WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) spoke on the Senate floor today, calling for action on a new GI Bill for the 21st Century. These provisions championed by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) are expected to come before the Senate later this week in the Supplemental Appropriations bill. Senator Akaka is the Chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, and attended college on the original World War II GI Bill.
Senator Akaka's remarks are prepared for delivery are copied below:
I rise to speak in support of a new GI Bill for the 21st Century.
As Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and as one of the eight million veterans who took advantage of the opportunity to attend college on the original World War II GI Bill, I know first-hand the value of this benefit. It is one of the reasons why I am here today in the US Senate. Without the generous support I received from the GI Bill and the maturity and discipline I gained from my military experience, I am certain that my life would have turned out much differently. Being able to attend the University of Hawaii - with all expenses covered - and receiving an allowance of $113.50 a month - gave me the start in life that led to me standing here in this body today.
Now we should give that same opportunity to those young people - stepping forward - to put themselves in harm's way for our country. That is why I have given my enthusiastic support to the provisions - that will come before the Senate later this week in the Supplemental Appropriations bill - that would establish a new program of educational assistance for veterans and service members. Those provisions are drawn from S. 22, - the proposed "Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007" - which was introduced by my good friend and colleague from Virginia (Senator Webb) - who serves with me on the Committee. This is a bipartisan measure that has already been approved by the House of Representatives.
This legislation will give thousands of young men and women - who sacrificed for our country - the opportunity to return to civilian life and pursue a full-time college education -without worrying about what they will live on. It makes good on our promise of an education in return for volunteering to serve in our military - and for honorable service.
To those who have concerns about the impact that this proposal might have on the Armed Forces ability to recruit and retain quality personnel, there are a number of points which must be made.
First, this new GI Bill for the 21st Century would be a powerful recruitment tool for our military. Our bright, college-bound high school seniors will see this as an attractive way to pay for their advanced education. By completing a three-year commitment, they will earn a benefit that will allow them to attend school without accumulating thousands of dollars of debt.
As for retention, the Armed Services cannot retain those who they do not recruit. In addition, this proposal incorporates a number of tools that the military can use to make longer commitments attractive - including retention kickers and the option of transferring benefits to family members.
I believe that those who would rely on transferability as an incentive to longer service would be disappointed. In 2006, the Army began offering this option to certain soldiers in certain critical skill areas. Less than 2 percent of the 17,000 soldiers who were given an option - to transfer benefits to a spouse - accepted it. Now the program has been expanded to permit transferability to children - but much more experience is needed before anyone can positively say that this benefit would have the desired impact on retention.
Finally, I want to say a few words to those who are concerned about the cost of the program. I have long said - caring for veterans is a continuing cost of war. This nation will be paying for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan for many, many years. The cost of this program is a very small portion of the total funds that have already been spent -- and will continue to be incurred in the future. As others have pointed out, this program would be an extremely small percentage of what these conflicts are costing us each day.
It is time for a new GI Bill for the 21st Century.