Monday, July 6, 2009

Support The Troops (Offer not valid in all 50 States)

Support the Troops (Offer Not Valid in All 50 States)*

*Unless for some reason said support hurts retention or goes against the agenda of the Executive office.

From Capitol Hill to the stump speeches of the Presidential candidates, the new G.I. Bill has been given more coverage than most legislation that trudges through Congress. The bill, proposed by former United States Marine and current Senator Jim Webb, calls for a massive overhaul of the current GI Bill. It most specifically recognizes the service of the Reservist and National Guard Veterans unable to complete their degrees with continued support in the form of a military education benefit. The way the current G.I. Bill is structured, one must be enlisted to receive the benefits. Ten years ago, this made sense: the reserve force was not being depleted, so outside of drilling dates the soldiers were essentially left to earn their degrees and find careers. However, the current picture reservists and the guard face the near certainty of multiple deployments in only their first enlistment. This creates difficulty for soldiers to complete degree programs or find a good job as companies are increasingly reluctant to hire the citizen soldiers.

This applies directly to me. I have not as yet obtained my Bachelor's Degree - earning credits while I could between deployments - and at the behest of my 5 year-old daughter, I left the armed services and in doing so I left behind the benefit promised to me when I entered into my contract with America. I, as with 75% of returning war veterans, left the service despite the cost in benefits. This bill proposes that veterans that have answered the call of this country will not find themselves years behind their contemporaries that did not serve upon entering the workforce as not a citizen-soldier, but as a student-employee. With the decline of opportunities for the American worker without a degree or accredited certificate, this assistance with education is the least that the honorable soldier leaving the military deserves.

I am enraged when the argument against this bill is the argument of retention. Inside the military, the retention officer and non-commissioned officers are often the customer service departments of an army unit. They are the person to see when you have a question about your current benefits or what will be entitled to you after you leave. It is in these meetings that one discovers what is truly in store for the non-disabled veteran upon separation. The problems with retention are real and present with benefits as they are today. Awarding the veterans leaving the military the opportunity to at least earn a degree will not create a mass exodus from the military, but in fact could encourage others to serve by making a promise to the soldier and keeping it.

I am greatly disappointed in the stance that not only the President has taken on this issue, but the stance John McCain has taken. As someone who has never been employed by anyone other than the Federal government, I would not expect him to co-sponsor the bill. However, to take the stance that because of his service others supporting this measure who did not serve are wrong on this issue is despicable. The passage of this bill in the House and the Senate is a positive step in the right direction, however I fear this bill may be left to die in committee or stopped in some other way. If it is signed into law, this will be a mere scratching of the surface of what we must be prepared to do to properly care for these veterans today and tomorrow. Yet, with an education, perhaps some of us can then solve our problems for ourselves.

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