The New G.I. Bill: McCain’s opposition aligns him firmly with Bush

Yes, it was a big government program about which former Senator Bob Dole spoke in these glowing terms: “It changed America; it may have changed the world.”

Passed in 1944, the G.I. Bill of Rights made available to sixteen million veterans of World War II, like Dole, generous educational opportunities and home ownership. It helped build the American middle class that drove the post-war economic boom of the 1950s.

In a recent NY Times op ed (“Doing the Troops Wrong”), Bob Herbert wrote:

The original G.I. Bill of Rights, signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, paid the full load of a returning veteran’s education at a college or technical school and provided a monthly stipend. It was an investment that paid astounding dividends. Millions of veterans benefited, and they helped transform the nation. College would no longer be the exclusive preserve of the wealthy and those who crowned themselves the intellectual elite.

Herbert goes on to say that “reinvigorating the G.I. bill is one of the best things this nation could do.”

That’s why a new GI Bill — Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act — has been introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. In the Senate, Vietnam veteran Jim Webb (D-VA) has been leading the charge along co-sponsors Chuck Hagel (R-NE), another Vietnam vet, and John Warner (R-VA), a former Navy Secretary.

A version of the bill has also been introduced in the House and New Mexico Congressman Tom Udall is an enthusiastic sponsor.

But the Bush Administration opposes the new G.I. bill. So does John McCain.

Their Bush-McCain argument: The benefits are “too generous” and it will affect “retention” of troops — the troops that McCain will need to keep throwing into his grinding 100-year Iraqi War of Occupation — a quagmire seemingly without end.

And on and on it goes. America’s involvement in World War II lasted 44 months. Today we are in the 61st month and counting since America entered the Iraq War. Last month, 52 more American soldiers were killed in action. Over 30,000 have been wounded. Many troops, including National Guard, are now in their third or fourth deployments.

Regardless of one’s position on this war, there is broad-based public consensus that America should do right by its veterans. That’s what makes the oppostion of McCain, a war hero who claims to support the troops, so inexplicable.

Former NATO Supreme Commander, General Wesley Clark, responded to the Bush-McCain position in an LA Times op ed:

It is morally reprehensible to fix the system so that civilian life is unappealing to service members, in an attempt to force them to re-up. Education assistance is not a handout, it is a sacred promise that we have made for generations in return for service.

Second, falling military recruitment numbers are just as serious as retention problems. To send the message that this nation will not help you make the most of your life will dissuade a large number of our best and brightest from choosing military service over other career options.

McCain has made it a point to remind audiences that service to one’s nation is bigger than one’s self. Indeed, there is nothing more noble than risking your life for your country. Every day, Americans are doing just that, as they serve longer and more frequent deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But just because our service members are selfless does not mean they deserve to be left to fend for themselves as they return home and try to make a better life. Indeed, as much as his service to America is responsible for making McCain who he is today, America’s service to him played an invaluable role too. McCain should remember that and sign on to the GI Bill for the 21st Century.

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