In his 2008 State of the Union address, President Bush is expected to focus heavily on the state of the sluggish economy and how to stimulate it, now and beyond. But as Washington wrangles over how best to do this, our leaders have largely overlooked a proven strategy for growth that promises more than immediate relief: a new GI Bill.
When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the original GI Bill in 1944, he ensured that eight million World War II veterans would be able to afford an education. The GI Bill gave many of our nation's leaders their start, including Presidents Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, and former Senators Bob Dole, George McGovern, and Pat Moynihan, to name just a few. Additionally, the GI Bill educated 14 Nobel Prize winners and two dozen Pulitzer Prize winners, including authors Joseph Heller, Norman Mailer, and Frank McCourt.
Aside from furthering the education of many veterans, the GI Bill reinvented America after a half-decade of war, and helped to prevent a looming economic crisis. The government's investment in the GI Bill resulted in higher national productivity, consumer spending, and tax revenue. More impressively, every dollar spent on educational benefits for the Greatest Generation added seven dollars to the national economy.
Sadly, the current educational benefits available to veterans are far inferior to what their predecessors received. Today's GI Bill covers less than 70% of the average cost of tuition at a 4-year public college and less than two years at a typical private college. National Guardsmen and Reservists, including those who have served multiple combat tours, typically receive only a fraction of these benefits. Yet, the annual price tag for fully-funding college for today's veterans is less than the amount of money we spend every two weeks in the War on Terror.
Educating our country's veterans was the right thing to do after World War II, and it is the right thing to do now. For considerably less than 3 percent of the proposed economic stimulus package, we can send the newest generation of veterans to college every year. Not only would an updated GI Bill be a prudent investment with huge returns, it would demonstrate to our veterans that they are indeed returning to a grateful nation. As President Roosevelt reflected, "[The GI Bill] gives emphatic notice to the men and women in our armed forces that the American people do not intend to let them down."
This year, President Bush should call on Congress to pass a modern GI Bill. A new GI Bill would reenergize the U.S. economy and go a long way toward helping our newest generation of heroes build a better life. Instead, President Bush is only expected to briefly reference it with a proposal allowing service members to transfer unused education benefits to their spouses or children.
If this is the full extent of the President's plan for the GI Bill, it's a slap in the face to the nearly 1.6 million veterans who have come home from these wars. It's like you asked for a tank, and the president just offered to repaint your bicycle.
For more information on the need for a modern GI Bill, see IAVA's new Issue Report: A New GI Bill: Rewarding Our Troops, Rebuilding Our Military at www.iava.org/education. This report is the first in a series of in-depth issue reports IAVA will release later this week.