Out of a population of more than 305 million Americans, less than 1 percent serve in the military. This less than 1 percent of Americans have taken on the burdens imposed by military service, and it is this less than 1 percent of Americans who, along with their families, have made the most significant sacrifices to protect our nation’s security today.
It is easy to say Americans owe a debt to our service members and our veterans, but beginning to pay off that debt requires a long-term national commitment to provide the benefits and assistance that these men and women have earned. That’s why I’m excited about the new and improved GI Bill, which will open up more educational opportunities to those who have served on active duty since 9/11.
The original GI Bill was created to help World War II veterans go to college and jumpstart their lives after the war. Without the GI Bill, many veterans would never have been able to afford college.
But this program made it possible for millions of Americans to earn a degree. And while changing the lives of individual veterans and their families, the GI Bill also transformed America. The post-World War II veterans who embraced the GI Bill became the “Greatest Generation,” who led the post-war economic boom, became civic and community leaders, and changed our nation for the better.
Now we are witnessing the dawn of a new Greatest Generation. Of the about 2.5 million members of the armed forces, more than 1.9 million have deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, and more than 23,000 have served in Kosovo.
These soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines wear the uniform as volunteers. They are disciplined and patriotic, and they understand duty to country. Many have been in combat, have served multiple tours and have either seen or suffered injuries in the line of duty.
These patriots will continue to do good things if they receive the recognition, encouragement and gratitude they have earned. If we do right by them, this new Greatest Generation will contribute even more by becoming the civic, community and political leaders our towns and cities, our states and our nation need. That’s where the new Post-9/11 GI Bill comes in.
Today, a college degree is more important than ever. The Post-9/11 GI Bill, which took effect on Aug. 1, updates education benefits to reflect the current cost of attending a public university. Members of the armed forces and veterans who have served at least three months of active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, are eligible to receive financial assistance for tuition and fees, and a stipend of up to $1,000 a year for books and supplies. They also may be eligible for a housing allowance.
Another innovation of the new GI Bill is that it allows service members to transfer education benefits to a spouse or child. All who have served on active duty, including members of the National Guard and Reserves, are eligible for benefits under the new GI Bill.
We have a solemn duty to respect and show appreciation to our forces and their families for their sacrifices and willingness to serve. Improving GI Bill benefits is one way we can pay part of the debt our nation owes our men and women in uniform.
I’m convinced it won’t take long for Americans to see how a program that is good for service members is also good for the whole country.
Rep. Ike Skelton, a Democrat, represents Missouri’s 4th congressional District. He lives in Lexington, Mo. (KC Star)