Friday, May 16, 2008

Truth or Consequences - The Quest for a New G.I. Bill

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*.

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!


The New Englander said...

Army of Dude,

Thanks for breaking down those differences. I thought it was weird that those who opposed Webb made such a huge deal of the transferability thing. Thanks for bringing in the point about how 3/4of enlistees get out after the first enlistment anyway...I wonder what the figure is for officers (what percentage leave after initial active commitment?) I'm guessing it's not all that different...

It would be great to see the new GI Bill become law.

Anonymous said...

awww man i really wanted to send that!!! the military/government has me so irked right now i mean ok i know this is a silly issue bout how the marines (idk about other branches) didnt get dress blues after service. its like hello they have freaken earned that! i know its a silly issue but idk i know to some it would matter. and this Bill the Webb one deff needs to pass! right now my bf is struggling to pay for community college well working a crap jobs like night shift security (because thats all he could get after the military)the only reason to even consider the military right now from my point of view is thee fact its a roof over your head in this crappy economy *my mom got laid off on thursday after 28 yrs*.. (ok obviously if you really want to join the military go for it but they sure dont seem to be treating there men and woman all that well, or at least not what they deserve)

Anonymous said...

Just bring back the draft.

Anonymous said...

Well, some of us that were in Panama, Desert Storm, Somalia, Bosnia, AND OIF before we retired are stuck with the same crappy G.I. Bill that was offered in the 80's. I'd gladly go back to school full time, work part-time, and dedicate the next 20 years of my life if someone would pay for my schooling, afford me the BAH, and pay for my books. However, since I knew I was going to do 20 if I didn't get killed first, I had the Army pay for my B.A., before I retired. An M.A. would be much more beneficial to my wallet since I have to work full-time+ right now.

I'm not smoking you, but WHY should you deserve a free ride in the education system, if people like ME don't get it too? You went to war, and got out...Big deal. Wait until you get recalled like Colby Buzzell, and then, yes, you will have a right to piss and moan. So will I if I get called up again...

Alex Horton said...

To Anonymous - May 17, 2008 1:24 PM

I don't really understand the logic of 'I didn't get it, so you shouldn't either.' It hardly makes sense, but I'll say this one bit before I move on. Webb's GI Bill is retroactive if you served a day since Sept. 11, 2001, and the remaining part of the bill you used is applied to a scale of benefits under the new bill. If you already used the entire thing, then I suppose you're SOL.

The difference between you and me is I enlisted in a time of war, and it sounds like you didn't. I'm not saying my service is more privileged than yours, but different times call for different measures and benefits. Like I said, anyone who is a veteran of OIF or OEF would qualify for the new G.I. Bill. Besides, it's the time to update the thing to address the rising cost of tuition and living. It would've been great to see you get the educations benefits veterans of WWII were afforded, but they were reduced for a 'peace time' military. It hasn't changed much since. We are no longer a peace time military, so we deserve more than peace time benefits that are still made for an economy twenty years in the past.

Anonymous said...

The difference between you and me is I enlisted in a time of war, and it sounds like you didn't. I'm not saying my service is more privileged than yours, but different times call for different measures and benefits.

Yet you knowingly joined under the same G.I. Bill I was entitled to. Now you think you should be entitled to more because you joined while we were at war? When I joined in 1984, people honestly thought that we were going to fight a MIC (Medium Intensity Conflict) in Europe before the end of the 80's. If you consider that a "peace-time" Army, you might want to ask some others before forming a misguided opinion like that. You are clueless.

Alex Horton said...

I know when I joined what I was entitled to, but you are failing to understand that the system is broken and should be fixed. The economy has changed. My grandpa was paid $50 a month when he was in the Army. Would you be a little miffed if they paid you $50 a month, even in the 80s? It' the same principle: a system for payments of education benefits that has no relevance to the 21st century needs to be brought up to code. WWII veterans were rewarded with full tuition because they bared a cost greater than veterans before them. It was brought down after Vietnam because there wasn't significant risk in terms of sustained combat that dignified full tuition payment.

The expectation of war and ongoing combat operations are, I'm sure you understand, two completely different games. You signed up with the possibility of being in combat, whereas I was, as an infantryman enlisting in 2004, completely and 100% guaranteed to be sitting in Iraq or Afghanistan by the time my obligation ended. The difference here is the risk being taken that correlates with enlistment date. Should you be entitled to more benefits under the new bill even if your original bill has exhausted? As a veteran of OIF, I think so, but I don't make the rules.

