Proposed GI bills would affect veteran benefits
By Neha Jaganathan
May 11, 2008 10:50 p.m.
For students Luke Stalcup and Anthony Allman, the current battle over two new GI bills is not only a discussion occurring on Capitol Hill, but also a battle over legislation pertinent to their education and livelihood.
Both GI bills aim to increase educational benefits for veterans who served since Sept. 11, 2001, by revising the current Montgomery GI Bill, but have different provisions regarding the allocation of these benefits.
GI bill S22, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, authored by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va, will drastically increase the amount of educational aid received by veterans, said Kimberly Hunter, Webb’s press secretary.
S22 enjoys bipartisan support, but has been strongly opposed by presumptive GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, a decorated Vietnam War veteran.
McCain disagrees with S22 because he believes the benefits it provides will not provide incentive to remain in the military, said Robert Fischer, a spokesperson for McCain.
Instead of lending support to S22, McCain has co-authored, along with Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., an alternate set of revisions to the Montgomery GI Bill. These revisions, called the Enhancement of Recruiting, Retention, and Readjustment Act of 2008, will provide the most benefits for those who have served the longest, Fischer said.
Stalcup and Allman, president and vice president of Student Veterans of America, respectively, endorse the Webb GI bill and generally agree revisions to the current Montgomery GI Bill are necessary.
“(The) Montgomery GI Bill doesn’t even cover my cost of living, let alone the current cost of tuition,” Stalcup said.
Allman said the education of veterans is an investment and the benefits provided by the World War II GI bill were largely responsible for creating the middle class.
While McCain, Graham and Burr also want to revise the Montgomery GI bill, they want to maintain an incentive system, Fischer said.
“We agree there is a need to update and modernize benefits; we believe we have a better approach,” Fischer said.
Fischer also said that with the McCain-Graham-Burr bill, the amount of benefit a veteran receives would be proportional to how long he or she has served, ultimately encouraging servicemen to remain in the military for a longer period of time.
“McCain, Graham and Burr want to reward members. If they serve longer, they get increased benefit,” said Kevin Bishop, spokesman for Senator Lindsay Graham.
But Allman said incentives are not necessary because the majority of members of the military does not stay beyond one term of service.”
Allman also said individuals who have chosen to remain in the military longer do not need increased educational benefits because they would already have a career.
The Enhancement of Recruiting, Retention, and Readjustment Act of 2008 also differs from the Webb bill because it includes transferability provisions which allows for a veteran’s education benefits to be transferred to other family members, Bishop said.
“The McCain bill, what it tries to do is “˜incentivize’ people to stay in the military because the bill’s education benefits increases after time in service. Well, that’s not what the GI Bill was designed to do. The GI Bill was to help transition veterans … to civilian life,” Allman said.
Both Allman and Stalcup also said the increased payments stipulated by the McCain-Graham-Burr bill, which are less than those proposed by the Webb bill, would still not be sufficient to provide for the costs of college.
“And the other bill (McCain-Graham-Burr) is like a band-aid on a completely broken system,” Stalcup said.
Hunter said Webb’s GI bill differs from the McCain-Graham-Burr bill because it would provide veterans with funding matching the highest in-state tuition.
In the case of private schools with even higher costs would ask the federal government to match the amount provided for by the bill.
Indeed, Webb was motivated to create the bill by both the inability of veterans who served post-Sept. 11 to pay for the full cost of college and the fact that current veterans are not receiving as much support as was received by the World War II veterans the original bill was meant to support, Hunter said.
“I think that when we see so many young men and women go overseas and serve, there should be a program for them when they get back that makes it easier to go to college,” she said.
“If we can get this bill passed, we will see an increased presence of veterans on college campuses,” Hunter added.
Webb’s GI bill S22 also adds to the Montgomery GI Bill by providing equal benefits for members who served in the National Guard and Reserve as for veterans of active service duty, Hunter said.