A post-Iraq G.I. Bill needs to be passed now

By U-Wire

Earlier this month, Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Jim Webb, D-Va., co-authored a New York Times op-ed arguing for better treatment of Iraq war veterans.

The op-ed begins: “Members of Congress and other political leaders often say that men and women who have served in our military since 9/11 are the ‘new greatest generation.’ Well, here’s a thought from two infantry combat veterans of the Vietnam era’s ‘wounded generation’: if you truly believe that our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are like those who fought in World War II, let us provide them with the same G.I. Bill that was given to the veterans of that war.”

Specifically, that would mean thousands of Iraq war veterans would receive full college tuition, fees and books as well as monthly stipends.

Compare those benefits with the system now in place under the Montgomery G.I. Bill: Soldiers pay $100 a month for the first year of enlistment, then later receive $800 a month on average to go to college.

Hagel’s and Webb’s conclusions are spot on. If congressional representatives are going to talk the rhetoric about supporting the troops, they ought to come through with actual support for the troops.

A G.I. Bill – along with, of course, a rational plan for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and top-notch health insurance – is a good place to start.

After all, $800 a month isn’t going to cover college expenses. According to the Times’ op-ed, that payment would cover 13 percent of the cost of attending Columbia University; 26 percent at UCLA.

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, $800 a month would cover, at most, 40 percent of attendance, according to a Daily Nebraskan analysis of data from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

That’s not enough.

Americans willing to put their lives on the line serving in the Middle East deserve to go to college when they return to the States – rather than start a job at Burger King.

Earlier this month, we learned from a New York Times story that the Department of Veterans Affairs and aid groups are preparing for a new surge of homeless Iraq war veterans after 400 already have been found to be homeless.

“We’re beginning to see, across the country, the first trickle of this generation of warriors in homeless shelters,” Phil Landis, chairman of Veterans Village of San Diego, a group that provides assistance to needy veterans, told the Times. “But we anticipate that it’s going to be a tsunami.”

It should be no surprise that poor soldiers coming home from the hell of war end up homeless. If they had a shot at college for free, maybe they’d stay off the streets.

If the United States is willing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to send American warriors into Iraq and Afghanistan, this country should invest in the future of those warriors when they come home and return to their role as regular citizens.

Again, we agree with Hagel and Webb – the current Montgomery G.I. Bill provided fair benefits to service members during peace time.

We owe them more during this chaos.