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Veterans' Benefits?


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Any vet that has tried to get through school on the GI Bill knows that it is, at best, barely enough for survival, let alone sufficient to pay the tuition costs of going to the school of his or her choice. What most of don't realize, however, is how drastically reduced present GI Bill benefits are from the original bill passed after World War II. Last year, Congress ordered the Veterans Administration to conduct a study of veteran's benefits and services. The VA, in turn, commissioned a private firm, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to do the study for them. The results certainly weren't what the VA wanted to hear as the study clearly pointed out the fact that the Vietnam-era veteran was getting pretty shoddy treatment under the 1972 GI Bill.

The ETS study found that "when educational allowances for the Vietnam-era veteran are adjusted for the average tuition, fees, books and supplies at a four-year public institution, the benefits remaining are insufficient to meet the veteran's estimated living expenses." Further, the study continue taking into account the greatly increased cost of living and education since the 1940's, the "World War II veteran was generally better off."

"It is apparent that inflation and a rising standard of living have taken their toll on the Vietnam veteran's benefits and that his 'real' ability to purchase post-secondary education has diminished with respect to his WWI counterpart."

Statements such as this are in direct contradiction with the official VA line which has consistently maintained that the 1972 GI Bill is as good as, and in some ways surpasses, the WWII Bill. Donald Johnson head of the VA and the former veteran's affairs advisor to the 1968 Nixon campaign, has continually painted a rosy picture of veteran's benefits under the Nixon administration, saying that the "present single veteran allowance of $1,980 for a school year is nearly three times the WWII allowance and gives most beterans more monetary assistance then after WWII, even allowing for inflation and increased school costs."

To wade through such a stream of lies, we should first look at the actual facts in the matter. After WWII a vet (1) received free tuition and fees up to $500 a year, (2) had all books and lab fees paid for, (3) could receive the Bill for a total of 48 months or 5-1/3 school years, and (4) was given a living allowance of $75 a month, which with inflation and the rising cost of living would be roughly worth $165 in 1973. In 1973, by contrast, a vet (1) receives no tuition or fees, (2) no books or lab fees, (3) can only collect the bill for 36 months or 4 school years and (4) only receives a total living allowance of $220 per month if unmarried (for a maximum 9 month total of $1,980 a year), $261 a month if married, or $298 a month with one chilled and an additional $18 a month for each additional child.

Marking friendly Mr. Johnson's statement about how great things are, we might suggest that he read the same ETS study his administration ordered. It said that: "the five-fold increase in the average tuition of four-year private institutions by 1973 (since WWII) coupled with the cost of books and supplies, requires the Vietnam Veteran with current benefits of $1,980 to raise an additional $136 just to meet educational costs -- leaving literally nothing for subsistance." Maybe Don and the VA feel that, unlike WWII vets, Vietnam-era vets don't have any need for food and housing?

When you find out that in many states you can collect unemployment compensation up to nearly $400 per month, you really begin to wonder what's going on. In many ways, the government is providing a stronger financial incentive to stay out of school and unemployed rather than to go to school and be trained for a good job.

The logical question is WHY is the GI Bill so low? The immediate answer is simple: the Nixon adminstration has consistantly opposed any proposed increases in the Bill since it took office in 1968. By the end of the LBJ administration, the GI Bill was up to $130 a month. A Senate Labor subcommittee found that in 1969, only 19% of eligible Vietnam-era veterans used the bill. It thus wanted to raise the bill from $130 to $190 a month. Both Nixon and his stooge in the VA, Donald Johnson, opposed this raise saying that any raise higher than $147 would be "inflationary!" While the Senate wanted to raise the Bill by $60, the VA wanted to limit the raise to $17. When a compromise figure of $175 was worked out, both Nixon and Johnson took credit publically for the raise.

In October, 1971, VA study #2131 was made (compiled and printed at a cost of $183,000 by Lewis Harris and Assoc.) that contained a poll of 20,000 Vietnam-era vets who had not used the GI Bill. This poll (Table #86) asked whether the vets would use the Bill if it was raised. Of those polled, 53% said they would definitely use it, 30% said they would probably use it, 7% said they would definitely not use it, and 10% were unsure. While Donald Johnson frequently quoted from this study, he never seemed to mention Table #86. Rather, he continued to oppose any bills that would be similar to the WWII Bill saying: "There is no need to revise the structure... the bill is sufficient."

In 1972, the Senate wanted to raise the Bill to $250 per month for a single veteran, and this time the Nixon-Johnson team voted for a meager $190 a month increase. After the GI Bill was raised to its present $220 a month over their objections, Nixon campaigned on the fact that the raise had occurred under his administration!

The VA says that 43% of all Vietnam-era veterans have used the GI bill. What this figure really means is that 43% of them tried to go to school on the GI bill only to find that they couldn't live on it. Since all those that went to school on the Bill for a month or longer are included in the 43% figure, what we really aren't told is that most of them quit shortly after starting, simply because they couldn't make it financially. The Senate's figure of 19% of all Vietnam-era vets using the Bill is a lot closer to the truth.

The reasoning behind Nixon's repeated opposition to any increase in the GI Bill benefits is very significant and far reaching. With some 50% of the U.S. tax dollar going down the rat-hole of the war in Indochina for over a decade, the effects on the economy have been clearly disastrous. Anybody buying hamburger at $1.30 a pound can see that. Obviously the cost of a real GI Bill, or other veteran's benefits are very great -- when measured against Nixon's determination to wage war, the benefits clearly have to go!

As opposed to WWII, Vietnam was a very unpopular war; public opinion did its best to forget it. The public has also tended to forget the Vietnam-era vet. The government knew this, and it also knew that, as opposed to WWII vets, an incredibly large percentage of Vietnam-era vets needing a GI Bill are poor and third world. The government needs a sector of the work force permanently unemployed so that wages can be kept down. As poor and third world vets come from this "reserve labor pool" anyway, why should the government bother providing a GI Bill that would get them a good job? So long as the economy is in the death grip of the military/industrial complex, all Americans, vets and working people alike, are going to be made to suffer the consequences. When it comes to a decision between the needs of the American people and the needs of the military/industrial complex, take a guess as to who has to go without?

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