Veto-proof the new GI Bill. Have Halliburton manage it!

Pardon my cynicism, but if you really want George W. Bush and his surrogate father, Dick Cheney to get behind the latest revision of the GI Bill, then you had better make it a gravy train and leave the driving to Halliburton. That would muzzle any complaint the White House could possibly have. And by the way, don’t worry about the cost either. Halliburton provides value that can’t be measured by any Inspector General or Senate sub-committee…which brings me to my real point.

This past week, on May 22nd, the Senate voted and passed the 21st Century GI Bill, a World War II-style GI Bill for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans as an amendment to an emergency supplemental war funding bill. The new G.I. bill “is projected to cost about $2.5 billion per year,” roughly the cost of U.S. operations in Iraq for one week. On this vote, lawmakers had to go on record as to whether they truly support our nation’s newest generation of veterans or merely giving patronizing lip-service. Sadly, Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee protested against the bill and President George W. Bush has promised to veto it. Go figure? Strange that these two figures, who are so invested in patriotic aegis, should so publicly and recklessly expose themselves to the disdain of so many who have served the country in harm’s way.

I’m particularly saddened by former serviceman and POW, John McCain’s position on this landmark bill. McCain, along with Bush and the Pentagon have voiced their opposition to the bipartisan Webb-Hagel GI Bill by spouting fears that “too many will use it,” and it will therefore “harm” the military. According to a Congressional Budget Office study released a couple weeks ago stated Webb’s bill could, in fact, cut retention rates by 16 percent. However, that’s not all there is to the report. It actually predicts an increase of 16% in new recruitment. Note the following Think Progress report:

Literature on the effects of educational benefits on retention suggest that every $10,000 increase in educational benefits yields a reduction in retention of slightly more than 1 percentage point. CBO estimates that S. 22 (as modified) would more than double the present value of educational benefits for servicemembers at the first reenlistment point — from about $40,000 to over $90,000 — implying a 16 percent decline in the reenlistment rate, from about 42 percent to about 36 percent. […]

Educational benefits have been shown to raise the number of military recruits. Based on an analysis of the existing literature, CBO estimates that a 10 percent increase in educational benefits would result in an increase of about 1 percent in high-quality recruits. On that basis, CBO calculates that raising the educational benefits as proposed in S. 22 would result in a 16 percent increase in recruits.

The troubling thing I see in all this is the pretensions Senator McCain made concerning the motivations of those serving in uniform. His contention that people are going to enlist for just two years and then bail out of the service to go to college hardly has any merit at all and is a slap in the face to those who have given all before their two-year enlistments were up. John Soltz, chairman of VoteVets.org noted these points among other points of McCain’s disconnected and baseless logic:

First, the time of service isn’t a measure of commitment to service. What about the troops who served under six years, did a few tours in Iraq, and came back without a limb, and could no longer serve? Have they shown less of a commitment to America? I would love for this spokesperson to go to Walter Reed and tell anyone there who served three years, but now cannot continue their service, that they haven’t shown a commitment.

Second, no one is leaving the military after two years. I’d note that when you sign up, it’s for an eight year contract, most for four years active. They can serve in a number of ways. For example, I served four and a half years active (because I was Stop Lossed), went to grad school and served in the reserves, but was called back up after ten months. So, the point remains that you’re not talking about a flood of people breaking their contract after three or four years. The overwhelming majority of men and women serve out their contract for eight years, so even if they do begin school when they’re done with their active duty commitment, the military can call them up at any time they need them, for the life of the troop’s contract. A GI Bill isn’t going to change it.

Third is that if the administration was serious about retention, they would focus on the role of contractors, who continually snatch up troops, offering them up to 10 times their military pay to do a similar job in Iraq. That’s a much bigger threat to retention than offering a service-member the chance to get a quality education.

Personally, it took me months after I got back to get contractors to stop calling me, offering me six-figures, tax-free, to do work for them in Iraq. I didn’t take them up on it, but there are far more who do leave to make money. I do not blame the troops for this, by the way. They have families to provide for, and if they’re going to take on a dangerous task, it’s far more attractive to do it for a lot of money, which they can leave to their families.

