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Senators press Gates on improving GI Bill

Feb. 6, 2008 - 10:41AM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 6, 2008 - 10:41AM  |  
An effort by Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, left, to give post-Sept. 11 veterans vastly expanded education benefits gained a powerful ally Feb. 6 when Republican Sen. John Warner, right, reached across the aisle to lend his support.
An effort by Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, left, to give post-Sept. 11 veterans vastly expanded education benefits gained a powerful ally Feb. 6 when Republican Sen. John Warner, right, reached across the aisle to lend his support. ()
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An effort by Sen. James Webb, D-Va., to give post-Sept. 11 veterans vastly expanded education benefits gained a powerful ally Wednesday when Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia reached across the aisle to lend his support.

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An effort by Sen. James Webb, D-Va., to give post-Sept. 11 veterans vastly expanded education benefits gained a powerful ally Wednesday when Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia reached across the aisle to lend his support.

Last year, Webb introduced legislation calling for a new GI Bill that mirrors the generous post-World War II version that paid for veterans' tuition, books and fees, and provided a monthly stipend and covered other training costs. That program was credited with transforming American society; the number of high school graduates attending college increased fivefold after World War II.

Webb says that today's heavily tasked vets deserve better education benefits than they currently have under the Montgomery GI Bill and that an improved bill would be a powerful recruiting tool.

"I would suggest and hope that we can take a look at it soon to try to get something through this year," Webb told Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Defense Department's fiscal 2009 budget request.

"We've been working on it for a year," Webb said. "We've been trying to get the other side to understand that this is not a political issue, it's an issue rewarding service. And all we're saying is try to give the same thing that we gave these people coming out of World War II. For every dollar that was spent on their education, we got $7 back in tax receipts because we increased the value of their professional lives. So I would hope we could work on a pretty rapid manner on this."

"Yes, sir," Gates said, indicating he would get Webb a Defense Department response to his proposal. "And I will say I'm not a manpower guy, but the GI Bill did pay for my Ph.D. at Georgetown."

Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., quickly quipped, "In your case, it's probably 14 times or 15 times the investment."

But Warner, who is not yet listed as one of the 32 co-sponsors to Webb's bill, turned serious. "Could I just commend my colleague from Virginia?" Warner said. "And I wish to associate myself with your goals. I think we will be able to in this committee effectively put forward a bill."

Warner's voice would give the bill, which Levin said has been referred to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, a huge boost. The powerful former committee chairman is a highly influential voice on defense issues in the Senate.

Levin asked Gates to provide the Pentagon's position on Webb's bill within a month. "We're entitled to an answer," Levin said.

The bill's lead Republican co-sponsor is Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. A House companion bill, introduced by Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., has 91 co-sponsors.

A list of Senate co-sponsors of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007 as of Feb. 6 is http://webb.senate.gov/pdf/s22cosponsors6.pdf">available online.

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