The Lost Spirit of the GI Bill

September 28, 2007 at 1:56 am (opinions, politics)

No “I was to busy to blog” excuses here for my latest hiatus. I actually got away from Arizona for a short few days to be with my fiance, my family and my own thoughts for a change.

Thinking through the latest news items which have peeked my interest, I keep coming back to one that NPR has covered for the past two mornings. The GI Bill, discussed in audio format from September 26 and September 27. I had given this little, well, no thought before these stories, but its an important issue to consider. Everyone says, “I may hate the war, but we need to support our troops” – but what exactly does it mean to support our troops? I think that it’d be quite easy to argue that our government is not doing anything close to what they should be doing to support our troops and veterans.

The GI Bill was enacted in 1944 to provide troops returning from WWII with and opportunity for an excellent and otherwise unattainable education. It is one of our Army’s strongest recruiting tools, as it promises money for education as well as living expenses while veterans search for civilian jobs. Just 8 years after it was enacted, the GI Bill was changed so that it no longer directly paid Universities for fees and tuition. Instead, vets were given $110/month (~$825 today) on which to live, and pay for tuition, fees and books. By the time Korean War vets were coming home, the basic principles of the bill were already being eroded. Throughout the 1970’s, the stipend was increased to $311/month (~$1125 today), encouraging more vets to pursue college degrees. As of 2007, vets are paid $1101/month to put towards education. As the NPR stories point out, this amount doesn’t touch a private school education, does not cover room/board at a public university, but just covers an education from community college. Not to belittle community colleges, they are certainly a great option for many students and many careers, but this does not comply with the original spirit of the GI Bill.

Veterans returning from WWII had the option to go to any college to which they were accepted, from community college to Harvard. It is on the shoulders of these men and women that the middle class was largely built. Before the GI Bill, higher education was quite uncommon and almost exclusively for the rich. NPR emphasizes how veterans who took advantage of this education opportunity went on to be our senators, presidents, business icons and Nobel prize winners. There is good reason to call them “the greatest generation”.

It is shameful that our returning veterans, who put their lives on the line just as much as any previous veteran, are not given the same critical and deserved chance at education. Obviously I am not discussing other issues that need immediate attention like the physical and mental health care for vets. It is time for our government to stop with the irrefutable and empty rhetoric about supporting our troops. They need to take action to bolster and revitalize the GI Bill.

Update:  I saw a news story yesterday about the Minnesota National Guard, aka the Red Bulls.  Many members of this group were ordered to serve 729 or fewer days.  This is significant because they are required to serve 730 days to receive GI bill benefits, including the education benefits.  Talk about losing the spirit of the GI Bill.  They seem to be intentionally screwing these brave men and women out of their earned and deserved education.  Disgusting.


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