direct payments to individuals… IE; Social spending.

    But you know how that will be reacted to by the usual suspects. As we will doubtless see, here.

  3. Geoffrey Wykes says:

    Before I got out of the Air Force two years ago, I invested in something called a ‘kicker,’ which was a one-time payment of $600 to increase my MGIB benefits by $200 a month. Obviously, this is the best investment I have yet made. It is also something that I had to hear about through a friend; had I relied on a government benefit description, I would have missed out.

    I was given other money, too, because I had filled out a FAFSA form. I ended up getting a rather substantial Pell grant. Perhaps we need to have some inter-departmental meetings here and find a way to integrate these with the MGIB process.

    As it was, MGIB allowed me to attend our local Community College for two years while living on my own, and now, while I won’t be able to live on it, it will pay for me to complete my degree at the University of Toledo, thanks to a delayed-payment plan through the Bursar’s office. It ain’t Harvard, but that’s still something.

  4. Michael says:

    Is this how McCain is planning on using his “support our troops” image in the general election? Everyone keeps asking how Obama will hold up to such scrutiny, but if McCain is going to leave these kinds of openings, I don’t think the democrats have much to be worried about.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Is this how McCain is planning on using his “support our troops” image in the general election?

    Saying “Yes” to something politically popular is easy. If McCain wants to say “No” to this but “Yes” to some modified variant, I can live with that. But his current stance is indeed baffling.

  6. sam says:

    But you know how that will be reacted to by the usual suspects. As we will doubtless see, here.


  7. anjin-san says:

    How to pay for this…

    Well perhaps if Bush had not lost nine billion dollars cash in Iraq, we could have used that.

    But given the Bush admins record of non-support of the troops, I doubt it.

    As for social spending, well of course! People like my sister in law who is partially paralyzed and has lost a leg should just learn to make to with less. There are plenty of perfectly good cardboard boxes that they can live in…

  8. Scrapiron says:

    Getting ahead of themselves aren’t they. Obambi has promised every American acceptance into any college they choose for as long as they want to attend. From freshman to a full blown doctor/lawyer, all free. Why would we want to pay $10 billion for it when Obambe will provide it free. Now run along home and let your next president do it all for you.

  9. Scrapiron says:

    Someone’s BDS is showing. Booosh has increased veteran spending by 59% in seven years. Has your income increased that much? Wrong question, has your welfare check increased that much?

  10. Bithead says:

    Well perhaps if Bush had not lost nine billion dollars cash in Iraq, we could have used that.

    Then again, given we’d have had a larger problem, had we not acted, your idea doesn’t seem likely.

  11. Scrapiron says:

    You people are letting Obambi down. He hiked in some foreign country a few days and now he’s a foreign policy expert. I thought some of you read the NYSlimes one day and became military/veteran benefit experts.
    Retired 22 Yr Vet.

  12. anjin-san says:

    Yea, that Bush. All about the troops. I guess thats why he is fighting to deny them mental health benefits as we speak.

    Then again, given we’d have had a larger problem, had we not acted, your idea doesn’t seem likely


    Bit, I am sorry. But you really are just a waste of time. I like to argue about politics, perhaps someone will come along who actually has something to say.

  13. Bithead says:

    Translation: I don’t agree with you at a foundational level, and therefore I have nothing to say that’s worthwhile. Do you really consider yourself to be of such import?