Hardly anything escapes the politicians waging war these days. While our dedicated troops are waging life and death war on our behalf in Iraq, Afghanistan and dozens of other less-well-known places around the world, our elected leaders are engaging in political war on dozens of issues.
One might think that ensuring our currently serving troops deserve the benefits of a G.I. Bill to further their education would be a no-brainer. And I guess it is. However, in a hotly contested political year when nothing is sacred, the two parties are squaring off on just how much and how soon it is appropriate to grant G.I. Bill privileges to our troops.
Few, if any, would dispute the incredible benefits to our nation that resulted from the G.I. Bill following World War II. In the late 1940s, colleges and universities across the country had a high percentage of their students benefiting from arguably this nation’s finest “thank you” program for returning veterans. In later years, entrepreneurs, academics, CEOs, small business owners, etc., would remark that the G.I. Bill was the reason for their successes in life.
Most of these veterans had served from one to four years on active duty. Mostly they were engaged in horrific campaigns where many of their buddies did not return alive to benefit from the G. I. Bill. Today, some members of Congress note that those vets only had a few years of wartime service before they received the benefits of a G.I. Bill. Therefore, they argue we should grant today’s serving members an updated and more generous bill after just three years of active service.
Other members of Congress would argue that since we are still at war, unlike the returning veterans following the end of WW II, granting these benefits at the three-year point could drastically affect retention and that the services would be losing the combat experience of tens of thousands. They assert that the six-year point may be a better place to start granting full G.I. Bill benefits. They also argue, and I think correctly, that the longer one’s time in service, the more generous the benefits.
Retention is a big deal. I know from my years commanding the Air Force Military Personnel Center just how important it is. We recruit young men and women with zero military experience. So, a one-for-one swap in “numbers” is not a one-for-one swap in “experience.” A full G. I. Bill benefit at the three-year point would certainly encourage many to leave and take that experience with them.
I would propose a compromise bill that could satisfy everyone’s interests in providing generous education benefits to today’s military members. A totally new legislative bill (to replace the current Montgomery G.I. Bill) could permit college tuition assistance to members at the three-year point in their service to take college level courses in off-duty time or over the Internet. Virtually all military installations have accredited college and university course available on post, and the Internet provides an avenue for those deployed.
Then, at the six-year point, my proposal would grant not only tuition assistance, but also a stipend for living expenses for those who do choose to separate from active duty and pursue their education in civilian status. Thus, a more generous award for serving longer. Both of these approaches, tuition assistance for off-duty time and tuition assistance and a stipend for living expenses, have been available for decades in one form or another. So in that regard, there is nothing new here in my proposal. What would be new is a far more generous package and one that the serving member would not have to contribute to while serving on active duty.
Sounds simple enough to me.