The Bush administration has come out strongly against Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) efforts to dramatically expand educational benefits for returning veterans. In a press briefing on May 6, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell warned of the “harm” Webb’s 21st Century GI Bill would do to troop retention and objected to the generous benefits given after “only” two years of service:
But we are certainly concerned that this would be eligible to them after only two years of service. We think pegging it to a longer period of service — the number we have in mind, at this point, is six years of service — that the longer you stay in, the sweeter the benefits are to you. … The last thing we want to do is provide a benefit — or the last thing we want to do is create a situation in which we are losing our men and women who we have worked so hard to train.
“This bill would encourage young men and women to join the military,” [National Commander Marty] 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.”
As Conatser points out, any declines in reenlistment would be made up for by increases in recruitment. The recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assessment found that Webb’s bill, which would “more than double the present value of educational benefits for servicemembers at the first reenlistment point,” would result in a 16 percent decline in the reenlistment rate. However, it would also “result in a 16 percent increase in recruits.”
Conatser also addressed criticisms that the GI Bill is too expensive, pointing out that 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.”
Theodore S. Voelker, a veteran in New York state, has a letter to the editor in today’s New York Times noting that after serving from 1959 through 1963, he was able to afford a graduate education because of the GI Bill. He also points out that McCain went to the Naval Academy “at taxpayer expense,” and the fact that McCain agrees with Bush opposing the Web bill is “just another frightening indication that if he is elected it will be ‘Bush’s third term.’”
[featuredcomment]texaslady Says: “An interview at an American Legion Hall this A.M. a vet stated ‘no more invading to provide Nation building.’ If you remember one of the top members of the American Legion pushed for bush in 2004. Pretty radical changes.”[/featuredcomment]