When I heard about the new G.I. Bill some time ago, I thought it was too good to be true. With the pitiful peacetime, 80s era education benefits being offered to veterans today, it seemed a far cry to see those benefits improve drastically to assist those who, you know, did the heavy lifting for this country for the past seven years and counting. I've been following this development for some time now, writing this piece for Vet Voice and later this little thing.
The good news is the revamped G.I. Bill cleared the House by an overwhelming vote of 256-166. Here's a handy list of who voted for and against it, so when supporting America's troops is quantified, you can see who gave a big, sleazy meh.
The good news doesn't stop there! McCain-Graham's cowardly, toothless version of the G.I. Bill was struck down with great vengeance and furious anger as it tried to sneak in before the Memorial Day break.
But you might ask me, "Alex, what's the difference between all these bills? Can't we just have the best one?" Well, here's a comparison of the current G.I. Bill, McCain-Graham's version and Webb's version.
Current G.I. Bill
$1,200 nonrefundable contribution from the first year of a soldier's paycheck
Maximum benefits of $1,100 per month for a total of $39,600 (Reservists and National Guardsmen get a fraction of that)
A time frame of ten years to use the benefits
McCain-Graham's G.I. Bill (S. 2938 - The Enhancement of Recruitment, Retention, and Readjustment Through Education Act)
Twelve years of service for maximum benefits of $2,000 a month, six years yields $1,500. This figure is fixed and does not address rising tuition
Touted transferability to veteran's family members (this has been a feature of the G.I. Bill since 2002)
Around fifteen Senate cosponsors (just conservatives)
Webb's G.I. Bill (S. 22 - the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act)
Complete tuition costs after three years of service, with benefits maxed out at the most expensive public school in the veteran's state. Costs will cover a private school if a compromise is met with the school and student
A monthly living stipend equal to a married E-5 living in the area (that's BAH for you veterans)
Books and other costs are completely taken care of
58 Senate cosponsors and strong bipartisan support
Does it come to any surprise the Pentagon and Bush administration adamantly oppose Webb's proposal, which is clearly the best? Here's their take from a press conference a couple of weeks ago:
You know, we are mostly concerned with the harm it would do to troop retention. We have no issue with the fact that Senator Webb wishes to, you know, provide a more generous education benefit to troops, but we are certainly concerned that this would be eligible to them after only two years of service.
We think pegging it to a longer period of service -- the number we have in mind at this point is six years of service -- that the longer you stay in, the sweeter the benefits are to you. Six years would show a commitment to service. In fact, it would allow for at least, at that point, one reenlistment for another tour of duty. And having done that, we believe that they should certainly have the ability to transfer their unused education benefits to their spouse or to their children, and that we believe to be very family friendly and would also enhance retention among our troops. The last thing we want to do is provide a benefit -- or last thing we want to do is create a situation in which we are losing our men and women who we have worked so hard to train.
Translation: Three years (minimum enlistment time) doesn't cut it for sacrifice and commitment anymore, only a reenlistment at the very least.
It is definitely not the Pentagon's job to define commitment to service in terms of years. One infantryman could deploy twice in three years and get separated for PTSD (or their new favorite, adjustment disorder), and a desk jockey could never deploy in six. According to those tucked safely away in the Pentagon, the guy riding the desk deserves more benefits than the grunt with a messed up head. A sliding scale of education payments is a disgrace and insult, attempting to hold hostage as many people as possible until they reach the finish line of 6-12 years.
There's an obvious philosophical difference between Webb's bill and McCain-Graham's bill. Webb's bill recognizes service after 9/11 as an honorable commitment because it meant volunteering in a time of war. Just that act garners recognition and education benefits that every service member is entitled to. It's aware that almost three quarters of enlisted personnel separate after their first enlistment, so increasing benefits will not do much to hinder the size of our forces. It also recognizes that education is a direct cost of war, just like beans, bullets and bombers. It's vital for reintegrating back into a society that the soldier risked their life for.
McCain-Graham's bill is a bit different. It pushes aside the fact that most people want to get out after their first enlistment is up. It aims to recreate separate-but equal standards by awarding those who stay in the service and punishing those who get out. It has a fixed level of monthly payments that does nothing to address rising tuition, whereas Webb's version is dynamically set to change as tuition inevitably goes up. It completely ignores how compelling Webb's bill would be in terms for first time enlistees. In the internet age, any would-be recruit can easily look at the current G.I. Bill to see how inadequate it is. Or I can do it for you. For those interested in getting college money by joining the military, you won't be getting much. Sorry to break it to you. But if Webb's G.I. Bill passes, you won't have to worry about deciding between food or school once you get out of the military. Education benefits is the number one reason people enlist in the military. Only a fraction go on to multiple enlistments, so the military isn't losing anyone they wouldn't lose anyway. Those scare tactics about rising benefits dealing a blow to retention are completely without merit, and I'm not the only one who thinks so.
This will all come to a head next week when the bill goes onto the Senate floor. In the meantime, go here to see if your senators are on board. If not, call or email them and ask why they're against giving our veterans what they need.
I've written my own form letter you can copy and send to your own senator*.
Dude, it has come to my attention that you are not currently a cosponsor for S. 22, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act. To which I ask a succinct question: what the hell? Veterans of the war of Iraq and Afghanistan, if only a small number of your constituents, deserve your attention and approval of this vital bill for education assistance. Luckily, only a small number of you were tricked by the introduction of S. 2938, Senator Graham's pathetic shadow of S. 22. Congratulations for knowing the difference between a bill and an insult! But we need more from you. Please, pretty please, at least two of you add your names and realize what it means to really support the troops. Tomorrow's doctors, lawyers, firefighters and lobbyists are waiting for their education to be secured. I know you can't deal without any of those groups! Thank you for your time.
*Please don't send this to any public official. They deserve respect!