Keeping a promise he made on the campaign trail in 2006, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) did more for the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan on his first day in the Senate than the man he ousted, George Felix Allen, did in the entire previous Congress.
Going unnoticed in the frenzy of Democrats assuming control of Capitol Hill and George W. Bush seeking to plunge the country deeper into the Iraq quagmire, Webb introduced the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007, legislation that will provide the newest Veterans with educational benefits like those received by men and women who served in the three decades following World War II.
"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," said Webb, in introducing his bill last week. "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."
Webb, a former Secretary of the Navy and a highly-decorated Vietnam Veteran, introduced his legislation to provide enhanced benefits to those serving in the military since September 11, 2001. It will replace the Montgomery G.I. Bill, to which military personnel must contribute -- while earning a low active-duty salary anyway -- and which only provides financial support of up to $800 per month for educational expenses, which may not cover the cost of a full college education.
The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act will pay for Veterans' tuition, books, fees, and other training costs, while also providing a monthly stipend of $1,000 for living expenses, thus making it much more possible for a large number of Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to actually be able to complete a college education and build a better life.
"The United States has never erred when it has made sustained new investments in higher education and job training," said Webb. "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."
Webb also pointed out that Veterans have enough adjustments to make upon returning to civilian society and those who went into the military in part to get a college education and better their lot in life, deserve the country's support in realizing educational opportunity without additional hardship.
"Better-educated veterans have a more positive readjustment experience," said Webb, who earned a Navy Cross, Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts for his Vietnam service. "This experience lowers the costs of treating post-traumatic stress disorder and other readjustment-related difficulties."
Saying that the limited Montgomery G.I. Bill is "simply insufficient after 9/11," Webb made the case that the extreme adversity, sacrifice and risk endured by those serving in today's military makes providing greater Veterans benefits a matter of fairness and national honor.
"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," said Webb. "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."
Within the text of Webb's legislation it says that "the people of the United States greatly value military service and recognize the difficult challenges involved in readjusting to civilian life after wartime service in the Armed Forces." Quick passage of this legislation will show that a Democratic Congress truly does value the troops and that the Commonwealth of Virginia -- which is home to a large number of Veterans -- was wise to elect Webb to replace Allen, who did nothing like this while a member of the do-nothing GOP Congress.
And Webb's going to be there to keep reminding people that patriotism involves supporting the troops in deeds, as well as with words and magnetic ribbons on cars.
"I am a proud Veteran who is honored to serve this great nation," said Webb on his first day as a United States Senator. "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."
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A Personal Postscript: I had a difficult time adjusting when I was discharged from the military and, while I had to work most of the time I spent at San Francisco State University, I was fortunate to be able to attend five years of college on the old G.I. Bill that Webb's legislation will restore.
Having the ability to quickly and easily go from the U.S. Navy straight into being a normal college student, enabled everything I have achieved since. I can also tell you that, being the only person in my family to ever get a college degree, the U.S. government has been paid back many times over in the salary I have been able to earn in my career and the corresponding taxes I have paid -- compared to what I would have contributed to the U.S. Treasury as a manual laborer back home in rural Nebraska.
A robust G.I. Bill set the tone for my adult life and Webb's bill will pave the way for a new generation of Veterans to get the same kick-start to a healthy post-military life.