With the advent of the "all-volunteer" force in the years after Vietnam, one of the things that recruiters sold the young men and women was the "dream" that they would be able to achieve a better life for themselves either as career military, or they could take their post-service benefits and head off to get either college or vocational training, buy a home and take advantage of other benefits designed for the men and women who came home from WW II.
Well, recruiters told them that until Congress got into the act in 1984, and went looking for ways to further screw the men and women who served their country, often at the risk of their lives for minimum wage or below. The in-service "OJT" offered was sometimes able to be transferred to a civilian job (Nuclear plant operators, airline pilots and vehicle mechanics come to mind), but there were very few opportunites for "MOS" (Military Occupational Specialities) like "small atomic demolitions munitions specialist" (no, I am not making that up, I saw the recruiting movie for it back in the 80s) to transfer that and other skills like combat infantry to civilian life directly.
Without the marginally effective, non-cost indexed Montgomery GI Bill, a separating GI had really no other financial resources to look to for training and education other than student loans and grants/scholarships. So it began for a returning vet…there they were competing with a younger group of kids who were either in debt up to their eyeballs or trust fund babies at the DEKE house (now who does that sound like?). And they had to make choices about schools that they could afford versus schools that they wanted to attend to achieve their educational goals.
So what does this bring us back to? Well, the iterations that the GI Bill has gone through over the last thirty years brought it to a point that made it almost unrecognizable by a veteran of WWII. A service member basically had to opt in to the benefits, and contribute to it or lose the opportunity to participate. The bill was gutted in 1984 with the complicity of Congress to make it as "cost effective" as possible for the government, and as costly as possible for the veterans with a $1200 dollar enrollment fee that had to be paid pretty quickly, or else no participation. Now with the advent of the Iraq War, where we have that two-plus decades-old all-volunteer force stretched to the breaking point and the republicans are once again playing shit on the vets game. Amazing. The original GI Bill was sort of the brainchild of the American Legion as amazing as that is, given the American Legion of today.
Peter Gaytan is director of veteran’s affairs for the American Legion. He says the bill’s humble origins on a sheet of hotel stationery belie its radical premise:
"We didn’t wanna just create legislation that would write a monthly check to a veteran who returned from combat. We recognized that they needed a transition into a life, not a payment for service. What the GI Bill originally did was allow them to go to school, to purchase their home, to become part of the work force when they took the uniform off."
The attitude of the Legion, was what it took to take the fight for the returning warriors to get something that would allow them to leave the horrors of war, or the boredom of Fort Dix behind them and begin their lives anew, rebuilding a civilian society that had been transformed into a huge war production machine. So it went for almost forty years, until Ronald Reagan decided he loved veterans so much that he never met a cut in veterans spending he didn’t like. I guess it was sort of like a "Veterans welfare cadillac" for republicans or something.
Now we have veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan coming back from Preznit Barely Educated’s dirty little war and gee, he loves him some veterans, as do those freedom-and-veteran-loving republicans hacks who collect huge taxpayer salaries to sit in Congress and do…well…not much. The Webb bill provides a means for the returning veterans to elect to attend a state school at a "full-ride" if thery have the required qualifying service (36 months), and it also includes the Guard and Reserves, something that many of the military spending bills Congress passes ignore on a regular basis.
In 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, World War I vets marched on the Capitol demanding compensation owed to them. Government troops were called in to disperse them by force.
Would that happen again? Probably not, but maybe it should. Consider the story of this young man back from Iraq:
For Todd Bowers it wasn’t just a tough decision to just stop going to school: "It was embarrassing."
The 28-year old Marine reservist was almost killed by a sniper while serving in Iraq. The bullet is still lodged in his rifle scope.
Back home, Bowers re-enrolled for classes at George Washington University but had to drop out. Despite his savings and part-time jobs, his benefits simply didn’t go far enough.
"I was as surprised as I think all of America is," Bowers said. "I hear from a lot of my friends who have not served and even family and they say, ‘Well, you served in the military, your college is paid for.’"
John McCain, a man who has lived on the public dollar his entire life, has no interest in helping veterans to have a leg up in post-Iraq America. McCain has either had the eagle crapping a check in his bank account or living on the Sugar Momma Express for his entire life. But helping someone along especially vets by supporting Webb’s bill…not so much.
The best (absolutely most stupid) reason for not helping the returning veterans? Gee, it’s because going to deplete the Armed Forces.
"We in the department want to be careful that any changes to benefits don’t undercut retention," said Undersecretary of Defense for manpower issues David Chu. "In other words, if you are very generous about post-service education, you’re creating a draw away from continued military service, which we would need to counter-act."
Or maybe you develop a force manning and deployment policy that does not require mulitple rotations, provides care for the injured and education for all of them. In other words you keep the social compact you built with the men and women who have faithfully discharged their enlistment oaths, something republicans who love Desertin’ George and Five-Deferment Dick do not seem to do too well.
Or you just don’t start unnecessary wars.