Senator Jim Webb has reintroduced an updated version of what he has dubbed "21st Century GI Bill" framed on the wildly successful GI Bill from World War II. With this war dragging on for six and one half years and our troops involuntary serving tour after tour, it is the least we can do for them. There are many other issues that we need to address to help our returning troops but this is a broad based program that will give a hand to all the troops who have served since 9/11.
Webb is co-sponsoring this bill with Senator Hagel and Senator Lautenberg and yesterday they got the important support of moderate Republican John Warner. His support will hopefully give cover for other Republicans to vote for this measure. For any of those who claim that it is too expensive, consider this: The estimated yearly cost for this program is $2 billion -- equivalent to one week of spending on this war.
Long established veteran groups, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and new veteran groups such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) have endorsed this legislation.
Many of us have fathers who took advantage of the World War II GI bill. My father did and has told me stories of how crowded the universities were after World War II with veterans, many who may not have otherwise gone to college, taking advantage of a program that they earned. According to Senator Webb's research, out of a war time veteran population of 15 million, approximately 7.8 million took advantage of the program. Webb also claims that for every dollar invested in the WWII program, seven dollars were generated. This was a program that educated that greatest generation and helped build the base for the country we live in today. It was the WWII GI bill generation of engineers and scientists that built our space program, put men on the moon, developed the transistor and laid the basis for the digital computer
Many of us lived through the wreckage of the Vietnam War and remember the homeless veterans on the street and the many who could not get their lives on track because of what they saw in Vietnam. But this group of veterans has experienced a worse situation. Even though we had a draft, you could only be forced into one tour, one year in Vietnam. If you wanted a second tour, you had to volunteer for it. In this war, I have talked to troops who are returning from their fourth and fifth involuntary tours with some of these tours being over a year. At a minimum, we owe them the chance at an education, with a stipend that allows them to live while they are going to school.
Webb and other Democratic freshman senators have shown a new wisdom in Washington concerning defense spending and accountability. Webb and Senator Claire McCaskill (who has also co-sponsored this new GI bill) have pulled other good ideas from WWII in passing a new version of the old Truman Committee to look at Iraq war contractors while the war is still going on, not years later when the government will say it is too late to recover ill gotten goods. This GI bill is also another good idea from the past.
Based on my own work on Iraq contractor fraud and waste, the cost of this education program for Iraq war veterans could easily be found in the excesses of spending in this war. I rarely spend the time to push any legislation other than government reform legislation, but this program is taking a successful page from the past and helping another generation of war veterans to receive the education that they can use to succeed for the rest of their lives.