Congress comes up with quite a few bonehead ideas, but this one is a doozy: Tax the troops to help pay for the GI Bill.
New recruits would pay $100 a month for as long as two years – $2,400 total – to become eligible for the education benefits. While that may not seem like much, new Army privates make only $1,600 a month. With a trigger-happy commander-in-chief, it’s plain wrong to dock the paychecks of soldiers in combat zones so they can go to college later.
While Republicans controlling the House Veterans Affairs Committee promote this proposal as a way to increase and protect education benefits, the outrage was immediate and fierce.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars calls the idea “absurd,” while Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America says it’s “ridiculous.” Top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco said Republicans “should be ashamed.” Soldiers earn GI Bill benefits through their service, they say.
Supporters, however, compare the “enrollment fee” to paying into Social Security and argue that having service members “buy in” would make it less likely for Congress to cut the benefits. Out of a total program cost of $100 billion over 10 years, however, the fee would raise only about $3 billion.
Backers also say that the “Lifetime GI Bill Act” would give vets seeking science degrees another year of benefits and would increase support for family members of soldiers who are killed. To expand benefits, why not just set aside some of that $54 billion more a year for defense proposed by President Donald Trump?
Thank goodness the outcry seems to have put the fee on the back burner, at least for now. An April 26 hearing was postponed. Democratic Reps. Mark Takano, Julia Brownley, Luis Correa and Scott Peters – the Californians who serve on the committee – should make sure the proposal is shelved, permanently.
About 1.5 million veterans and family members have used the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which passed in 2008, ended registration fees and increased tuition payments to cover the full cost of a four-year public college for those who served at least three years on active duty. A 2014 law requires all public colleges to offer in-state tuition to vets using the GI Bill.
It’s a big selling point for recruiters trying to fill the ranks of our all-volunteer military that fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now stationed in flashpoints around the globe, including Syria and South Korea.
Helping soldiers go back to school when they come home is the least we can do. We shouldn’t be charging them for the privilege while they’re protecting us.