Monday, May 12, 2008

American Legion chastises Congress, comes out in favor of Jim Webb's GI Bill legislation

This is one of those things that came on the wire feed while I was off at the convention that needs a post of it's own.

The American Legion has come out strong in favor of S 22, the GI Bill legislation offered by Senator Jim Webb (D,VA) in January 2007.
"When The American Legion championed the original Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, even some veterans groups complained that it would 'break the treasury,'" National Commander Marty Conatser said. "Instead, the GI Bill transformed the economy and has been widely hailed as the greatest domestic legislation Congress ever passed. The critics were wrong then and they are wrong now."

Conatser pointed out that while the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill, S-22, would cost $51.8 billion over 10 years, "it is a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the sacrifices made by America's servicemembers and their families."

The debate over the cost for the original World War II-era GI Bill was unpersuasive to its author, American Legion Past National Commander Harry Colmery. "If we can spend 200 to 300 billion dollars to teach our men and women to kill, why quibble over a billion or so to help them to have the opportunity to earn economic independence and to enjoy the fruits of freedom?" he asked at the time.

Over the decades, the GI Bill has enabled millions of veterans to attend college and is estimated by some economists to have returned $7 to the economy for every $1 in cost. However soaring tuition and decreases in program benefits over the years has left higher education out of reach for many current veterans.

Concerns that the new GI Bill, proposed by Sen. James Webb, D-Va., would hurt military retention are unfounded, according to The American Legion. "This bill would encourage young men and women to join the military," Conatser said. "As far as retention goes, the CBO estimates that a simple $8,000 bonus to personnel at their first enlistment point would increase reenlistments by 2 percentage points. Another way to encourage mid-level servicemembers to stay in the military is to transfer GI Bill benefits to family members so the servicemember can remain in the military and still benefit from the program."

Conatser had a suggestion to critics who believe the GI Bill is too expensive. "Visit Walter Reed. War is expensive indeed and the bulk of that cost is paid for by the men and women who wear the uniform. Benefits are just a small, small cost of war."

"The GI Bill is important enough to stand on its own merit," concludes Conatser. "I have faith in the American people that they will demand that Congress pass the GI Bill, which truly expresses the thanks of a grateful nation for service above and beyond that of normal citizenship."
The support - or lack thereof - of the American Legion will go a long way in a lot of republican congressional districts this fall. The organization has nearly two and three quarters million members who have served in foreign wars, and every year more and more men and women become eligible to join. The republican party pisses off the veterans constituency at their own peril. Personally, I hope they continue on this self-destructive path. The sooner we put two behind the ear of the myth that the republicans are the party that best represents the military interest, the better off we will be.

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