The Need for a New GI Bill

Photo from UCLA's web article on the GI Bill.

For some reason, my newsletter from Jim Webb (D-VA) (email) went to my spam folder. This is his Veteran's Day plea for a better GI Bill for Afghanistan and Iraq veterans. I'd add that I wouldn't be opposed to backdating this to include Vietnam vets, if any of them would like additional education. Heck, how about education for anyone willing to perform national service? As Webb says,

The United States has never gone wrong when it has made sustained new investments in higher education and job training.

It would be especially fitting to make such an investment, given the fact that the "All Volunteer Force," and for that matter, the draft before it, is hardly an equal opportunity employer.

The Department of Defense has published an annual report Population Representation in the Military Service starting in 1974. The 1998 report notes that,

Analysis of Vietnam era veterans indicated that individuals of high socioeconomic status comprised about half the proportion of draftees compared to their representation in the overall population.

Interestingly, the reports for 1997-2004 are available online. Thus the last information is for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2004. The 1997, 1998, and 1999 reports included a chapter examining socioeconomic status v.s the general population. This is no longer the case. The 2000 report did have a chapter about representation in the army.

Webb's measure S.22 received a hearing in the Senate Committee on Veteran's Affairs on July 31 with no action since then. Bobby Scott's companion bill, H.R. 2702, introduced June 13, has been referred to subcommittee and there the tale ends to date.


Webb writes,

In terms of providing true opportunity and creating a level playing field among Americans of all walks of life, the original World War II G.I. Bill was perhaps the most important piece of legislation in our history. Designed to help veterans readjust to civilian life, this landmark legislation helped 7.8 million World War II veterans pursue a college education. The program cost about $14.5 billion (in 1940s dollars), and for every dollar invested, the government estimates that seven dollars were generated.

From political figures to Nobel Prize winners, the effectiveness of the G.I. Bill has been demonstrated by the broad success of those who benefited from it. As former Senator Bob Dole, himself a recipient of that G.I. Bill's benefits, mentioned recently during a hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, "It made a big difference. I think it's the single most important piece of legislation when it comes to education. It changed America more than anything I can think of."

We have an opportunity to enact equally important legislation today for those who have served post-9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan. On my first day in office, I introduced the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007 in order to provide our returning troops benefits that mirror those provided to our veterans after World War II.

In the current debate about how to properly support our newest generation of veterans, history has taught us that we must not overlook the great transformative power of education. This Veterans Day, I believe it is time that we commit to a more robust educational assistance program and that we provide a first-class education for the men and women who have served us honorably in Iraq and Afghanistan.

First as an infantry combat Marine in Vietnam and later as a full Committee Counsel on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, I saw first-hand the inequities of the Vietnam-era G.I. Bill and the difficulties that so many veterans of that era encountered as they re-entered the civilian world.

Under the current Montgomery G.I. Bill, designed primarily for peacetime not wartime service, a service member must pay $100 a month for the first year of his or her enlistment, in order to receive up to $1,075 a month toward an education up to a total of $38,700. The average amount a veteran receives these days is $666.67 a month.

This amount is insufficient for readjustment to civilian life after serving two, three, or four tours of duty, as many of our post-9/11 servicemembers have. This compensation is hardly enough to allow a veteran to attend many community colleges, let alone a traditional four year institution.

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, himself a Vietnam combat veteran, has since joined me in leading the charge in the Senate, in addition to 23 Senate colleagues who have signed on as co-sponsors to my legislation. Congressman Bobby Scott introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives, which enjoys the support of 75 co-sponsors, including Congressman Jim Moran.

The United States has never gone wrong when it has made sustained new investments in higher education and job training. Enacting a more robust G.I. bill akin to that of the World War II era is not only the right thing to do, but its the smart thing to do, in terms of investing in the economic health of our country. As someone who hails from the soldier-citizen tradition, I hold immense personal pride in those who answer our nation's call to duty.

Now as a U.S. Senator, I hope to put into place the mechanisms that will allow future generations of Presidents, Senators and Nobel laureates to rise through the ranks on a sturdy educational foundation provided by the G.I. bill.