A new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report analyzing the impact of the GI Bill shows that McCain is indeed “full of it.” While the report explains that troop retention will decline because some troops will take advantage of their new education benefits, the loss in retention will be entirely made up for by increased military recruits:
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.
Ignoring the conclusion of the CBO report, the Army Times prints this deceptive headline suggesting that the GI Bill will only harm the military: “CBO: Better GI Bill would cut retention 16%.”
As Sen. John Warner (R-VA) has said, the flip side of the impact on retention is that “putting a big piece of cheese out there will induce more qualified people to join just to get this. It should be a tremendous incentive for recruitment.” If McCain and the Bush administration truly wanted to repair retention problems, they shouldn’t take benefits away from troops but rather — as Jon Soltz has said — “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.”