Full Disclosure: Next month, For Service to Your Country, my book on veterans benefits, will be published. But this blog isn’t about selling books. Instead it’s about honoring those who have risked their lives to serve our country in the armed forces of the United States of America. This blog is a call to action in support of the Webb-Hagel-Lautenberg-Warner G.I. Bill, the “Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act.”
George Washington said: The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.
Two weeks ago the Senate, in a bi-partisan effort, passed a bill to expand the educational benefits provided to veterans who served at least three years in the military following September 11, 2001. The bill closely resembles the educational benefits provided to veterans returning from World War II. President Bush has promised to veto the bill, warning that it’s too expensive and would affect the military’s retention rate, e.g., soldiers will opt out of the armed forces to go to college rather than re-enlist. Last week, Senator Webb added a provision to the bill that would permit servicemembers to transfer their educational benefits under the GI Bill to their spouses and/or their children. President Bush, in his State of the Union address, also insisted that any improvement in the GI Bill must include transferability of benefits.
Many of us have parents or grandparents who directly benefited from the original G.I. Bill (called the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944), signed by President Roosevelt just two weeks after D-Day. Historian Stephen Ambrose said of the G.I. Bill, it was “the best piece of legislation ever passed by the U.S. Congress, and it made modern America.” This comprehensive bill, besides providing healthcare for returning veterans, had a landmark feature that transformed this nation, socially and economically. As historian Doris Kearns Goodwin explained, the education component of the G.I. Bill meant that “a whole generation of blue collar workers were enabled to go to college, become doctors, lawyers, and engineers, and that their children would grow up in a middle class family…In 1940, the average GI was 26 years old and had an average of one year of high school as his only education, and now, suddenly, the college doors were open.” In its first year, the VA processed more than 83,000 applications for educational benefits. Eventually 7.8 million WWII vets used these benefits in some form.
Historian Michael Beschloss believes that the G.I Bill of 1944 “linked the idea of service to education. You serve your country; the government pays you back by allowing you educational opportunities you otherwise wouldn’t have had, and that in turn helps to improve this society.”
America got its money back. For every dollar invested in World War II veterans, seven dollars were generated.
Today’s vets receive benefits administered under the Montgomery G.I. Bill. It was a program designed for peacetime, not wartime, service. The current benefits often don’t even cover the cost of community college tuition. Because the benefits are so inadequate, many returning veterans take jobs to support their families, rather than pursue higher education.
But under Webb’s bill, veterans in an approved program of education would receive payments up to the cost of the most expensive in-state public school, plus a monthly stipend equivalent to housing costs in their area.
The Defense Department argues that the Webb bill will adversely affect retention rates, by as much as 16 percent. But another government study reveals that better benefits will attract new recruits, by about 16 percent.
Three former Presidents, a dozen U.S. Senators, three Supreme Court Justices, fourteen Nobel Prize winners went to school on the G.I. Bill. Don’t we owe it to the next generation of soldiers to provide them with the education they need to lead our nation?