Monday, May 05, 2008

The Old Bait 'n' Switch 

Government programs that work must be watered down, undermined, or dismantled altogether, lest citizens draw the naive and dangerous conclusion that government programs can work. The personal account of veteran Patrick Campbell:
When I was sitting in a humvee in Baghdad two years ago, we had plenty of time to talk. While the conversations varied between musing about the morning's chow, the stifling heat or what type of truck we were going to buy when we got home, one theme remained constant. Everyone said they were going home to get that college degree that Uncle Sam promised us when we enlisted.

Last December, a year and a half late, I finally graduated. I still laugh when people ask me whether the military paid for my education. When I tell them how meager the actual education benefits are, their shock always make me feel like I just told a child that there is no such thing as the tooth fairy. Unfortunately, many of my battle buddies realized the hard way that the GI Bill isn't what it used to be. The education benefits for troops are so low that they either never enrolled, or dropped out of school because they couldn't handle working two part-time jobs or living back home on Mama's couch to afford to attend school.

My fellow veterans are struggling because the current GI Bill is woefully inadequate. Service members are forced to take out loans just to start classes, and then wait months to get any reimbursement. Even then, the benefit only covers 60 to 70 percent of the cost of a four-year public university. For expensive private schools, the GI Bill is barely a drop in the bucket. And every year, the GI Bill is losing value because education benefits have failed to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of education . . . .

Today, we are still reaping the benefits of one of the greatest social investment programs ever implemented. A 1988 congressional study proved that every dollar spent on educational benefits under the original GI Bill added $7 to the national economy in terms of productivity, consumer spending and tax revenue. Many of our leaders and luminaries took advantage of the GI Bill, including former Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, former Sen. Bob Dole, and authors Joseph Heller, Norman Mailer and Frank McCourt . . . .

For the hundreds of thousands of veterans returning with a mental health injury, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, earning a college degree will also create a safe space to readjust to civilian life. Since I have been back, there have been at least a few days when I was unable to attend class because something I saw in the news caused my mind to shoot right back into that cramped humvee. Thankfully, as a student, I had the luxury to take those days off and get the notes from a friend. Unfortunately, I know many veterans working full-time jobs who have had their jobs threatened because their bosses couldn't understand why that veteran needed a personal day.

A World War II-style GI Bill is more than just a social investment or an ethical obligation to our veterans; it's an important readiness tool. The GI Bill is the military's single most effective recruitment incentive; the No. 1 reason civilians join the military is to get money for college.

We have already seen the military double the number of GED waivers and increase the number of felonies allowable by a recruit. Enlistment bonuses have already climbed to $40,000 and could grow even higher. Instead of lowering standards and handing out big cash bonuses, why not keep the promise we made to our veterans, and help them get the education they have earned?

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