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Editorial: Send a veteran to college

U.S. veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan are struggling to find jobs, so efforts are under way to encourage employers to “Hire A Vet.” A job fair for veterans drew a crowd last week at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
But to ease the transition back into civilian life, the nation should go beyond pumping up hiring practices. The United States should stretch its resources to cover the full cost for these veterans to get a college degree.
Veterans’ organizations and lawmakers are building a strong case for revamping the GI Bill, according to reports in the Christian Science Monitor and other newspapers. The college-assistance program for veterans educated an entire generation after World War II, and the nation still has a benefits program in place. But veterans’ benefits have not kept up with many rising costs, including the cost of a college degree. In 2005-06, the average cost of a four-year college education in this country ó tuition, fees, room and board ó is more than $17,000 a year. GI benefits will cover barely more than half of that.
One strong argument for a better GI Bill is the need for the United States to better position itself in the global economy. Low-income recruits make up much of today’s military ó people who might assume a college degree is beyond their reach. They gain valuable skills and life experience in the military, but they still face an uphill climb in making their way in today’s economy. They need an education boost. If the U.S. government can write a blank check for the war in Iraq, it ought to reward the people who fought it with greater opportunities to get ahead once they get home.
For that matter, if the U.S. government can write a blank check for the war in Iraq, it ought to take a more generous approach toward public education for the nation’s children ó the strongest weapon we have in the war against poverty and crime within our own borders.
A better GI bill is probably more feasible and more politically popular ó which is yet more reason to make it happen. In Congress, this idea is gaining momentum, as it should. Sen. James Webb, D-Va., and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., have proposed legislation known as the Post 9-11 Veterans Education Assistance Act. It would apply to those who have served two years active duty, with part of that service since Sept. 11, 2001. Earlier veterans may object to that cutoff, and it may be up for debate. But the line will have to be drawn somewhere.
Details like that should not bog this legislation down. However people feel about the war, the nation undeniably owes a debt to the military personnel who have fought and are fighting it. A college education would be a strong payment and a priceless investment.

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