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The head of a major veterans' group says the White House and Congress should consider making major improvements in GI Bill education benefits as part of their planned $150 billion economic stimulus package.
"A new GI Bill would stimulate the U.S. economy significantly and go a long way toward helping our newest generation of heroes build a better life," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Rieckhoff said improving the GI Bill to help the overall economy is "one proven strategy for growth that no one is talking about."
He was referring to the fact that the World War II GI Bill of Rights is widely credited with helping boost the U.S. economy at the end of the war.
"When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the original GI Bill in 1944, he ensured that 8 million World War II veterans would be able to afford an education," Rieckhoff said. "It resulted in higher national productivity, consumer spending and tax revenue. Every dollar spent sending the Greatest Generation to college added seven dollars to our national economy."
The Congressional Research Service, a bipartisan arm of Congress, estimates the World War II GI Bill resulted in a $5 to $12 increase in tax revenue for every $1 spent on sending a veteran to college.
Rieckhoff's comments come as Congress is considering GI Bill improvements that would raise monthly payments — now a maximum of $1,101 — to fully cover the cost of tuition at a four-year public college, plus a $1,000 monthly stipend for living expenses. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., the chief sponsor of the GI Bill legislation, calls it the modern equivalent of the World War II GI Bill.
The Bush administration has remained wary of the bill, because of its $5.4 billion cost and concerns that significant improvements in veterans' education benefits might encourage people to get out of the military to go to college, which in turn could hurt military readiness.
Rieckhoff said today's GI Bill benefits "are far inferior to what their predecessors received. Today's GI Bill covers less than 70 percent of the average cost at a public college and less than two years at a typical private college."
The nation could afford to do more, Rieckhoff said, noting the U.S. spends less today on college education for veterans than it spends for two weeks of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.