The new GI Bill signed into law last week by President Bush brings this venerable American program into the 21st century. It raises education and other benefits sharply to meet rising higher education costs and makes it possible for the families of active-duty personnel to share in some of the benefits provided to those who end their military service.
The bill will be costly. The new GI Bill is designed to provide for tuition and housing assistance at in-state public universities for those who serve at least three years.
Eligible veterans, for example, will see their total potential benefits rise from an estimated $40,000 under the 1984 Sonny Montgomery GI Bill to $90,000 under the new measure.
But it is hard to argue against the merits of a law that rightly rewards service to the country and increases the nation's supply of educated citizens. And that increase is needed to counter tuition inflation.
That said, it is likely that Congress will have to revisit this new law soon to iron out inequities that will prevent some service members who ought to be eligible from participating.
For example, eligible service members who contributed toward benefits under an earlier program will not be reimbursed for their contributions, according to Eric Hilleman, deputy director of Veterans of Foreign Wars' National Legislative Service.
The new GI Bill came up as a floor amendment to the war funding bill and did not go through the careful fine-tuning provided to bills that are reported out by legislative committees.
One needed revision, however, came at the last minute, when the bill's sponsors heeded a Pentagon warning, amplified by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz., that the retention of experienced military personnel would be seriously harmed unless long-serving personnel could transfer education benefits they had earned to immediate family members.
In a statement on the new GI Bill, Sen. Graham hailed the decision to include the transferability provision, which he said would "dramatically enhance" the all-volunteer armed forces. But he added that he had "real reservations" about the hasty way the new GI benefits were written into law. "Congress shouldn't be doing the people's business in this fashion," he said.
Since it will take the Veterans Administration an estimated year to write regulations and form an office to administer the new law, Congress should have ample opportunity to make needed adjustments.
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