Friday, March 28, 2008

Because It's Right

Excellent article by Anna Quindlen on the need and moral obligation for a better GI Bill. Today's 'please read'.

It's hard to serve your country in Baghdad or Kabul. It shouldn't be hard to pay for college once you've come back home.

In 1944 President Roosevelt signed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act, commonly known as the GI Bill. It was one of the most visionary and transformative pieces of legislation in American history, providing free education for returning veterans. Its champions believed it was the moral response to the sacrifice those service members had made, but it also solved an economic and social problem. An influx of millions of unemployed and untrained men into the labor force could have triggered another Great Depression. But with 5 million of those soldiers becoming students instead, the result was the ascendancy of the middle class and a period of enormous prosperity. Every dollar spent on the GI Bill was multiplied many times over in benefits to the postwar U.S. economy.

The answer is no, but Senator Webb is the author of legislation that would help change that. His revamped GI Bill would cover the full cost of the most expensive public institution in any given state; World War II vets like Lautenberg and Warner are enthusiastic supporters, as are dozens of other senators. (Oddly enough, Webb has not been able to get John McCain, who received the ultimate taxpayer-funded education at the Naval Academy, to take a position on the bill.) The source of the opposition is shocking: the Department of Defense, whose leaders argue that offering enhanced educational opportunities to soldiers would hurt retention. Military brass apparently tremble at the notion that multiple deployments, starvation wages and inadequate medical care might not be enough to hold on to their people.)my em)

[...] That's half what is spent annually on recruitment and the cost of only a couple of days' worth of war in Iraq. But, more important, Rieckhoff says it's one of those costs he suspects the American people would support happily. "If the president stood up tomorrow and said, 'I need $2 billion to send vets to college,' people would be doing bake sales and carwashes across America," he says. "They can find that kind of money in the seat cushions on Capitol Hill."

The original GI Bill set the standard for innovative and audacious legislation. It was right in both senses of that word: the sensible thing to do, and the moral thing as well. And it helped expunge the shameful treatment of World War I veterans, many of whom had found themselves unemployed and destitute. The Department of Defense says it's a different era now, with a war that drags on and a volunteer Army, than it was when the GI Bill was first signed. But it's the same era, too. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that unemployment among young veterans is three times the national average. Already some Iraq vets are homeless and have substance-abuse problems.

Offering these men and women a college education is the least we can do. It's not free; they've already paid, in Fallujah and Kabul. If Congress wants an economic-stimulus package, this is a great one. A Topeka, Kans., lawyer and national commander of the American Legion, Harry Colmery, was the architect of the original GI Bill. He asked a question that is as resonant today as it was then: "If we can spend 200 to 300 billion dollars to teach our men and women to kill, why quibble over a billion or so to help them to have the opportunity to earn economic independence and to enjoy the fruits of freedom?"

I received benefits under the Vietnam-era GI Bill. $200 a month while I was in college and a loan guarantee to buy my first house. It wasn't very much, but I was glad to get it.

That was 35 years ago. It's a different world and we need to do a lot more for today's Vets than we are doing.

If it comes down to bake sales, don't swim for several days after eating my bagels.

No comments: