GI EDUCATIONAL BENEFITS -- (Senate - October 07, 2005)
Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, the original G.I. bill in 1944 made a sacred bargain: honor our troops for their sacrifice, and keep faith with our veterans by helping them readjust to civilian life. Historically, G.I. bill educational benefits have risen and fallen--at times covering over 100 percent of the cost of tuition, books, supplies and other educational costs. And we know how valuable its benefits have become in recruiting the world's finest military.
But each year, the G.I. bill covers a little bit less of the cost of education in this country. It's a cruel mathematical calculation--the cost of a university education is growing faster than the benefits provided by the G.I. bill. Our troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world fight just as hard and sacrifice just as much as any in American history. Yet the G.I. bill--this great act of gratitude that transformed America 60 years ago--has not kept pace. Today, our troops return home to a G.I. bill that covers only 63 percent of the average price of a 4-year public secondary education. The result is veterans struggling to afford the education they were promised and have earned.
The U.S. Congress should never break promises to our veterans--like 28-year-old Jeff Memmer. As a member of the U.S. Navy, Jeff served two deployments in the Persian Gulf between 1996 and 2002. When he came home, he had to take out tens of thousands of dollars in emergency loans and work part time as a bartender to get through school because costs kept outpacing benefits. He said, ``When I started putting a plan together in 1999, the benefit would have covered two-thirds of my tuition and costs. By the time I got to college, the tuition had increased so much it only covered half, and by the time I graduated it was only covering a third of my expenses.'' We are not proposing that veterans live in luxury while they earn their degrees. But clearly, it shouldn't be this hard.
Take the case of Eric VonEuw, a veteran of 4 years with the airborne infantry. Even with G.I. bill benefits, he is working part time to make ends meet and cover the cost of his community college. If he is able to finish at UC Davis, his benefits won't cover half his bills.
Today's military looks a lot different from the military I served in during the Vietnam war. Today, almost 60 percent of enlisted men and women are married. These veterans are faced with a choice: to borrow for their education or to take care of their families now.
The amendment I offered on the Defense appropriations bill, cosponsored by Senator Ensign, would have required a report on G.I. bill educational benefits--who uses them, how they are used, and how they can be improved. The report would have included cost estimates to help us assess various options for increasing the value of the education benefits so they cover more, if not all, of the costs of a 4-year public education.
In the course of preparing this amendment, Senator Ensign and I were invited to work with the Veterans' Affairs Committee to accomplish the same thing. We hope this approach will be successful and will therefore not bring our amendment to a vote.
This is the start of an effort to improve G.I. bill educational benefits. It is not just the right thing to do; it is critical to our national security. We all know that this is the most challenging recruiting environment in the history of the All-Volunteer military. In a 2004 survey, service members reported that the G.I. bill is the number one reason they choose to enlist in the military. We must make sure that we understand how those benefits are being used and what the alternatives are to improve them.
I ask unanimous consent that the text of the letter I sent with Senator Ensign to the Veterans' Affairs Committee, which was mentioned above, be printed in the RECORD.