On Capitol Hill, support is building for new World War II-style benefits – either in this year's budget or through legislation such as that proposed by Sen. James Webb (D) of Virginia and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) of Nebraska, both Vietnam veterans. Known as the Post 9-11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, it would apply to those who have served two years of active duty, with part of that service since Sept. 11, 2001. Full benefits would cover the equivalent of a four-year education at the highest-priced public institution in a given state. The law would also provide a monthly living stipend of up to $1,000 and give veterans 15 years, instead of 10, to use their benefits.
"We keep saying this is the next 'greatest generation'... and we should give them the same educational opportunities that the people coming back from World War II had," Senator Webb says.
Paul Rieckoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, has been making the case – in D.C. and in the media – that a new, comprehensive GI Bill "is arguably the best return on investment we can get from a government program." It would help mitigate other issues, he says, because when veterans have to sleep on Mom's couch or work an extra job to pay for college, many "get behind on their loans and have to drop out of school.... That's when we start to see the mental health [and family] problems kick in."