Keeping Troops Out of College and On the Battlefield

Earlier this month, my collegue James expressed his bafflement that John McCain wasn’t supporting Jim Webb’s expanded GI Bill. At the time, McCain hadn’t expressed a reason for not supporting the bill, but now he has announced why: he is concerned that expanded educational benefits would lower overall retention rates.

Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has suggested he would oppose a bipartisan measure by Virginia Sen. Jim Webb to expand college tuition benefits for military veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

[…]

But McCain echoed the concern voiced by some in the Defense Department who worry that the promise of full college tuition could entice many troops to leave the military sooner than they otherwise might at a time of war.

Webb has bristled at that criticism, saying a college education should be viewed as “a cost of war” that is owed to veterans. Webb himself, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran, used the GI bill to pay for his law school degree.

“There are too many people in the Pentagon who are seeing a good GI Bill as affecting retention rather than rewarding service,” Webb said last week on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

This seems to me to be a rather dubious reason to forego supporting this bill. A college education is the least this country can provide for those people who are willing to fight and die on behalf of their country. As James pointed out in his earlier post,

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.

I concur wholeheartedly with this sentiment. Indeed, one would think that a veteran like Senator McCain would do more to support the troops who risk their lives every day out on the battlefield. After all, they can’t all marry wealthy heiresses now, can they?

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Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Dale B says:

    For his WWII service my dad got a bit less than a full ride for four years at a state university. Thirty years later I got enough to pay for four years books and tuition at the same state university. I had to come up with rent, food, etc.

    I have no gripe with the GI bill I recieved. I got my degree and the better job that came with it in exchange for seven years of my life. To do any less for today’s veterans would be wrong. They deserve to get an education benifit at least as generous as the one I received.

  2. William d'Inger says:

    A college education is the least this country can provide for those people who are willing to fight and die on behalf of their country.

    B.S.! I am opposed to the G.I. Bill the same as I am to any wasteful government spending. In my opinion, the country owes veterans only two things (if applicable): service-related disability compensation and retirement pensions. Military service is no more noble than any other occupation that contributes to the good of the nation.

    For the sake of full disclosure, I served eight years in the military in the 1960s. I am a decorated* Vietnam combat veteran, and I have a service related disability. I accepted the G.I. Bill money when I went to college, so I have always paid for my disability medical treatments out of my own pocket. In my mind, the one balances the other when people play the “hypocrite” card.

    * Most people think all military medals/ribbons are decorations, and they often use the term incorrectly.

  3. mike says:

    Yet another reason why I no longer believe the republican party represents the military very well. If only a real conservative could be found to save the party.

  4. mike says:

    William – the problem is that the Army cannot get enough folks as it is and w/o adequate compensation (b/c let’s face it, the GI Bill is a pretty big benefit) things will get worse – supply and demand.

  5. legion says:

    Well William, while I disagree completely with your position, I truly respect your dedication to living by your principles.

    Washington, however, is a different matter.

    “There are too many people in the Pentagon who are seeing a good GI Bill as affecting retention rather than rewarding service,”

    I’d pretty much have to demand Webb produce one single person who actually held that opinion. Because even with the steady downgrading of standards to get new recruits _into_ uniform, the one thing the right & the administration have consistently trumpeted is our exceptionally high retention rates. This, even though educational benefits are consistently listed as one of the prime (if not the sole) factor in getting people through the door in the first place. So Webb’s comments would appear to be the exact opposite of observed reality.

  6. After all, they can’t all marry wealthy heiresses now, can they?

    Quite the cheap shot there, against Mr. McCain and Mrs. McCain, don’t you think? You had a good policy argument going right up until the end when you decided to get personal.

  7. Triumph says:

    A college education is the least this country can provide for those people who are willing to fight and die on behalf of their country.

    We should let the market decide. This isn’t like WWII where there was a compulsory military service. If the military needs more people, they should adjust their incentive structure accordingly.

    If retention is a problem, then it is idiotic to provide an incentive for people to leave the military. Such action is a waste of government resources in the form of training, expertise, etc…

    It is hardly surprising that a nanny state liberal like Webb would be wanting to waste taxpayer money in such a way.

  8. Alex Knapp says:

    Quite the cheap shot there, against Mr. McCain and Mrs. McCain, don’t you think?

    A cheap shot, yeah, but true nonetheless. Frankly, he earned it on this matter.

  9. MichaelB says:

    Just out of curiosity Alex, does “He earned it on this matter” mean that McCain is morally bound to support any and all increases in benefits for members of the military?

    Or is he morally allowed to exercise independent judgment?

    And either way, what specifically did he do to earn the cheap shot?

    Not that I have a position on this issue – I don’t know enough about the current benefits and the proposed changes to comment usefully.

  10. mike says:

    Triumph – I agree that we should let the market decide – a soldier could opt to take higher pay and forego the GI bill – I read somewhere (will have to look it up) that the Army spends over $20,000 on advertising per soldier it signs up – this includes ads, leases for recruiting offices etc… and this $20k figure keeps increasing, not just due to market increases, but b/c it is harder and harder to convince recruits to join. I can only imagine how much easier it would be to recruit if they added $10k to a new private’s salary and spent less on ads, race cars, bikes etc…

  11. William d'Inger says:

    mike, legion, Triumph – I think we’re all pretty much on the same page over this. What we really need is hard data. Does a cost/benefit analysis show the G.I. Bill increasing enlistment more than decreasing reenlistment? Since you never know exactly, somebody needs to run a Value-of-Perfect-Information analysis too. If it shows the G.I. Bill to be worth the cost, I’ll support it. My main objection is the concept that veterans deserve it out of the goodness of the public’s heart.

