Delaware State News - Updating G.I. Bill a Duty to our Veterans
When we talk about the costs of the Iraq war, we usually highlight the $12 billion we are spending there every month, the billions more we need to replace equipment wearing out faster than planned, or the vital health care services needed for our returning veterans.
Often times, however, we overlook the most important cost: the physical, emotional, and financial sacrifice that every member of the military makes when they leave the United States to fight on foreign soil.
Fifty-four years ago, with the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (commonly called the G.I. Bill), this nation acknowledged these sacrifices. We rewarded our troops by giving 8 million World War II veterans a college education. This helped build a strong middle class, and led to a period of great prosperity for our country.
The last major overhaul of the G.I. Bill took place in 1984, to ensure that educational benefits remained available to all those who serve - whether in peacetime or war.
Anyone who has written a tuition check recently knows the price of going to college has increased dramatically in the last 24 years. Today, there are more than 400,000 veterans struggling to pay for their education under the current law. On average, the men and women who put their lives on the line for us receive little more than half the total cost to attend a public university over four years. If they attend a private university, we are only providing about a fifth of what they need.
As a nation, our sacred obligation is to care for our troops, as much when they're at home as when abroad. Nearly seven years of non-stop war, with many soldiers on their second, third, or fourth deployment, must be acknowledged with a real educational benefit. After all they have done for our country; the least we can do is to take away the stress of paying for college when they return from duty.
This week, before our nation celebrates Memorial Day, it is only fitting that we passed a new and improved education bill, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act. This legislation recognizes the sacrifices of veterans who have served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and properly acknowledges their service by having the federal government pay for the actual costs of attending college today - tuition, fees, books and a housing allowance.
Just as important, the bill finally recognizes the role of the members of the National Guard and Reserve - true citizen soldiers whose units have been stretched to the breaking point because of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, after 36 months of active duty, National Guard and Reserve members will be eligible for full educational benefits. To date, 1,979 Delaware Guard and Reserve members have gone to Iraq or Afghanistan.
As we debated this bill, you may have heard opponents of this initiative claim that it costs too much or that too many soldiers will leave the military to take advantage of these new benefits. To them I ask a rhetorical question: are you saying that the men and women risking life and limb fighting a war that costs $12 billion a month, do not deserve unburdened access to a higher education they deferred to serve their country?
Not every soldier chooses a full-time career in the military, and we need to ensure that they have the education and skill set necessary to have a successful civilian career. Strengthening and updating our current G.I. Bill can even broaden the recruiting base and have a negligible effect on overall retention.
Our soldiers put their lives on the line for our families; an affordable education is not too much to ask in return. It is time to recognize the bravery and sacrifices of this generation of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. We owe them nothing less than the educational benefits offered the Greatest Generation after World War II.