Webb’s bill, which has 32 co-sponsors, would cover the full cost of attending a state university for in-state residents and provide a stipend for living expenses. The benefit is capped at the cost of the most expensive public state college or university. The total cost to the federal treasury is projected at about $2.5 billion per year.So what is the source of the opposition to offering this important benefit to veterans, whose educational levels, it seems, would be vital to our competition in the global economy, yes? According to the Pentagon, which directs the spending of $3 billion every week in Iraq, this new GI Bill proposal is too expensive. And from their perspective, Webb's bill threatens the readiness to conduct war without end (or maybe just a hundred years), which can only be carried out by underpaid, undereducated "volunteers" who do not have viable career options outside the military. (We all know that if we were drafting middle class kids to serve as IED targets in Iraq, this war would have been over a long time ago).
Currently, the most a veteran can receive is approximately $9,600 a year for four years. Those who served combat tours with the National Guard or Reserves are eligible for even less — typically just $440 per month, or $5,280 a year.
By contrast, the College Board reports that the average four-year public college costs more than $65,000, about $16,250 a year, for an in-state student. A private university costs on average about $133,000 for four years.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have relied heavily on the Reserve forces. Webb’s bill would ensure that reservists who served at least two years of active duty would receive the same benefit as the active-duty troops.
Currently, benefits used under the GI Bill count against federal student aid. And there is a 10-year limit on assistance for current educational benefits.
The original GI Bill provided full tuition, housing and living costs for some 8 million veterans.
Here is a small piece of the transcript from a News Hour report from Feb. 12 that offers the Pentagon rationale and Webb's common sense response:
Retaining recruitsSo far the Republican War Hero candidate, John McCain, is toeing the White House line in opposition to the bill, even though 51 senators have now joined Jim Webb as co-sponsors of the Bill.
JOHN MERROW: But there's another issue: Keith Wilson is the director of education service at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Is there a concern that if you raised the benefits dramatically, substantially that men and women would leave the service, go to college?
KEITH WILSON, Department of Veterans Affairs: Potentially that could happen. Then we'd get into a situation of diminishing returns, and we end up potentially losing more people than we would be gaining into the military, which would create potentially a vicious cycle.
SEN. JAMES WEBB: They don't comprehend that if you put a benefit like this one on the table, you're going to broaden your recruitment base, so you're going to have more people attracted to coming in.
KEITH WILSON: We are looking at administering the program as effectively as we can, meeting the congressional intents of the program, and they seem to be working well right now. A lot of people are using the program, more than ever in history.
So to say that it would cover everybody's costs, absolutely not, but it seems to be meeting the needs of more people than ever.
JOHN MERROW: Senator Webb's bill is under consideration in the Congress, but has a long way to go if it's to become law.
The Congress did pass one piece of legislation recently which should please Chris Mettler, who lost his education benefits because he resigned from the Reserves. It allows him and other active-duty reservists and National Guard to receive their benefits even after they leave the service.
Here's a more recent story from USA Today on where the bill stands this week.