  12. Steve Plunk says:

    Heck, why pay for college for the spouse and children as well. It’s the least we can do. Let’s go ahead and buy them a car and a house. How about a big screen?

    You see Alex, a reasonable compromise must be struck on what benefits to give out soldiers. Now we can have a civil debate about what is reasonable or we can take cheap shots. I think our soldiers deserve the respect of a grown up discussion about policies such as these.

  13. Alex Knapp says:

    You see Alex, a reasonable compromise must be struck on what benefits to give out soldiers. Now we can have a civil debate about what is reasonable or we can take cheap shots. I think our soldiers deserve the respect of a grown up discussion about policies such as these.

    Steve, if John McCain had said, “I’m concerned that we don’t have enough money to pay for expanded benefits,” then I would have accepted that. I have no issues with that. That is perfectly understandable.

    But John McCain’s motive to oppose this benefit is, in essence, “we need to diminish economic opportunities for our troops so that they have more motivation to stay on the battlefield.”

    That’s just horrible on a number of levels, not the least of which is the smear on the honor of every man and woman who puts on a uniform.

  14. Bithead says:

    Quite the cheap shot there, against Mr. McCain and Mrs. McCain, don’t you think? You had a good policy argument going right up until the end when you decided to get personal.

    heh. I wonder if this argument of his got applied by the left as regards John Kerry.

    I’m not sure I share Alex’s probem with Mccain’s statements here. Should we or should we not be concierned about what effect our generousity has on natinal priorities? I don’t get that this is an issue of the bill being ramped up, but when…

  15. Alex Knapp says:

    heh. I wonder if this argument of his got applied by the left as regards John Kerry.

    An excellent question, as I myself cannot stand John Kerry (and didn’t vote for him).

  16. just me says:

    I don’t think the motivation for whether to provide better benefits should be influenced by how it would affect retention.

    I think the two main questions are-Should benefits be increased and whether that increase can be paid for.

    I think there is a good argument to support an increase.
    I think there may be a good argument that it may be too costly, but I also think the Federal government could possibly work something out to make what benefit there is stretch farther in various state university systems.

  17. mike says:

    Just Me – we are spending $5,000 a second in Iraq – this won’t change in the next few years – I think we can afford it – it is whether we are willing to pay for it.

  18. anjin-san says:

    So do we support the troops with words or with dollars? Seems to me that if someone is willing to put his life on the line for his country we should make helping him/her to get a college education and have some help buying a home.

    Its a win/win, don’t we want more college educated homeowners anyway? Well, apparently McCain does not… keep ’em poor and keep them fighting.

    We did manage to come up with 250k a month to pay an Iranian agent to feed us false intel, did we not?

  19. Michael says:

    So do we support the troops with words or with dollars?

    Surely a lapel pin and yellow ribbon magnet on our car is enough?

    After all, “Support” means never having to say “I’m sorry”.

  20. just me says:

    Mike I am not arguing that it isn’t worth it.

    The program hasn’t been paying enough to cover college for years. When my husband got out of the military in the mid 90’s his GI bill payments (through the Navy) wouldn’t have covered the full tuition at most universities. It was in the long run moot, because he is disabled and qualfied for the Veterans disabled veterans assistance which by the programs rules paid for full tuition at any college or university willing to accept payments in addition to paying for books and a small monthly stipend.

    But I do think the question of cost and affordability are worthwhile questions to debate.

    Also, there is still huge variation in college tuition payments. In state tuition in some states is thousands more per semester/quarter than other states. Which state should be used? Which is why I think if the program is going to be revamped it is better to negotiate with the states for a certain tuition payment amount and have the universities write off any difference (or use foundations or whatever to make up the difference).

    So, I guess my point is that I think the current system as it currently works is inadequate.

    I am not sure just upping the amount of the payments alone is the best solution. I think there are other ways to reach the same goals that may not be as costly and over the long run may do more to meet the goal of providing for a veteran to recieve a college degree.

    I do not think retention rates should influence whether or not the program is improved or how it is improved.

  21. Steve Plunk says:

    Alex, a closer reading of the linked article clearly shows McCain not taking such a position as diminishing opportunities to keep soldiers in the service. He states he would like to address improving opportunities within the service as part of the proposed bill. Your statement in quotation marks seems misleading.

    The evidence in the comments shows lefties eager to trash anyone who speaks of reasoned, measured thinking in this bill. Legislation should not be based solely in emotional arguments but in facts and logic as well.

  22. just me says:

    He states he would like to address improving opportunities within the service as part of the proposed bill. Your statement in quotation marks seems misleading.

    Actually this makes sense to me.

    Also, providing ways for active duty service members to become better educated while serving can only help the service.

    I know when my husband was on shore duty in the Navy they had a program that would pay for college tuition and books at certain area colleges. He didn’t have to do anything other than show he was accepted into the college and registered for classes to have the tuition paid for. I think he had to request reimbursement for the books, but not sure.

    I also know while he was serving the larger ships would have college courses taught by satellite. I don’t know if other moves have been made to provide more of these opportunities or not.

    Also there were several enlisted to officer type programs, but the problem of course is the military only needs so many officers so the programs are limited by those needs.

  23. Beldar says:

    Kerry married two heiresses. One free pass rule applied.

  24. Boyd says:

    All elements of military benefits and compensation, to include the GI Bill, job search resources for departing members and anything else you can think of, exist as tools for recruiting and retention. To believe otherwise is, at best, naïve.

  25. […] John McCain is right about naming our enemy in the war on terror, but I respectfully disagree on Veteran’s Education benefits. (Hat Tip: Outside the Beltway.) […]