creators.com opinion web
Liberal Opinion Conservative Opinion
Steve Chapman
Steve Chapman
18 Sep 2014
I'm Living Large, but It's an Illusion

A few months ago I made a trip to attend my daughter Isabelle's commencement at an institution of higher learning.… Read More.

14 Sep 2014
Obama's Unnecessary, Unpromising War

President Barack Obama said Wednesday night the United States is going to war "to degrade and ultimately destroy"… Read More.

11 Sep 2014
An Endurance Test that Puzzles and Inspires

MADISON, Wisconsin — A glorious September day is breaking over scenic Lake Monona, but nearly 2,500 … Read More.

Is It Time to Revive the GI Bill?

Comment

When American soldiers returned from World War II, the nation thanked them with the GI bill, which allowed millions of people to go to college at government expense. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., thinks if it was good enough for the Greatest Generation, it's good enough for this one. He wants to enact a new version of that program — an idea that may appeal to the heart but should give pause to the head.

The GI Bill of Rights, enacted in 1944, was an exceptional undertaking. It opened up higher education to a lot of people who would never have gone to college without it, transforming American society.

It is now remembered as the visionary product of a nation's gratitude. In reality, the motives were more complicated than that. No one wanted to repeat the experience of World War I, when, as the Department of Veterans Affairs reports, "discharged veterans got little more than a $60 allowance and a train ticket home" — and later, embittered, marched on Washington to demand their due.

With the Great Depression still fresh in memory, President Franklin Roosevelt's administration was also terrified that hordes of veterans would flood the job market and find no jobs. Sending them to college was seen as a way to avert mass unemployment.

Those factors are not the only major justifications that are absent today. World War II was fought mostly by draftees, who were paid a pittance and kept at the front for as long as Uncle Sam needed them. Today's military consists entirely of volunteers, who signed up knowing that enlistment might mean long combat tours.

Military pay has vastly improved since D-Day. A modern private gets the equivalent of double the salary paid back then, plus benefits that were not available to Private Ryan.

The original GI bill was a way of compensating veterans who had been poorly compensated while in uniform. Our all-volunteer force, by contrast, pays competitive salaries, because it has to, and the competition is particularly keen at the moment. Bonuses for Army enlistment now average $16,500 and go as high as $40,000 — money that can be put away for school.

That's on top of existing educational benefits.

The current GI bill offers some $38,000 for college. Additional aid is available through programs like the Army College Fund, which can nearly double that amount.

Webb, a Marine Corps veteran, thinks more is in order. His proposal would cover four years of full tuition at the most expensive public institution in the state where the veteran enrolls, plus books, fees and $1,000 a month for living expenses. We owe this much, he says, to "our heroic veterans who have sacrificed so much for our great nation."

He has a point. Given the exceptional and unforeseen demands placed on today's regular military and reserves, there is nothing wrong with the nation deciding to thank the troops in a tangible way. But expanded college assistance isn't necessarily the best expression of gratitude.

In the first place, some people don't want to pursue higher education, and Webb's bill would leave them out in the cold. If we want to thank all our men and women in uniform, cash would be a better option. Some veterans could use the money to go to school, but others could use it to start a business or buy a home.

In the second place, enriching educational benefits has a definite downside: It would complicate the task of keeping our overstretched military at full strength. John Warner, an economist at Clemson University who has studied the issue for the Pentagon, says additional aid could attract more recruits who want to go to college — but could also stimulate those in uniform to pass up re-enlistment to pursue their education.

If the Webb program became law, Warner says, re-enlistment rates could drop by 5 to 10 percentage points. And some of those hitting the exits would take valuable skills that are hard to replace. Given the intense strains on the military, this is no time to be enticing its best soldiers to leave.

At the end of World War II, keeping people from leaving the military was the least of our problems. President Roosevelt and the 78th Congress tailored their efforts to the unique challenges they faced. The GI bill was perfect for its time, but that doesn't make it perfect for ours.

To find out more about Steve Chapman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2007 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.



Comments

0 Comments | Post Comment
Already have an account? Log in.
New Account  
Your Name:
Your E-mail:
Your Password:
Confirm Your Password:

Please allow a few minutes for your comment to be posted.

Enter the numbers to the right:  
Creators.com comments policy
More
Steve Chapman
Sep. `14
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
31 1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 1 2 3 4
About the author About the author
Write the author Write the author
Printer friendly format Printer friendly format
Email to friend Email to friend
View by Month
Authorís Podcast
David Sirota
David SirotaUpdated 19 Sep 2014
Patrick Buchanan
Pat BuchananUpdated 19 Sep 2014
Jamie Stiehm
Jamie StiehmUpdated 19 Sep 2014

23 Sep 2010 The Failure of Obama's Stimulus

22 Apr 2012 Killing the Dream

8 Jan 2009 The Empty Case For More Regulation