Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The New GI Bill - Webb Proposes and the Pentagon Opposes

In the last two days there have been two broadcasts featuring Senator Jim Webb's proposed S.22, the Bill to amend the GI Bill to provide for payment of the education costs of our returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

The Bush Administration, which is long on yellow car magnets but short on actual substantive relief such as longer dwell times, appears to be compounding its neglect of our returning veterans by refusing to support Senator Jim Webb's New GI Bill, which provides for tuition and stipends for our returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to attend the four year colleges of their choice.

Last week we heard testimony by Admiral Mullen and SecDef Gates before the Senate on the Administration's latest defense appropriations requests. To their credit both Mullen and Gates told Senator Webb that they did not understand the Pentagon's apparent opposition to his Bill. Mullen said "we need to take care of these people from the moment they are recruited for as long as they are in the system" and Gates said he had attended Georgetown on the GI Bill after his Air Force Service.

Yesterday the educational problems of returning veterans and the benefits of the New GI Bill were featured on The News Hour on PBS. Here is the link to the story: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/military/jan-june08/gibill_02-12.html The shocking thing was the opposition of the Pentagon spokesman, who appeared to be concerned only with whether the GI Bill was necessary in order to promote retention. In fact, the Pentagon apparently takes the position that the GI Bill will affect retention, and therefore opposes it. This is an unconscionable, selfish argument.

Senator Webb appeared this morning on C-Span's Washington Journal to discuss the legislation. The link is http://www.c-span.org/homepage.asp?Cat=Series&Code=WJE&ShowVidNum=9&Rot_Cat_CD=WJ&Rot_HT=206&Rot_WD=&ShowVidDays=100&ShowVidDesc=&ArchiveDays=30

Just hit the link to the February 13, 2008 complete program and scroll through to about 1:31:35 to pick up Senator Webb's interview and discussion of his press conference on the issue. He discussed the combined veterans groups supporting the legislation, the faults of the Montgomery GI Bill, which was intended to be a recruitment tool, and compared it to the types of benefits returning World War II veterans received. He talked about the difficulty of obtaining good figures, but said it should cost about $2 billion per year. Every dollar that went into the WWII GI Bill was repaid seven times over. Secondly, it's the type of program which will increase military recruitment.

Would everyone get the same benefits? In the sense that it's the same as WWII. The payments are capped at the maximum that a state school would charge, and members of the National Guard and Reserve would be eligible. There are two steps for the NG and Reserve. The first would give benefits even if deployed for a short amount of time, but if they should serve more time overseas then the second step would be that they become eligible for the full scope of benefits just as the regular Army would be.

Senator Webb received overwhelming support from callers, several of whom talked of their own experiences with the GI Bill. Senator Webb made a point of discussing the disruption to National Guard and Reserve troops who are repeatedly called away from their civilian lives and suffer from serious delays in obtaining education.

The issue of mental health and veterans' suicides also came up. Senator Webb pointed to the repeated deployments and the pressures that attend them. He saw the report on the Guard and Reserve. He points out that the young people with four year enlistments are also suffering from terrible difficulties because there is no release for them. He said we should have the right kind of professionals in place to assess PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

Webb told one caller he did not understand why the Bill hadn't been proposed before, and called it a "pure equity issue" for people who stepped forward to serve their country in a time of need and deserved this benefit. One woman called, frustrated, and demanded to know why the Bill hadn't been proposed before and worried that it would not pass. Webb replied that if he had been in the Senate 5 years ago he would have pushed for it then. He also told her that the best thing we can do is give a veteran an affirmative view of the veteran's service. Educational benefits achieve this goal and may contribute to the mental well-being of returned veterans.

One elderly caller called the Democratic attacks on Bush "propaganda" and compared it to criticisms of Truman during Korea. Webb replied that "this President ... listened to some very bad advice and made a strategic blunder in terms of putting us in Iraq." He likes to refer to it as a double strategic mousetrap. He said "we tied up the finest military in the world and burned our people out." The second prong is that we've tied up our resources and cannot respond on a number of strategic fronts. The issue about PTSD and suicides "is real." Webb talked about knowing what it is like from personal experience for returned veterans to deal with the effects of their experiences.

He said we "should all agree on this". He said "President Bush should be the first guy to step forward and say we should give this to all the people who served." The last caller was a woman from North Carolina. She asked why our troops must stay over so long and come back and suffer from suicides. The moderator also asked him to talk about the SecDef's decision to pause the drawdown in Iraq. Webb replied that after 5 years this Administration should have been able to figure out rotational cycles which would allow 12 month deployments and appropriate dwell times. He suggested that the SecDef should listen to the commanders above Petraeus who want us to draw back our military. He called it "doable."

Complete documentation of the 21st Century GI Bill, the press release, and other materials may be found at Senator Webb's website: http://webb.senate.gov/

5 comments:

libhom said...

I'm glad Webb is sponsoring this legislation. I just wish he would take a stronger stance against the war on Iraq.

Catzmaw said...

He has taken a very strong stance against the war, but what he says is that we got into it carelessly and must extract ourselves carefully.

Thanks for your support of the legislation, though. It's really important.

JR said...

Several organizations in support of the bill have a site to send emails to your representatives regarding the veterans bill - http://ga4.org/campaign/gibill

Catzmaw said...

Thanks for the link. I'm fortunate in that my representatives are Webb, Warner, and Jim Moran, so no need to press them on the issue; however, others may need a little help in seeing things the right way.

I'm very pleased with the book appearances Senator Webb has been making - each time he's interviewed he's able to promote the legislation.

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