It’s Not Just a Slogan

Supporting the troops is not just a campaign slogan.  It’s something you either do, or you don’t.  Putting a ribbon on your car, or appending every political statement you make as being for our troops makes you neither a patriot nor an ardent backer of the military.  It makes you something of an ideological opportunist; shielding your personal beliefs with a concept that is largely looked upon as morally correct in our society.

This holds true even if you’re a politician.  In fact, blatantly campaigning on professed support for troops and then turning around and not governing as such is much worse.

From John McCain’s website:

John McCain believes that we must do what we can to smooth the transition for veterans from military to civilian life. He has strongly supported educational and job counseling programs to help veterans get civilian employment. He has worked to provide new educational assistance for reservists. He also fought to extend the availability of G.I. bill education benefits for Vietnam veterans, and to expand flight training benefits to more veterans. In addition, John McCain is a strong supporter of the Troops-To-Teachers Act, a program to train veterans to become teachers, and introduced legislation to extend the program. John McCain also believes that we must provide more assistance to veterans who are recently discharged and has worked to extend unemployment and vocational training benefits for veterans.

This is a commendable statement, and one to be expected from a man whose service to this country as a member of the US Navy should not be questioned.  But because his military service should not be questioned, that does not mean that the veracity of his statements, and his record as a US Senator should also remain free from inquiry.

Let’s rewind to the beginning of 2007.  The new Democratically controlled congress had just been installed, and the freshly elected Jim Webb from my home state of Virginia introduced his first piece of legislation:

Mr. WEBB. Mr. President, I rise today to speak in support of a bill that I am introducing, entitled the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007. This bill is designed to expand the educational benefits that our Nation offers to the brave men and women who have served us so honorably since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

As a veteran who hails from a family with a long history of military service, I am proud to offer this bill as my first piece of legislation in the United States Senate.

Most of us know that our country has a tradition–since World War II–of offering educational assistance to returning veterans. In the 1940s, the first G.I. bill helped transform notions of equality in American society. The G.I. bill program was designed to help veterans readjust to civilian life, avoid high levels of unemployment, and give veterans the opportunity to receive the education and training that they missed while bravely serving in the military.

To achieve these goals, the post-World War II G.I. bill paid for veterans’ tuition, books, fees, and other training costs, and also gave a monthly stipend. After World War II, 7.8 million veterans used the benefits given under the original G.I. bill in some form, out of a wartime veteran population of 15 million.

Over the last several decades, Congress subsequently passed several other G.I. bills, which also gave educational benefits to veterans. However, benefits awarded under those subsequent bills have not been as generous as our Nation’s original G.I. bill.

Currently, veterans’ educational benefits are administered under the Montgomery G.I. bill. This program periodically adjusts veterans’ educational benefits, but the program is designed primarily for peacetime–not wartime–service.

Yet, now our Nation is fighting a worldwide war against terrorism. Since 9/11, we have witnessed a sharp increase in the demands placed upon our military. Many of our military members are serving two or three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. In light of these immense hardships, it is now time to implement a more robust educational assistance program for our heroic veterans who have sacrificed so much for our great Nation.

The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007 does just that. This bill is designed to give our returning troops educational benefits identical to the benefits provided to veterans after World War II.

The new benefits package under the bill I am introducing today will include the costs of tuition, room and board, and a monthly stipend of $1,000. By contrast, existing law under the Montgomery G.I. bill provides educational support of up to $1,000 per month for four years, totaling $9,000 for each academic year. This benefit simply is insufficient after 9/11.

For example, costs of tuition, room, and board for an in-state student at George Mason University, located in Fairfax, Virginia, add up to approximately $14,000 per year. In addition, existing law requires participating service members to pay $1,200 during their first year of service in order to even qualify for the benefit.

Let me briefly summarize some of the reforms that are contained in the bill I am introducing today.

First, these increased educational benefits will be available to those members of the military who have served on active duty since September 11, 2001. In general, to qualify, veterans must have served at least two years of active duty, with at least some period of active duty time served beginning on or after September 11, 2001.

Next, the bill provides for educational benefits to be paid for a duration of time that is linked to time served in the military. Generally, veterans will not receive assistance for more than a total of 36 months, which equals four academic years.

