Rear Window Ethics Rear Window Ethics: A New GI Bill for a New Military

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A New GI Bill for a New Military

When US troops came home from their WWII tours in Europe and the Pacific, they received something more than the thanks of a grateful nation. America's appreciation for its veterans was made tangible in the GI Bill -- a measure that not only rewarded returning soldiers, but also helped create what we today consider the "middle class".

The GI Bill provided money for tuition at any university or trade school program a veteran was accepted in, as well as funds for living expenses, books, and associated fees. Almost 10 million veterans used the GI Bill to advance their education, when previously only 5% of the country's population had earned college degrees before the war.

It's true that there were many more complicated reasons for enacting the GI Bill -- most notably to avoid over-saturating the post-war job market -- but those objectives can't take away from this list of accomplishments by GI Bill recipients:
  • 14 Nobel Prize Winners
  • 3 Supreme Court Justices
  • 3 US Presidents
  • 12 Pulitzer Prize Winners
  • 230,000 teachers
The GI Bill did cost a substantial amount of money: $50 Billion (in today's dollars). The result, however, was actually a net gain in government revenue, as the increased earning of the new middle-class created $350 Billion in additional income tax dollars.

That was then.

In its current form, today's GI Bill pales in comparison. It pays active-duty veterans roughly $1,100 per month for 36 months. Anyone even remotely familiar with today's tuition costs knows that doesn't measure up. Military pay is better today, and members of the all-volunteer force receive an enlistment bonus, but it all boils down to this: We can do better.

Sen. Jim Webb, himself a veteran and former Navy secretary and whose son is currently serving, has proposed the most generous update of the GI Bill to date. The bill is stuck in committee and may remain there for the foreseeable future, but the members of our strained military deserve for it to see the light of day.

Some detractors of Webb's bill point out that making the transition from the military to higher education more accessible would impact re-enlistment rates. Regardless of that possibility, the men and women who return home from performing the duty asked of them by their country deserve options. They deserve opportunities. They deserve more than to be funneled back into service because its their only available course of action.

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