Now that America's longest war is scheduled to conclude by 2014, shouldn't a second GI Bill specific to the 21st century soldier be considered?
The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 has been referred as the Post 9/11 GI Bill. But does the bill go far enough?
The original GI Bill, which passed in 1944, provided a range of benefits for returning World War II veterans, including low-cost mortgages, low-interest loans to start a business, tuition to attend college, high school or vocational education.
By the end of the program in 1956, roughly 2.2 million veterans had used the GI Bill education benefits to attend colleges or universities, and an additional 6.6 million used these benefits for some kind of training program.
That was how America welcomed back the "greatest generation;" what about those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Not that long ago politicians tripped over themselves to be the first, the loudest, and the gaudiest to proclaim support for the troops, while yellow ribbons adorning bumper stickers and lapels became commonplace.
But the overt acts of support were merely part of a successful propaganda campaign (one of the few lessons learned from the Vietnam experience) to conflate support for the soldiers with the mission.
Questioning the government's policies in Afghanistan and Iraq became synonymous with disloyalty. Many elected officials, hiding behind the courage of the nation's soldiers, shrewdly and pathetically misdirected any criticism of the policy as an attack on those actually engaged in battle.
The majority of the nation, particularly true for the Iraq War, traded authentic love of country for a perceived safety that was fortified by demagoguery and cowardice.
But as those wars wind down, and the global war on terror takes on a new shape, are we doing everything possible to support those who served?
Mere verbal support for the troops alone does not respect the sacrifice that was placed on the backs of a finite few military families.
Moreover, "I support the troops" seductively obfuscates the reality that the origin of all wars in a democracy is political.
Opposing war but supporting our soldiers are not competing interests. I certainly fall into this category, especially when it came to the Iraq War -- the most misguided enterprise in this nation's history.
Some might offer Vietnam as the winner of that dubious award.
The difference between Vietnam and Iraq was time. When Lyndon Johnson became president in 1963, Vietnam was already a mess, originating in 1945 at the Potsdam Conference, spanning over three presidential administrations.
The Vietnam veteran was not subjected to multiple tours of duty as were the soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, which is the only way to sustain military operations in two countries with an all-volunteer armed force.
But how many re-enlistment bonus checks can one receive to offset the impact of multiple tours?
One need not be a trained psychologist to reach the conclusion that multiple tours in the theater of war are unhealthy. It normalizes the abnormal, making it increasingly difficult to return to ordinary life.
Shouldn't more be done to help those who return home with post-traumatic stress disorder? Can we not see the divorce and suicide rates for returning veterans are at disturbing levels?
If there was genuine support for the soldiers, a second GI Bill would be a no-brainer. Perhaps our definition of "support the troops" is limited.
It is easier to "support" them in uniform as they go off to fight than it is to "support" them when they return home as the broken residue of our political decisions for which the vast majority of the populace possesses no skin in the game.
Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.