Third, as I mentioned a moment ago, my bill would allow veterans pursuing an approved program of education to receive payments covering the established charges of their program, room and board, and a monthly stipend of $1,000. Moreover, the bill would allow additional payments for tutorial assistance, as well as licensure and certification tests.

Fourth, veterans would have up to 15 years to use their educational assistance entitlement. But veterans would be barred from receiving concurrent assistance from this program and another similar program, such as the Montgomery G.I. bill program.

Finally, under this bill, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs would administer the program, promulgate rules to carry out the new law, and pay for the program from funds made available to the Department of Veterans Affairs for the payment of readjustment benefits.

Again, I note that the benefits I have outlined today essentially mirror the benefits allowed under the G.I. bill enacted after World War II. That bill helped spark economic growth and expansion for a whole generation of Americans. The bill I introduce today likely will have similar beneficial effects. As the post-World War II experience so clearly indicated, better educated veterans have higher income levels, which in the long run will increase tax revenues.

Moreover, a strong G.I. bill will have a positive effect on military recruitment, broadening the socio-economic makeup of the military and reducing the direct costs of recruitment.

Perhaps more importantly, better-educated veterans have a more positive readjustment experience. This experience lowers the costs of treating post-traumatic stress disorder and other readjustment-related difficulties.

The United States has never erred when it has made sustained new investments in higher education and job training. Enacting the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007 is not only the right thing to do for our men and women in uniform, but it also is a strong tonic for an economy plagued by growing disparities in wealth, stagnant wages, and the outsourcing of American jobs.

Mr. President I am a proud veteran who is honored to serve this great Nation. As long as I represent Virginians in the United States Senate, I will make it a priority to help protect our brave men and women in uniform.

I am honored that the Senate Majority Leader has agreed to join with me to be a defender and advocate of our veterans. The Majority Leader has included the concepts of the bill I introduce today in his leadership bill designed to rebuild the United States military. Additionally, I plan to work closely with Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman AKAKA–and all of my Senate colleagues–to statutorily update G.I. benefits.

Together we can provide the deserving veterans of the 9/11 with the same program of benefits that our fathers and grandfathers received after World War II.

Mr. President, I ask that the bill I introduce today–the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007–be printed in the RECORD along with this statement.

I can’t tell you how important a piece of legislation like this truly is.  Many Americans forgo college opportunities in order to serve their country, and sometimes the skill set provided by the military does not necessarily translate to a seperating service member being fully equipped with today’s job market.

I have known and read multiple stories about people leaving the military and finding substandard employment upon doing so only to rejoin the military some time later for failure of being able to build the kind of life that they deserve.  This should not be acceptable to us as a society for these people are asked to do some of the toughest jobs for the sake of our nation, and they are asked to do so fully knowing that they could sacrifice their lives.

I am not saying that riches and opportunities should be lavished upon them.  Most folks in the military or getting out of the military will tell you that they don’t want life to be too easy for them.  Most don’t consider themselves heroes.  All I’m saying is that when a sailor, marine, soldier, or airman makes the choice, or is forced due to high year tenure, to leave the armed forces, we have a duty to them to at least help make prepare them for civilian life.

Since January of 2007, the only action on Webb’s bill has been its introduction.  For some reason it just hasn’t seen much daylight since Senator Webb gave his introductory speech on the floor of the Senate.

One would think that a person perfectly suited to help pass this legislation would be John McCain, himself a decorated veteran, and someone who, as stated above, professes to support the troops.  Indeed, he was even asked to co-sponsor the bill, but this was a statement offered by John McCain on the bill:

McCain Would Not Commit To Supporting The 21st Century GI Bill. When asked why he has not yet supported the 21st Century GI Bill, McCain responded “I have not had a chance to examine it carefully. It seems to me that it’s a good thing to do. But I haven’t examined the bill with the care that I, that I, that it needs. But we obviously need to do something along those lines and I just had a conversation with Senator Webb, who as you know is one of those spearheading it and I told him I was very supportive but that I hadn’t had a chance to examine it in detail yet.” [CNN Live Feed (Chula Vista, CA), 3/24/08]

Only, this statement was delivered over a year after the bill was first introduced.  You cannot possibly tell me that John McCain has not found a single spare evening where he could pore over the document to see if he could dig in and support the troops a little.

