by David Safier

Joseph Galloway has an op ed in this morning’s Star, Today’s combat vets deserve new GI bill. According to Galloway:

Sen. James Webb, D-Va., a Vietnam veteran, has been doggedly pursuing passage of a new GI Bill aimed at helping these new wartime veterans get that education by giving them much the same educational benefits that were extended to their grandfathers after WWII.

Under his bill, which has attracted three dozen other sponsors, the government would resume paying full college tuition for these veterans for a period linked to their times in uniform, but for no more than 36 months or four academic years. Every eligible college veteran also would receive a check for $1,000 a month to help cover living expenses.

This would cost the government about $2 billion a year, which is about what we’re presently spending every 36 hours in Iraq.

President George W. Bush and the Pentagon oppose any such improvement of this miserly benefit for our young veterans. Why? The president says it would cost too much and be too hard to administer, and he’s threatened to veto Webb’s bill if it ever passes.

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Giving GIs tuition plus living expenses is so obviously a good, cost-effective concept, I have trouble understanding how people who care about our soldiers could be against it. These often aimless ex-soldiers would have an opportunity to improve themselves, to open new vistas for themselves, new possibilities. They are older now than when they enlisted, and more experienced, and possibly more disciplined. Even if they weren’t ready to give college a try back then, they may be now.

And our currently weak economy which would have trouble absorbing all these young people into the work force now will benefit from the influx of skilled, educated workers who graduate a few years down the line.

I’m reminded of a few passages from “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the classic novel about World War I. The narrator, a young man who went to war straight out of high school, said:

The war swept us away. For the others, the older men, it is but an interruption. They are able to think beyond it. We, however, have been gripped by it and do not know what the end may be. We know only that in some strange and melancholy way we have become a waste land.

Later in the book, he commented about his generation:

We are forlorn like children, and experienced like old men, we are crude and sorrowful and superficial – I believe we are lost.

The timeless accuracy of those lines, first published almost exactly 80 years ago, sends a chill through me. The technology changes; the soldiers remain the same.

Bush & Co. only believe in “supporting our troops” when they’re part of our fighting machine (though even then, adequate body armor and properly protected vehicles aren’t much of a priority). But once the troops are no longer troops, once they have outlived their usefulness as soldiers, our current administration stops caring about them. Good veterans’ hospitals and quality health care apparently are unimportant. Psychological help is for sissies. And a college education? If you want one so bad, pay for it yourself!

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