This month’s Letter to the Editor (LTE) of our local “The Potomac News” focused on veteran’s issues. Specifically, I wrote about a current bill in congress that dramatically expands educational benefits for our veterans, submitted by freshman Senator Jim Webb (D-VA). My letter specifically noted that Republicans, from the Bush administration on down, is actively opposing this bill and none of the chattering class seems to be paying attention.
An educational subsidy as part of the Veteran’s package of benefits has always been a big issue with me, and somewhat of a sore point for many reasons. I joined the Navy in 1974 when the Vietnam-era veteran’s bill was still in effect. At that time, the “GI Bill” essentially paid for four years tuition plus stipends for books, for any service member honorably completing four years active duty. The GI-Bill could be used by active-duty service members (I believe there were some qualifiers), and I used some of this money to pay for an abortive attempt at gaining my FCC First Class radiotelephone license in the late 1970’s. (Due to several factors, I only managed to complete 2/3s of the program, but the training did support my nearly acing the Navy’s First Class exam shortly thereafter).
In the early 1980’s, as part of our “Evil Empire” military buildup against the former Soviet Union, President Reagan did to veteran’s benefits the same as what he did to California’s educational system as governor. He stripped educational benefits down to almost nothing compared to their former status.
The only positive thing to come from this gutting was including tuition assistance for active-duty service members. There were several variations over the next few years, but all of them allowed some measure of tuition for active-duty types juggling school with military service. I used these tuition benefits to pay for most of my Bachelor’s degree program over the next twelve years.
Then in the early 1990’s, just before I retired, President Clinton pushed through a major reform package of veteran’s benefits. Among other improvements, this package restored part of what President Reagan took out years earlier. For people who entered the service when I did, we now had full tuition benefits for three years of college. The one kicker was that it had to be used within ten years of discharge.
For people who joined in other, more recent eras than myself, this new bill provided matching funds and scholarships to support a college degree after an honorable discharge, but it wasn’t anywhere near as generous as what was given back in the late 1970’s. For various reasons, I never had a chance to go back to school after my navy retirement, and have now lost my educational benefits. Losing my educational benefits remains one of my major regrets, one that I cannot go back and fix.
Recently, Freshman Democratic Senator Jim Webb, from my adopted home state of Virginia, introduced a bill to restore veteran’s educational benefits in-line with what was offered at the end of WWII – essentially a full four-year scholarship to any university that a service member could academically qualify for. This bill was quickly co-sponsored by many members of Congress, including Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama.
Of course, no one could have predicted that Republican Presidential candidate and former veteran/POW John McCain would actively oppose this bill. His opinion, and the opinion of the Bush Administration in general, was that this bill would cost too much, and by offering the benefits to anyone who completed at least 36 months active duty (which now-a-days means two tours of combat duty in Iraq or Afghanistan) people would actually want to leave the service after one hitch. The horrors.
Our media, which loves to bash Democrats for being “unpatriotic” and “failing to support the troops” has been strangely silent on this bill. Here is my LTE:
Last Thanksgiving Day, this newspaper published a column from one of our regular writers titled “Give thanks to the troops.” The gist of the column was that “giving thanks to our troops” meant anyone who opposed sending our troops to Iraq, for the privilege of getting killed or wounded, was accused of being a traitor.
Recently, our own Senator Jim Webb, introduced the “Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act” (S.22/ H.R. 5740). A companion bill, H.R. 5740, has been introduced in the House by Rep. Harry Mitchell.
This bill is designed to offer our troops who have served honorably since September 11, 2001 a level of educational benefits on par with those provided to veterans of the World War II era. The bill’s provisions would apply to all members of the military who have served at least 36 months active duty since September 11, 2001, including reservists and members of the National Guard.
In essence, under this bill any eligible veteran would be assured the funds needed to gain a four-year education at any college that they can academically qualify for. This is a level of educational benefit long since stripped from the WW II vintage “GI Bill” that was awarded to our previous “Greatest Generation.”
The bill currently has over 50 co-sponsors in the Senate, including Senators Clinton and Obama. In the house, the companion bill currently has 240 co-sponsors. At least 25 leading veterans’ and student organizations support these bills. Yet, the bill has an uphill fight.
Although some Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors, Senator and Republican Presidential candidate John McCain has not.
The bill is being actively opposed by the Bush administration and many Republican officials on the basis that it’s “too generous.” I note that the many newspaper columnists and TV talking heads who routinely accuse Democrats of being “unpatriotic,” “anti-military,” or even “traitors,” (including the writer of our Thanksgiving Day column) by failing to support our troops, are notably silent on supporting this bill.
I have to wonder; Who is really supporting our troops?
I did not receive that many comments in the on-line version of the news either way on this letter. I think most people around here are too focused on bashing Mexicans to notice much else. My favorite comment included the point that Newt Gingrich should be running for President. I actually agree with this, as in my opinion no one can be the face of the “Family Values,” “Law-n-Order,” “Personal Responsibility” party better than a man who divorced his first wife on her deathbed to marry his mistress, resigned from Congress over ethics scandals, and let a friend pay his legal fines.
McCain’s Experience Is Not What We Want : My commentary on Senator John McCain as a presidential candidate.
In Honor of Veterans Day 2011 : A remeberance for veterans on this Veteran’s Day.
Letter to The Editor Turkey Day Special : My letter to the editor in which I call out a local right-wing columnist who accuses anyone speaking out against our war on Iraq as traitors.