THE CONGRESS is discovering, and rightly so, that the unfinished business having to do with equity and reasonable opportunity for the veterans of the Vietnam era cannot be wished away. The other day we talked about the efforts of sensitive and responsible members of Congress to rescue the administration's program for speedier review of less-than-honorable discharges. Today, as the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee begins to debate amendments to improve the GI Bill, we would like to take not of another effort by those in Congress who recognize the importance of working for fair and humane solutions to the particular problems confronting the veterans of Vietnam as a consequence of the particular nature of that conflict.
Sens. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), John Durkin (D-N.H), Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) and Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.) are aware of the flawa in the current provisions of the GI Bill. But doing repair work on this legislation is not one of the appealing pursuits in Congress. For one thing, the GI Bill is perhaps the best known of the veterans' programs, which means that its failures receive the most publicity. For another, when Vietnam veterans are involved in the failures, a kind fo general, anti-Vietnam prejudice sets in. A few years ago, when abuses involving Vietnam veterans began to be reported - overpayments, payments to those who didn't attend classes, creation of training courses that had no substance - the critics seemed not to remember that similar abuses occured after World War 11 and Korea; only the glowing successes of those programs were well remembered. That almost nobody seemed to remember any successes of the GI Bill for Vietnam veterans may have something to do with a general inclination on the part of politicians as well as the public not to want to be be reminded about anything having to do with the first war America lost.
In any case, Sens. Cranston and Durkin have set out, first of all, to correct some of the abuses that have come to light. This is expected to be handled without great difficulty by balancing the needs of the schools with a prudent use of federal funds. Other problems will not be resolved so easily. For example, the GI Bill as it is now operating favors veterans in states that have educational systems providing low cost schools - unlike the World War 11 program, which gave all veterans equal amounts to live on. An example of this, as Stuart Feldman has pointed out in a report to the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, is that "a veteran at Temple University, the public college in Philadelphia, would have to pay $1,498 for tuition fees and books. A veteran attending San Francisco State would have only to pay $200 tuition. When coupled with expenditures for average book and supply costs, this means that the California vet, who may have served in the same company wth the Philadelphia vet, has to spend only 15.1 per cent of his yearly GI Bill benefits for education costs - while the Philadelphia vet has to spend 57 per cent of his benefits. The California vet has $122 more per month to apply to his liviang expenses."
Sen. Cranston would take a step toward correcting these inequities by allowing veterans whose tuition is more than $1,000 a year to use their benefits at a faster rate to cover the differences. THis is the "acceleration provision," which was part of the World War 11 GI Bill. It has has the support of the VFW and American Legion. An alternative, which also has merit and which passed the Senate in 1974, is being offered by Sens. Javits and Humphrey. It would pay 80 per cent of a veteran's tuition between $400 and $1,400. The Javits-Humphrey proposal would help veterans who are now locked out of high-cost schools that may be the only ones in their area. A third alternative, favored by the Veterans Administraion, is to provide a five per cent increase in educational benefits. But this does little to affect the geographical inequities.
Another proposal, offered by Sens. Cranston and Durkin, would allow veterans whose benefits have run out to pick them up again so they can complete their training or schooling. This would extend the delimiting period that cut off benefits to veterans whose time has or will rum out 10 years after eligibility began.
Although the GI Bill legislation is in only the mark up period in the Senate, it is important that a strong bill emerge now. In the past, the leadership of the House Veterans COmmittee has resisted such proposals as the tuition-equalization plan, accelerated payments and delimiting-date removal. The President has an obvious role to play in the debate. In his campaign, he spoke out in behalf of Vietnam veterans. He now has the opportunity to involve his administraion in ensuring that the money that it has already committed goes to those legislative approaches that promise to serve veterans with the greatest need.