Members of the U.S. armed forces risk their lives for our country. It's only fair that our country in return give those who survive that indispensable service easy access to higher education. That was the fundamental basis of the G.I. Bill that sent so many of our "Greatest Generation" to college after World War II, to great long-term benefit not just for them but for the entire nation. That concept should still apply today.
Several congressional proposals to provide overdue increases in education funding for veterans aim to serve that purpose. One of the most prominent initiatives comes from Sens. James Webb, D-Va., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., both highly decorated Vietnam veterans. Their goal is to cover full tuition at a state university.
Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Richard Burr of North Carolina and John McCain of Arizona last week presented a counter-plan that also would significantly raise the benefits in the current G.I. Bill while extending them to members of the Reserve and National Guard.
A release from Sen. Graham's office hailed the proposal that would "help more military personnel attend college debt-free and allow them to transfer their education benefits to their spouses or children," adding: "It also bolsters recruitment and retention efforts, encouraging service members to continue their military careers."
The Pentagon has expressed concerns that the Webb-Hagel plan offers too much in benefits for too few years in service, and could, instead of motivating military personnel to stay in the armed forces, motivate them to leave prematurely, further straining our already-stretched ranks.
The Graham-Burr-McCain alternative would offer ample benefits after six years of service — and significantly more after 12.
Sen. Graham explained: "We do not need to reinvent the wheel. Our legislation improves benefits and modernizes the Montgomery G.I. Bill education program without creating new levels of red tape and bureaucracy."
Common ground should abound on this issue. As Sen. Hagel told The Washington Post: "I know my friend John McCain is taking a serious look at this legislation, and he'll do what he thinks is right. Our country has found enough money to send our troops to war. There surely is enough money to make education opportunities available to those who have earned it and sacrificed for this country."
Reasonable compromises should eventually produce a proposal that improves educational benefits for our current, former and future warriors without undermining the military's ability to recruit and retain sufficient force levels.