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May/June 2008

The Time Is Right For A
New GI Bill

When Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) took office in January 2007, one of the first items on the freshman senator’s agenda was to introduce S. 22, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act. Today, 16 months and three iterations later, this legislation, a true GI Bill for the 21st century, boasts strong bipartisan support with 57 co-sponsors in the Senate, including 11 Republicans. Its companion bill in the House, H.R. 5740, has 234 co-sponsors.  The bills have the endorsements of the nation’s leading veterans’ and military service organizations, with VVA one of the first to board the bandwagon.

What would this legislation accomplish if enacted into law?  Under the current veterans education benefit, the Montgomery GI Bill, active-duty service members are eligible for up to $9,600 in annual education benefits over four years. The flat payment remains the same regardless of the cost of the school, and troops have to pay into the system to reap the benefits.

S. 22 would provide Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans—indeed, any veteran who has served after Sept. 11, 2001—with up to four academic years of full, state college benefits covering room, board, and other expenses.  If veterans go to private colleges or universities, they would be covered up to what the cost would be at a state-supported school.

“I see the educational benefits in this bill,” Webb said in a statement, “as crucial to a service member’s readjustment to civilian life and as a cost of war that should receive the same priority that funding the war has received the last five years.”
Opponents of this bill claim it will cost too much. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the tab would be $2.5 billion a year.  That is the equivalent of one week’s worth of fighting in Iraq.

Some in the Pentagon worry that enactment of S.22 will hurt retention.  That is just plain wrong.  Is it better for a troop to re-up and get sent back to the meat-grinder of war than to be afforded a chance at an education and a better life?

It is our hope that by the time you read this, the Senate and the House will have passed this historic legislation, and that the President, who always speaks so highly of the troops, signs it into law. [ Read complete article ]



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