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Corinne Ramey

Education for Vets: Shouldn’t They Go to College, Too?

This Memorial Day, it's time to talk about education. Not just any body's education, but college education for the 1.4 million men and women that we've shipped off to countries considered part of the "global war on terror" (mainly Iraq and Afghanistan) since September 11, 2001. News reports tell us about the Iraq War -- the premature declarations of "mission accomplished," the most recent suicide bombers, and -- once in a while -- of soldiers coming home suicidal or with post-traumatic stress disorder. But rarely -- or until recently, at least -- did we hear anything about a more mundane subject -- all those vets going to college.

An amendment to the G.I. bill that addresses this lapse recently passed the House with a 256-165 vote and overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill would pay for tuition and housing at any in-state public four-year college for vets who have served at least three years of active duty. Additionally, the government would match any contribution from a private college if tuition is more than that of a state school. The bill is sponsored by Democrat Jim Webb and co-sponsors include Republicans John Warner and Chuck Hagel. According to, the cost of the extended benefits will be offset by a .47% tax surcharge on individuals with incomes larger than $500,000 per year or couples with incomes greater than $1 million per year.

According to, the bill updates the World War II G.I. Bill:

"After World War II, the education and other benefits of the GI Bill allowed unprecedented numbers of returning soldiers to access a middle-class standard of living, but today’s GI Bill, intended for peacetime, does not provide adequate benefits. This amendment would change that. Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars face not only the challenges of readjustment to civilian life, frequently complicated by injury or mental illness, but the rising cost of higher education impacting middle-class Americans across the United States."
As Bob Herbert writes in the Times, educating veterans isn't just good for vets, it's good for the country as well.
"Reinvigorating the G.I. bill is one of the best things this nation could do. The original G.I. Bill of Rights, signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, paid the full load of a returning veteran’s education at a college or technical school and provided a monthly stipend. It was an investment that paid astounding dividends. Millions of veterans benefited, and they helped transform the nation. College would no longer be the exclusive preserve of the wealthy and those who crowned themselves the intellectual elite."

McCain doesn't support the bill, but does have his own watered down version that he hopes to push through the Senate. McCain's version increases education benefits from the current $1,100 to $1,500 per month. This is significantly less than Webb's version; for example, according to Newsday a veteran living in Long Island could receive up to $27,360 a year. The current GI bill covers less than two years at a private college and between 60-70% of the cost of tuition at a four year college.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates claims that Webb's version of the bill is too generous, and will therefore hurt retention -- in other words, these young soldiers will drop out of the army to go to school. Gates wrote, “Our first objective is to strengthen the All-Volunteer Force” and “re-enlistments (and longer service) are critical to the success of the All-Volunteer Force.” The Bush administration has said Bush will veto Webb's version of the bill.

It's possible that a few soldiers, lured by the thought of a college education, might leave the armed forces (Although on the flip side, a few more might enter it, lured by the tuition benefits). But even if a few of these soldiers decide to leave the Armed Services a little early to go to school, so what? Doesn't it seem -- whether or not you support the war -- that considering how hard they've fought for their country that maybe we owe them something?

Corinne Ramey: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 7:05 AM, May 26, 2008 in Education
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