This Memorial Day, I encourage members of Congress who hope to tax new enlistees for their GI Bill to consider those who might not live to claim the education benefit.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s recent fights to defend the Post-9/11 GI Bill have prompted me to ponder my fate if I had been sworn in as a private instead of a second lieutenant.
Getting ready to graduate high school I knew only one thing for sure about my life ahead – I wanted to be in the Army. The emotional roller coaster after my dad’s untimely death when I was in middle school nearly squashed my college ambition, so my plan in the spring of my senior year was to enlist and figure out school later.
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I graduated from high school in 2000. No enlistment option I could have chosen would have saved me from wearing Army green on Sept. 11, 2001. But instead of being in formation that day, I was in a classroom. Not because I could afford it but because days before commencement, I was fortunate to be awarded an ROTC tuition scholarship plus a full room and board scholarship, an offer I couldn’t turn down.
If I had enlisted, I would have paid into the Montgomery GI Bill. Who knows how quickly this peacetime enlistee would have found herself in the line of fire, and there would have been others like me. That’s why after more than five years at war, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and bipartisan leaders in Congress fought in the face of opposition from the Bush administration to bring the GI Bill in line with the benefit the Greatest Generation earned in World War II.
The original GI Bill wasn’t just an investment in veterans but in our nation’s economy. Just 38.8 percent of World War II troops were volunteers; all who returned home alive were repaid with educational opportunity, and we added $7 to our economy for every $1 taxpayers put in.
The war on terror is being fought only with volunteers. For years, brave men and women were asked to pay into an education that a roadside bomb may prevent them from even collecting. This needed to change – and in 2008 IAVA and our partners succeeded in passing the Post-9/11 GI Bill. It is one of our organization’s proudest moments and, I would argue, a marquee one for our nation as well.
Actions in Congress over the past 12 months, however, have been borderline shameful as Congress has made multiple attempts to raise money off the Post-9/11 GI Bill. We are still a nation at war, but the most recent proposal suggests troops pay $100 a month upfront for two years for their GI Bill. That would mean that a private that may never live to walk on a college campus would be taxed 6.25 percent of their $19,200 annual base pay for their GI Bill. At the same time, the U.S. spends over $300,000 on service academy graduates and tens of thousands on ROTC cadets before their lives are even risked.
This is an important time for our nation. The international and domestic existential threats may understandably overwhelm our elected officials. But as long as we remain at war while dodging a draft, it’s unconscionable to balance our books on the backs of young enlisted troops. And as someone who had the luxury of getting my degree before I went to combat, I believe it’s unfair and unjust.
Such political cowardice will not be tolerated by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. We will always look out for our troops, and I most definitely will as a comrade who easily could’ve been in their boots.
Allison Jaslow, a former Army Captain who served two combat deployments in Iraq, is executive director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org