On paper, it looks like an exceptional deal. A feat of bipartisan cooperation conceived out of deep concern for Americas returning veterans, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007, sponsored by Jim Webb, D-Va., was recently passed by the House and is headed to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain.
Designating it the 21st Century GI Bill and citing the success of the educational benefits awarded to World War II era veterans as a main cause for support, Webb is advocating an increase from todays benefits (the Montgomery GI Bill currently provides $1,100 a month, $800 shy of the national average cost of four-year public post-secondary schools) to essentially apply the monetary equivalent of four years at a states most expensive public college toward a full-time education, along with other benefits. Those benefits are directly tied to length of active service, capping after 36 months. Supporting Democrats adduce the original GI Bill as the foundation of Americas middle class as well as the economic dominance America has enjoyed thus far in the post-WWII era. This bill is a good deal to most involved, with the notable exception of the millionaires who are expected to fork up the funding through a surtax of about 0.05 percent on any household income over $1 million per couple (or $500,000 for individuals).
But the military, initially expected by most to support the measure, is quickly forming an opposition. The main failure of the bill, critics argue, is that it will place an enormous strain on an already thinly stretched force, as those who have served their 36 months might take off to pursue their degree. While recruiting would be improved because of the benefits, retention would likely plummet, and the cost of training new recruits would be significant. Some even suspect that this bill is an underhanded attempt to end the war in Iraq by overextending the militarys budget to the point where it cannot continue to fight overseas. Webb failed to deny this consequence, simply stating that the bill will help soldiers transition to civilian life and benefit those who do not wish to make a career in the military. While individual soldiers would benefit, Americas armed forces would ultimately be impaired.
There are several major differences between the new bill and the WWII GI Bill that are crucial to the success of and impact on military operations. Most importantly, the original bill was passed after the war was over and troops had returned home. It was intended to deal with an onslaught of young men in the labor force and keep the economy afloat in order to circumvent another 1930s-style economic decline. Finally, it was meant to reward those who had lost economic opportunities while serving, many due to conscription. By ignoring these specificities, the new bill will not have the same positive impact.
While almost everyone agrees that we as Americans are forever indebted to our veterans and that they are certainly deserving of generous benefits, a bill that does this at the cost of bringing our military to its knees is simply not worthwhile. Regardless of opinion on our countrys current military engagements, bleeding the armed forces to death in the name of veteran benefits is not the way to solve the debate.