In fact, this has not been happening in a vacuum.  Jim Webb has made it clear that he wants McCain onboard with this bill as the Hill reports:

“McCain needs to get on the bill,” Webb told reporters after a Christian Science Monitor breakfast meeting on Wednesday. He said legislation mirroring the post-World War II GI bill should not be considered a “political issue.” 

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Il.), the Democratic presidential candidates, both have signed on to the bill.
 
In a major coup for Webb, Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, signed on as a co-sponsor earlier this month. Warner is a close ally of McCain, who is the ranking member on Armed Services. Warner has often been the committee’s top Republican with McCain
busy on the campaign trail.
 
Webb’s bill has 51 co-sponsors, including nine Republicans. Webb, a former secretary of the Navy, said he may have to get 60 co-sponsors to ensure Senate passage, but then added that many more Republicans could vote for the bill if McCain endorsed it.
 
The Bush administration so far has resisted Webb’s measure, and has said the new benefits may prompt active members of the military to leave for civilian life. The Pentagon is already struggling with re-enlistment, and some officials worry expanded educational benefits could whittle down the force.
 
The cost of Webb’s bill is projected to be about $2.5 billion a year, but Webb said he is still waiting for an official estimate from the Congressional Budget Office — something he said he asked for 15 months ago when he first introduced the bill
.

Of course the primary counter argument proposed by the administration is absolutely insane.  Sure, more military members may have a desire to get out if they are provided with Webb’s proposed educational benefit, but then, it’s going to bring in a lot more people as well.  For a military that has had issues with recruiting, this could very well be the kind of stimulus packaging that it needs.

But as Think Progress reports, not only is McCain on board with the administration’s opinion of not wanting to support the bill because, “too many people will use it,” this is not the only time that Webb and McCain have butted heads on how to actually support the troops.

Webb also got the cold shoulder from McCain when he proposed a bill that would grant soldiers equal time between home and deploymentThat bill ultimately failed.

Indeed, there seems to be a history of McCain voting against the troops, treating their well-being as “pork barrel spending”, however; when it came time to funding this war, or cheerleading this war, he has never faltered.

Somehow, I find myself skeptical of McCain’s ability to support the troops.

Big thanks to reader Ricardo Martinez who first put me on this story.

4 Responses to “It’s Not Just a Slogan”

  1. Batocchio says:

    I really want to see McCain grilled on this. His pal Graham was offering up a lot of BS avoiding an explanation for McCain’s refusal to back Webb this past Sunday.

  2. Me too. Like I said, he claims to have not had the time to think about it, it’s been a year.

    You know, up until now I have been kinda rooting for Obama to pick Tim Kaine as his running mate, but I’m on the bandwagon. I want Webb now. I honestly thing Webb could bring McCain down to his knees.

    We should start a campaign or something, you know, how to REALLY support the troops.

  3. Ricardo Martinez says:

    Tip of the Spear! Wonderful piece, thanks for the nod. Good to see Carpetbagger highlighting McCain’s b.s. as well. You hit the nail right on the head, I’m glad you brought up those magnetic yellow ribbons people are so fond of slapping on their cars. Nothing makes me chew back the bile more than seeing people drive around with one of those hollow sentiments proudly displayed next to a W sticker. group think and ignorance side by side.

    I’m also pleased to see that when my friend, Sen. McCain flaps his Polident encrusted lips about supporting our troops, it is being exposed for what it truly is : bumper sticker patriotism. But you wouldn’t know that if you were watching the cooing, ahem “reporting” the MSM likes to put out there about their favorite creation the “Maverick” John McCain.

    Batocchio is right about McCain’s little buddy Gilligan I mean, Sen. Graham’s b.s. answers. I do respect Graham for his service in the AF but, if he were ever to go to Iraq again, and this time not to just buy cheap rugs. He would be nothing more than a self recommendation writing fobbit.

  4. I’ll say more later today Ricardo, but let’s put it this way, I’m a federal employee of the DoN, and I live in Virginia. I know ALL ABOUT bumper sticker patriotism.

    Thanks man, anymore good tips you let me know.

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