But the fact is that the administration hasn’t taken on contractors – it’s embraced them. The administration continues to dole out bloated contracts to private contractors, instead of increase the size of the military, or address how the war in Iraq has overextended our forces. The result is that those contracts are spent, in large part, to lure away members of the military.

So, the latest spin by the Pentagon isn’t just nonsense – it’s offensive nonsense, because it insults the intelligence of the service members who recognize that the administration has never been serious about retention. Otherwise, they would have done something about contractors a long, long time ago.

(You can read all about this issue, and how the troops and veterans are reacting, over at www.VetVoice.com)

John McCain is no doubt a patriot and is committed to the defense of the republic. As he asserted in a Memorial Day speech, “I have many responsibilities to the American people, and I take them all seriously. But I have one responsibility that outweighs all the others and that is to use whatever talents I possess and every resource God has granted me to protect the security of this great and good nation from all enemies foreign and domestic.” Regarding the new GI Bill, he felt that the bill would undermine the effort in Iraq and would be “catastrophic.” He vowed to fight it.

Strange that John McCain would fight against a measure the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) assert “… is the military’s single most effective recruitment tool.” They further attest to the fact that “the number one reason civilians join the military is to get money for college, (and) As our military recovers and resets in the coming years, an expanded GI Bill will play a crucial role in ensuring that our military remains the strongest and most advanced in the world.” You would think that John McCain would understand the value of the bill, but for some reason, he’s choosing to look at this glass, half-empty.

I’m hoping that both John McCain and George W. Bush will truly act upon the words of a great American who once said,

“The sacrifices made by veterans deserve to be memorialized in something more lasting than marble or bronze or in the fleeting effect of a politician’s speeches. Your valor and devotion to duty have earned your country’s abiding concern for your welfare. And when our government forgets to honor our debts to you, it is a stain upon America’s honor. The Walter Reed scandal recalled, I hope, not just government but the public who elected it, to our responsibilities to the men and women who risked life and limb to meet their responsibilities to us. Such a disgrace is unworthy of the greatest nation on earth. As the greatest leaders in our history, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, instructed us, care for Americans who fought to defend us should rank among the highest of national priorities.

Those who have borne the burden of war for our sake must be treated fairly and expeditiously as they seek compensation for disability or illness. We owe them compassion, knowledge and hands-on care in their transition to civilian life. We owe them training, rehabilitation and education. We owe their families, parents and caregivers our concern and support. They should never be deprived of quality medical care and mental health care coverage for illness or injury incurred as a result of their service to our country.”

That great American was John McCain.

US Naval Academy

(The US Naval Academy, where John McCain received a free education before serving his country in combat. Now, he refuses to help advance those who have already stood in harm’s way.)

Related Articles:

A G.I. Bill for the 21st Century – The Progress Report

Fear of Troop Exodus Fuels Debate on G.I. Bill – New york Times

New CBO Report Proves McCain is ‘full of it.’ – Think Progress

Postscript: I found this comment posted by PaigeInPhilly on ABC News Political Radar. Its worth noting.

1) The McCain-Graham-Burr legislation creates a flat education benefit, not taking into account the cost of state colleges where veterans live. This would mean veterans in states where the cost of education is higher than the benefit would have go to into debt to get an education, or uproot themselves and their families to move to a place where the benefit would cover college. The Webb-Hagel Bill determines the education benefit based on the highest state college tuition in a veterans’ home state, allowing veterans to come home and attend college, without upheaval in their lives.

2) The McCain-Graham-Burr legislation creates second-class veterans, by offering those who serve in the military for 12 years the chance to transfer their education benefits to their children. This says to a veteran who serves for two years and loses both of his legs in combat that his service isn’t as valuable as someone who has served for longer.

3) The McCain-Graham-Burr legislation leaves the National Guard and Reserve out in the cold. In the current conflicts, the National Guard and Reserve have served faithfully alongside their active duty compatriots, and deserve equal benefits. Yet, the McCain bill does nothing to reward our Guard and Reservists for their cumulative service. Under the McCain bill, over 160,000 members of the Guard and Reserves who have done more than one tour in Iraq or Afghanistan would get no credit towards an education for their additional sacrifice.

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