In what may have been one of the most head-shakingly and politically stupid ideas in recent memory, a proposal in Congress that was to have come before the House Veterans Affairs Committee on April 26th would have imposed a new $2,400 fee on service-members who wanted to sign up for the GI Bill upon leaving the military.

Let that soak in for a second while I put forward in the interest of full disclosure that this author has used the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit for both graduate school and firefighter training.

The GI Bill is a tax-payer-provided benefit for veterans to help pay for some of the costs of higher and vocational education for those who have served.  It was expanded in 2008, with the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, which was designed to provide an education to those who served after September 10th, 2001. 

The GI Bill not only provides assistance for use toward graduate and undergraduate degrees, but also technical training, which can include everything from firefighter and nursing training to long-haul truck driving school and even acupuncture training.

Let us be clear: the GI Bill costs the taxpayers money.  It is not free.  It is like any other benefit that comes from the federal government in that respect.  According to the Center for Public Integrity, the Post-9/11 GI Bill has paid for nearly one million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to go to school at a cost of about $30 billion since 2009.  According to projections from the Veterans Affairs (VA) administration and the White House, spending on the Post-9/11 GI Bill is estimated to reach $42 billion next year.

Now, having service members pay into the GI Bill is not a novel idea, or even a terrible one, in principle.  According to Stars and Stripes, an earlier version of the benefit, called the Montgomery GI Bill, mandated that recipients pay $100 per month for one year to receive the benefit.  That was not during a time of war, though.

The newly-proposed legislation would have mandated a similar payment, of $100 per month, for two years, thus resulting in the $2,400 fee/tax/reduction in benefit.

No matter how you frame the tax, though, or how you levy it, or whether you call it a fee for a benefit, or simply call it what it is — a reduction in benefits to veterans — the bottom line is that in a time of prolonged war, where a small minority of the population is fighting the lion’s share of the nation’s battles, some in Congress thought it a good idea to reduce the benefits we provide them as a society.