Troops Eager for GI Bill Revision, Mullen Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 5, 2008 At every “all-hands” meeting he’s had with troops from Zamboanga in the Philippines to Baghdad to Fort Bragg, N.C., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff gets questions about changes to the GI Bill.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said he is delighted that Congress is considering changes that would allow servicemembers to transfer their education benefit to children or spouses. Defense leaders are following the debate in Congress closely and are waiting to see the specifics of the changes, Mullen said.
“From our standpoint, it is transferability first and a more robust benefit second,” the nation’s top military officer said during an interview aboard a C-40 aircraft bringing him back from meetings in Pakistan today.
The chairman said he believes the GI Bill is a sound investment for America in people who have proven their worth and loyalty to the country.
“All servicemembers worth anything want to improve themselves and many enlist specifically for the educational benefits,” Mullen said. That was true when he was commissioned in 1968, and it is true today, he said.
The young men and women in the military today “are serving at a level I have never seen before,” Mullen added. “This benefit would enhance them, enhance the U.S. military and enhance the country.”
Under one proposal, servicemembers could transfer educational benefits to spouses or children. Currently, only servicemembers and veterans can use the benefit. The proposed legislation is attached to the emergency supplemental funding bill for war operations that is awaiting passage.
In a May 21 news conference, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates considers transferability of GI Bill benefits to family members “absolutely imperative.” However, Morrell said, Gates has concerns about how some proposals for GI Bill enhancement would affect the all-volunteer force if they became law.
Gates advocates offering enhanced benefits after six years of service -- rather than the two years in some proposals under consideration in Congress -- to reward servicemembers who opt to re-enlist at least once, Morrell said.
“We are not trying to keep people here forever, but we are trying to create a system in which troops see the benefit of making a career out of the military,” Morrell said at the news conference. “We make an enormous investment in their careers and their futures, and we think it would be very damaging to the all-volunteer force if they were to leave prematurely.”
That would create big problems to the military, particularly as it confronts the global war on terror, he said. “Now, more than ever, we need to hold on to our superbly trained, battle-tested troops,” Morrell said. “They are the key to victory in this conflict.”