When my grandpa talks about the Korean War, he told me "if we had your weapons then, there wouldn't be any Koreans left and very little Chinese." I'm glad he doesn't have your reasoning and let me know my CIB isn't worth spit next to his because I had the luxury of using better equipment, just as you imply I shouldn't get a better G.I. Bill because you got the short end of the stick.

brushfire said...

Not only do veterans deserve the updated good version of the GI bill, it is a good investment for society. The sight of homeless vets on the street is a disgrace and a shame on this country. Veterans often have difficulties finding decent work when they leave the service and a good education can help to set them and their families on the road to successful, productive, tax-paying futures.

Anonymous said...

When my grandpa talks about the Korean War, he told me "if we had your weapons then, there wouldn't be any Koreans left and very little Chinese." I'm glad he doesn't have your reasoning and let me know my CIB isn't worth spit next to his because I had the luxury of using better equipment, just as you imply I shouldn't get a better G.I. Bill because you got the short end of the stick.

If we'd had the same weapons in Desert Storm as we had in OIF, we wouldn't have had to do OIF either. Don't try to tell me what I'm thinking about your CIB either. You tend to get all smug when someone disagrees with you. In Desert Storm an infantry battalion had the same amount of firepower a infantry company has now. A battalion now has as much as a brigade did back then. I didn't get the short end of the stick by any means, but you are sounding off like the world is owed to you for a tour in Iraq.

I agree the G.I. Bill needs revamped completely, but how are we supposed to pay for it? Now that you're no longer in, I think you gave up your right to complain about it at the same volume as those who are still in, retroactive or not. That's my gripe.

I also think there SHOULD be a sliding scale, that corresponds with the level of benefits given by any full-service education benefit. Retirement benefits are like that, and so are civilian 401k's and IRA's. Most places vest you fully after a fixed amount of time. I was Infantry for 21 years. (MSG Retired) My ECIB which is my 3rd award of that, so it's got a couple of stars and is just another badge, like my Jump Wings with a star and a wreath. I'd still be serving, but frankly, my knees couldn't take it anymore. I only worked one stint in the S-3; the rest of the time I was a field soldier.

If they don't have a sliding scale, you will see more people joining for 3 ot 4 years only, and only for the education benefits. I personally feel the military has a very good benefits package, even for those who only do 3 years and decide to move on.

It's not a "If I can't get it, neither should you", but if that's the way you feel, so be it. Like I said; I knew I was going to stay in as long as I could, if I didn't die prior to my retirement, and I knew the G.I. Bill was a joke back in 1984. I took the Army up on their paying full tuition except for the books, and in a measly 9 years due to deployments, I had a 4-year degree from University of Maryland. Iraq sucked, and I lost a few good friends too while there, but I learned a long time ago that anytime you deploy, odds are, not everyone is going to be coming back alive.

You did a job your country asked you to do, and one which a lot of your peers refuse to do still. I'm glad you made it back in one piece, but don't let it go to your head. I bet your Grandpa would tell you the same thing.

P.S. I came across you blog doing a search on the G.I. Bill.

Alex Horton said...

I wasn't trying to tell you what you think of my CIB, I was using it as an example of your hesitancy to grant a new generation of veterans better education opportunities because you didn't get them yourself (in your words, "WHY should you deserve a free ride in the education system, if people like ME don't get it too?"), which appeared to be the only reason. You didn't mention the cost until now. And how would we pay for it? It's expensive surely, but it'd pay for itself just like the original did, where every dollar invested gave the economy 7-10 dollars and created the middle class). It should go into the war funding budget like it did. It's a cost of war, after all.

I realize some have had it worse than me (hell, I only did one deployment). I don't think I'm high and mighty for only doing the minimum enlistment. I couldn't stand doing it for as long as you, so I'm not trying to measure up or talk trash. Check the comments section on other posts. I can have a civil debate when the other party remains polite (telling me I'm clueless on the subject of military history when it's one of my well versed subjects toes the line).

Anonymous said...

If not for anything else, the economy would be fairing a lot better than it is now. This isn't an argument about we didn't get so why should you. This situation could have been prevented, if veterans from your days would have brought up this problem back then. This argument is pointless.

Anonymous said...

I have a question. Why is McCain getting 100% disability from the Navy? What is wrong with him? When asked about his health, in January of 2007, he bragged that he hiked the Grand Canyon "rim to rim" the previous August.

