Tuesday, November 20, 2007

fighting for the fighters

Kay Steiger, over at Tapped, alerts me to a pledge by two wealthy alums to my alma mater, Wesleyan University. Frank Sica (’73) and Jonathan Soros (’92) have created a fund to provide scholarships for up to ten military veterans to attend the Middletown, CT, school.

Steiger, however, questions the approach:

While it's admirable that the donors want to see that vets can afford to go to a school which costs roughly $47,000 a year, they might have better spent their resources lobbying for an expansion of the GI Bill. Many veterans benefits are having trouble keeping up with the demand -- an influx of new veterans puts a strain on a system that was intended to pay the way for a vet to go to pretty much any school he wanted. Instead, even with GI benefits, vets have to work jobs or take out loans to make up the difference. Additionally, most vets don't dream of going to schools like Wesleyan. They want to attend a nearby state school or community college.

I can certainly agree with Steiger’s ultimate goal, but I don’t see it to be at odds with the grant by Sica and Soros. While the gift to Wesleyan is substantial, it should not preclude these two wealthy gentlemen, and/or people like them, from also supporting a lobbying effort on behalf of the Bush-era vets.

Further, while I can’t directly contradict Steiger’s assertions, I also can’t blindly embrace them. While our all-volunteer force might draw disproportionately from social strata and locales not prominently represented in the Wesleyan student body, that is not to say that none from this group are without such aspirations. In fact, admissions structures such as they are at America’s elite universities—with alumni networks, feeder schools, and legacy benefits—actively discriminate against many that Steiger assumes would prefer the less competitive educational options.

I expect there are several now serving or recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan that would thrill to and benefit from the type of education I was fortunate enough to receive at Wesleyan. I know that Wesleyan would benefit from admitting the veterans.

However, to Kay Steiger’s important point—it is beyond obvious that we need a new GI Bill. Be it for higher education or vocational training, those that volunteered for service with thoughts of improving their lives have more than earned this level of assistance. But they also deserve more. They deserve access to competent psychiatric care, free of charge. They deserve medical care, funded through the government, for as long as they need—not just care for wounds sustained in battle, but full medical coverage, for themselves and their immediate families, whether or not they continue as active duty or reservists. And they deserve a VA health system that has fully repaired its Bush administered breakdowns.

Additionally, building on the old GI Bill model, current vets should have access to low interest home loans, and government protection from predatory lending practices.

Finally, it is not really up to any one or two rich college grads to promote this program—it is up to our elected representatives. In fact, even without a high-priced lobbying effort, this one should be a no-brainer for the Democrats in Congress. While Republicans wring their hands and rant about supporting the troops while they are doing the president’s bidding in Iraq, what could be a more palpable demonstration of support than passing a package that includes the programs and the money necessary for our veterans and their families to thrive here at home?

With the obvious benefits, the ready constituency, and the successful history of the WWII-era GI Bill, I challenge any Republican to oppose a contemporary version. And if they do, I would welcome the fight.

(cross-posted to The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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