G.I. Bill Needs Updating
Wes 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 But the original GI Bill has become woefully outdated, to the point where the average benefit doesn’t even cover half the cost of an in-state student’s education at a public college.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