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In the News: Financial Aid For Veterans Becomes Hot Issue on Campaign Trail

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June 2, 2008 by Mara Strom

Whether you’re for Obama, Clinton or McCain, here’s an issue you might want to consider: Financial aid for our nation’s service men and women. Do you know where your candidate stands?

A new GI Bill is being debated in Congress, which if passed, would be the biggest expansion of education benefits to veterans since World War II. Sponsored by Senate Democrat and Vietnam War veteran Jim Webb (VA), the plan would give anyone who has served in the military for at least three years a full-ride scholarship to any of their in-state public universities. The plan would also boost monthly housing stipends for student veterans.

The Senate passed the bill 75-22 last week with strong bipartisan support. The House is set to take up the measure after its week-long Memorial Day break. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

Why hate on a bill designed to assist our nation’s heroes? For one thing, Bush says, the bill is too expensive. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the proposal would cost $51.8 billion over the next 10 years.

Presidential candidate Barack Obama has vowed to fight any attempts by the administration to kill the measure. “Our intention is to override that veto when it comes back to the House and the Senate,” he said at a town hall meeting in Texas. “We’ve got to have outstanding educational benefits for veterans when they come home.”

But what does the Pentagon think? Perhaps surprisingly, top brass is also opposed to the bill, saying it discourages soldiers from reenlisting. While open to substantially boosting college aid for veterans, the Pentagon wants soldiers to have to commit to six years of service before becoming scholarship-eligible.

Senator John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee, agrees: “Encouraging people to choose to not become noncommissioned officers would hurt the military and our country very badly,” he said at a Memorial Day event in New Mexico.

The Federal Government currently provides financial aid to veterans and active duty members of the military through the Montgomery GI Bill and other measures. However many former soldiers say it’s far from sufficient to meet their costs.

What do you think — do you agree with Bush, McCain or Barack on this one? And would a guaranteed free ride induce you to sign up?

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