Recently, Congress passed a bill that would increase the amount of money soldiers receive for education after they leave the military.
Proposed by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act will restore educational benefits back to the level of those granted to soldiers returning home from World War II battlefronts. In addition, the bill will give extra money to cover living expenses.
With the passage of this new GI Bill, the debate over what privileges veterans should receive after leaving the armed services has heated up on Capitol Hill. Both Sen. John McCain and President George W. Bush believe that bills like this one extend overly generous benefits to soldiers.
Although there is no doubt that providing living expenses and a free education is quite a generous reward for serving in the military, do those who have served this country deserve anything less than a generous reward?
According to an article in the San Jose Mercury News, many vets who left the military for a college education found it difficult to survive and go to school full-time under the former Montgomery GI Bill. In the article, former Marine and current University of California, Berkeley student Stuart Martin said that “it is literally hard to even eat right now” because living expenses take up a great deal of his money.
Additionally, the bill did not cover all of a public university’s tuition. Because the price of tuition has increased for all public colleges over the past two decades, the amount of money allotted to vets only covered the more cost-friendly schools like community colleges. The most a vet could receive yearly for benefits was about $9,675 or $38,700 over four years.
According to newgibill.org, “That’s about half of what it costs to go to a public college as an in-state student, a little more than one-third the cost for an out-of-state student, and less than a third of the cost of a private institution.”
In the same Mercury News article, it was reported that only a small fraction of vets attended California state colleges under the former GI Bill. For many enlistees, the promise of a free college education is the sole reason for joining the military. By limiting a vet’s choice of schools and expecting them to cover their own living costs, the Montgomery GI Bill did not follow through on its promise of a free education.
Sure, covering veterans’ living expenses and opening up more academic choices may seem overly generous, but the debt these men and women have paid for all of us to remain safe is not something that can go unrewarded.
For those who have left family and friends behind for extended periods of time and experienced the stress and horror of war, a fully paid college experience cannot be too much to ask. If we were to maintain a system that routinely shortchanged military personnel as the Montgomery Bill has over the last few years, we would be turning our backs on those who have sworn to protect us.
Although the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act may seem to be an overly gracious reward for serving our country, when it comes to helping out the men and women in our armed forces, there can be no such thing as too much reward.