The Minstrel Boy said...

the old GI bill, the one i used after viet nam was one of the smartest things this country ever did. the investment in educating our service men and women was returned many times over. it worked like this. we went to school, and we got better jobs making more money. which meant we payed more taxes.

one doesn't need a college education to figure that shit out.

providing the opportunity to go to college after my service also gave me some emotional breathing room. after eight years in and three combat tours i was wrapped a bit tight for most sectors of the working world. hell, i was wrapped pretty tight for college. i got my BS, was noticed and offered scholarships for my masters.

yes, i gratefully accepted the help of our country in going to school. but each grade, each degree was something i earned. they didn't give me anything but a chance.

good on you dude. i liked your version of the letter best. i actually had a letter to the editor of my local paper published on this subject. it was cool.

good luck with your schooling lad.

Anonymous said...

" Anonymous said...

I have a question. Why is McCain getting 100% disability from the Navy? What is wrong with him? When asked about his health, in January of 2007, he bragged that he hiked the Grand Canyon "rim to rim" the previous August."

hmm good question, i know my bf receives disability for a bum knee and hearing loss but it isn't something you would notice on the outside and i HIGHLY doubt its 100%

B Will Derd said...

Webb's bill is insane and is a blatant election year ploy. I do believe that the monthly stipend should be increased, perhaps more than the McCain bill would allow, but to pay out over 100 thousand additional dollars on top of pretty fair compensation for 3 years of service is ridiculous. The level of compensation should be just enough to persuade just enough of those already inclined to serve for more noble reasons. That level seems to be close to what is available now, since recruitment and retention goals are being met. Higher levels would likely attract stronger recruits, which is increasingly needed. I say this as one who has served and whose oldest daughter has done nearly 3 full tours in Iraq and another who will enlist upon HS graduation. WE didn't make that choice because we expected anything more than what was promised and would be insulted if anyone claimed we weren't fairly compensated for doing our duty. We made the choice freely and fully aware of the risks and rewards.

Skip Rohde said...

Good writeup, Alex. Because of it, I just sent my senators a note telling them to support S22. They routinely vote the other way, though. Maybe we can dump one of 'em this fall.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect to the anonymous MSG, I got in around the same time (1987) got out after one extended hitch, burned up my GI Bill bennies as fast as I could (they paid for another BA and an MA; I already had a BA under my belt when I enlisted) and I say give these vets a better deal than we got.

I'm service-connected disabled, but thanks to the VA means-testing that kicked in back in 2003, I make too much scratch to qualify for treatment. Besides that, two years ago, the Democrats had to shame the Republicans into putting $900 million *back* into the VA budget that they were quietly trying to remove.

Add to that the facts that recruiting and retention are difficult (at best) during a shooting war and that we don't have sufficient manpower to do everything the DoD needs to get done and NO, I've got no problem changing course from the nickel-and-diming trajectory that spending on vets has taken over the last few years.

We need more recruits. We need to replace the vets who get out after only one or two hitches. And we can't do that by shortchanging troops and vets. I say give it to 'em, Sarge.

And Alex? When the new GI Bill comes through, go find a good college and burn those bennies up in pursuit of a degree, just like I did.

Don't make me have to come drag your ass to school. :)

grezelda said...

Bravo ....Behind you 100%

Army Sergeant said...

Man, I was SO ready to send that one off... ;)

Have you seen Jon Stewart's take on the GI Bill controversy? Awesome.

Also, the logic of "I didn't get it, so you shouldn't either" is blue falconing of the highest order. Look, if they even make the GI Bill alteration such that it only applies to people who join starting tomorrow, I will cry a little on the inside, but I'll still be damn happy for those of you who get it by signing up after me.

Veterans, soldiers and other veterans are your BROTHERS. Why screw your brothers, seriously?

Also, I will add, that it is in the national interest to educate people who have already shown themselves to be civic-minded and will use that education likely for the good of America.

Dragonscribe said...

Dude, I sure appreciate you taking the time to put out these thoughts. It is so freaking hard to get any information that isn't filtered through umpteen spinmeisters. Finding a guy who is articulate and logical AND writes from first-hand experience -- if anything else this good happens to me I'll go back to believing in Santa Claus.
I would be very interested in your thoughts on the HBO series "Generation Kill" which relates to the book "One Bullet Away" by Nathan Fick and the Rolling Stone articles and book "Killer Elite" by Evan Wright. As it happened I read Fick's book some time ago so I recgonized a lot of the events in the article and the series. I know that's about Marines in an operation before you got over there but your perspective is a lot better based than mine.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I was really disappointed about McCain's efforts - tho I shouldn't be surprised. The first time he ran for president I downloaded his voting record. :-(