Yesterday, ThinkProgress highlighted the latest reason from the Bush administration to oppose a real GI Bill for troops, offered by Senators Webb and Hagel. The Pentagon spokesperson said, in part:
[W]e 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. Six years would show a commitment to service. … 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.
Wow. There are a few very serious flaws in this logic:
First, the time of service isn’t a measure of commitment to service. What about the troops who served under six years, did a few tours in Iraq, and came back without a limb, and could no longer serve? Have they shown less of a commitment to America? I would love for this spokesperson to go to Walter Reed and tell anyone there who served three years, but now cannot continue their service, that they haven’t shown a commitment.
Second, no one is leaving the military after two years. I’d note that when you sign up, it’s for an eight year contract, most for four years active. They can serve in a number of ways. For example, I served four and a half years active (because I was Stop Lossed), went to grad school and served in the reserves, but was called back up after ten months. So, the point remains that you’re not talking about a flood of people breaking their contract after three or four years. The overwhelming majority of men and women serve out their contract for eight years, so even if they do begin school when they’re done with their active duty commitment, the military can call them up at any time they need them, for the life of the troop’s contract. A GI Bill isn’t going to change it.
Third is that if the administration was serious about retention, they would 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. That’s a much bigger threat to retention than offering a service-member the chance to get a quality education.
Personally, it took me months after I got back to get contractors to stop calling me, offering me six-figures, tax-free, to do work for them in Iraq. I didn’t take them up on it, but there are far more who do leave to make money. I do not blame the troops for this, by the way. They have families to provide for, and if they’re going to take on a dangerous task, it’s far more attractive to do it for a lot of money, which they can leave to their families.
But the fact is that the administration hasn’t taken on contractors — it’s embraced them. The administration continues to dole out bloated contracts to private contractors, instead of increase the size of the military, or address how the war in Iraq has overextended our forces. The result is that those contracts are spent, in large part, to lure away members of the military.
So, the latest spin by the Pentagon isn’t just nonsense — it’s offensive nonsense, because it insults the intelligence of the service members who recognize that the administration has never been serious about retention. Otherwise, they would have done something about contractors a long, long time ago.
You can read all about this issue, and how the troops and veterans are reacting, over at www.VetVoice.com