It’s Memorial Day, so here’s my Chicago based perspective on this controversey. Today while cleaning up my kitchen, I turned on the radio and decided to listen to my dad’s radio station, WGN. Cathy and Judy were on, taking calls from veterans. Since I tuned in after the callers came on, all I could surmise is that this was in response to the veteran’s educational benefits controversy. There were a LOT of veterans from our many wars who were NOT pleased with John McCain’s not supporting Senator Webb’s bill for increased funding for veteran’s education. They spoke from experience, as these callers had served their country and then were able to go to college with the help of the GI benefits.
Webb’s bill, which passed 75-22, called for increased educational funding for veterans, and maintained the 3 year service requirement. Apparently McCain had a bill of his own, which only offers a sliding scale and requires a longer amount of commitment to obtain the same benefits that the Webb bill would provide. It seems that McCain’s bill is designed to discourage enlisting in the military as primary way of getting your education paid for if you only enlist once, versus re-enlisting 3 or four times until you have say, 9-11 years of service.
So while in theory his bill is understandable, in reality it could vastly change the demographics of those who serve and of those who end up getting a college education when they otherwise might now have been able to. One reason that so many Latinos and African Americans ended up serving in the Vietnam war is that they couldn’t get college deferments because they weren’t able to go to college. In Chicago, I met several Caucasian Veterans when I was involved with a program at a university, and they, too, would have not been able to go to school had it not been for being in the Military. My uncle was in the Army, and Veteran’s Educational Benefits allowed him to pursue the type of education he wanted. He graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago.
As some point out, yes, the 3 year requirement for Veteran’s Educational Benefits may end up costing a fortune due to the amount of veterans from both Afghanistan and the Iraq, but to look at that alone as a reason to have not supported it is being short sighted. These benefits are considered to have been the greatest boon to creating a large middle class after WWII, as larger numbers returning veterans went to college and were able to earn more. A friend of mine enlisted during the Vietnam War. Like many Latinos growing up on the near west side, the military was considered the way to get out of the barrios and to get an education. One of my Little Village raised friends told me he now earns well over 6 figures, something he probably would not have been able to do if he had not enlisted. For him, the opportunity to see the world, to change the way he saw life in terms of being in a cultural enclave, and to see himself in respect to the bigger picture were all benefits he derived from education and service, one of which would not have been possible without the other.
For those of you who do not know this, contractors who go to Iraq and Afghanistan take home nearly obscene amounts of money for serving even shorter amounts of time. A cop I know went to Afghanistan for a special program that drew police officers from around the world, ostensibly to teach Afghanistan officers how to be police. He spent several months there, and was compensated so well that he paid off all his credit card bills, bought a condo on Lake Shore Drive and a luxury car, with money in the bank. Of course his gig was dangerous, but it was a lot shorter than a 3 year deployment.
Anyone who is willing to serve on behalf of the US Military basically gives up their personal life for as many years, while at the same time they put themselves in harm’s way. While where these men and women may end up deployed may not always be in agreement with everyones political beliefs, like it or not, these are people who believe in what they are doing and are here to serve their country, and to do what we don’t want to do ourselves. For this, the least we can do is say thank you with Educational Benefits. They deserve this, and unlike those of us with school loans, we didn’t risk our lives with whizzing bullets and we don’t need to wear Level 4 vests, which even in cool weather has got to be uncomfortable.
Of course, the big caveat in Veteran’s Educational Benefits is that you have to come home alive.