Support Our Troops

Vets say they feel misled about GI benefits

April 28, 2008
CNN

Cheated - Baited and switched - That's how veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan say they feel about military recruiters who sold them on how the GI Bill would benefit them.

Soldiers, Marines and airmen, speaking at a Capitol Hill rally Tuesday, said they are not given enough funds from the bill to cover college expenses as they were promised.

Todd Bowers served two tours in Iraq.

"I came home proud, very proud of my service, with a Purple Heart on my chest and a Navy commendation medal with a 'V' for Valor," he told a crowd of veterans.

"But I didn't come back to the education I was expecting. I came back to three different types of student loans, two of which had gone to collections."

Najwa McQueen said she joined the Louisiana National Guard in 2004 on what she thought was a promise to help pay for her college education.

"They kind of sell you a dream," she said after the rally. "You think you're going to get all of this stuff, and in reality, you don't get that. I just kind of believed what my recruiter told me, which is not the truth."

McQueen left behind her husband and 18-month-old daughter in October 2004 and served 10 months in Iraq. After her service, she enrolled in college and found that her total benefits from the GI Bill would be $400 a month for four months, totaling $1,600. Her classes alone, she said, cost $1,000 each.

The GI Bill began in June 1944, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944. It was designed to help educate and train military veterans returning from WWII. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 7.8 million of 16 million troops who served in WWII received educational or vocational training from the GI Bill.

Today, the benefits from the GI Bill cover about half of the national average cost of college including tuition, board and room. As of October 1, 2007, under the current GI Bill, the maximum for active-duty servicemen who were honorably discharged is $1,101 a month for 36 months to help cover tuition, room and board, and books. For reservists and National Guard members, the average is lower: typically $440 a month. Watch veterans say that the country

"Not even [enough to cover] community college," said Steven Henderson, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Marine Corps reservist Evan Aanerud, who served in Iraq, enlisted right out of high school.

"After putting my life on the line for America, it would have been nice to be afforded the educational benefits we were led to expect," he said.

One of the early beneficiaries of the GI Bill was Petty Officer 3rd Class John Warner, who served in the Navy in WWII and went on to earn undergraduate and law degrees. The GI Bill covered both degrees in full at that time.

Warner is a U.S. senator from Virginia, and he spoke to the veterans at Tuesday's rally.

"I would not be privileged to have served now these 30 years in the United States Senate, and at one time chairman of the Armed Services Committee, had it not been this great nation giving me the opportunity through the GI Bill to receive that education, preparation and training," he said.

Warner is one of 58 senators co-sponsoring Sen. Jim Webb's Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act.

Webb's proposal is designed to dramatically expand educational benefits for military veterans. A version of the bill in the House has 241 co-sponsors. Covering active-duty National Guard troops and reservists, as well as other service members, it aims to cover the cost of the most expensive public in-state universities and a monthly housing stipend. Those who served on active duty for three or more months after September 11, 2001, would be eligible.

For private colleges with typically more expensive tuition fees, the bill seeks to match private schools' contributions over the course of four academic years.

"This is not a difficult concept. For all the people saying this is the new Greatest Generation, this is not a difficult thing. This is the easiest way to prove that," said Webb, a Virginia Democrat and Vietnam veteran.

The new bill's cost is estimated at $2 billion. House Democrats are discussing a proposal to add Webb's bill and other domestic priorities to the Iraq War Spending Bill, according to several Democratic leadership aides

President Bush warned Tuesday at a Rose Garden news conference that he would veto any additions to the bill.

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