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.
How does that make any sense, at this point in our history, while we see an increased operational tempo across the globe, and while some service members continue to make multiple deployments to war zones, absent from their families and putting themselves constantly into harm’s way?
Add to that fact that President Trump is now pushing for tax cuts for businesses and on corporations’ overseas profits, among other elements of his proposed “biggest tax cut in U.S. history,” and this smacks of placing more of a burden on American fighting men and women, while simultaneously lowering the burden on corporations and businesses.
Now, do not misread me. I am no left-leaning, corporation-hating, tax-loving liberal. As far as I am concerned, the Congress should lower tax rates across the board. That would be great. Put more money in the hands of citizens. Incentivize businesses to bring their profits back home. Let the gravy train roll for all of us.
Guess what, though? That will “cost” the government money (meaning, the government will have less of our money, and corporate profits, to spend on programs). Guess what, again? Some of the money it spends goes to veterans, for education benefits as a reward for the service provided on behalf of the country. If the proposed GI Bill tax/fee comes into being, it will save the taxpayers about $3.1 billion over the next ten years, again according to Stars and Stripes. That ain’t chump change. I get that.
Now is not the time to cut that spending, though. There are other ways to recuperate this money if the Congress is determined to do so. Lowering the benefits of those who have fought for the country over the past 17 years is not the right answer. What message does that send? “We appreciate your service, and even though fighting continues across the globe, it is time to dial back the benefits you receive for your service while we cut the rates on corporate and business profits.” How do you even begin to sell that idea?
It turns out that you don’t. The proposal never acquired a congressional sponsor (shocking!) and the committee hearing at which it was to be put forward was postponed. It seems someone in Congress might have come to their senses on this one.
Let us hope the proposal dies the death it deserves.