AS THE DEBATE on the GI Bill continues in Congress the overriding issue still needing to be resolved is the disparity in benefits. As Rep. Albert Quie (R-Minn.) has explained, "the present veterans benefit system has evolved to the point where a large number of GI Bill recipients receive more than their total educational benefits and other thousands of veterans have to go into debt to get comparable education." Despite positive moves by the Senate Veterans Committee, however, neither the House Veterans Committee not the Carter administration seems prepared to act decisively to offer relief to the hundreds of thousands of veterans involved.
In previous testimony, the administration proposed an across-the-board increase in benefits. But this does little more than maintain the current inequities. Veterans in Texas, for example. whose number slightly exceeds those in Pennsylvania, used $318 million in GI benefits in fiscal 1976, while the Pennsylvanians used only $156 million. The lack of fairness is obvious. But these payments represent more than money: they represent the educational opportunities that can change veterans' lives.
Other approaches recently offered in the House and Senate strike us as a better solutions. One would assist veterans by paying 80 per cent of their tuition costs between $400 and approximately $1,600. This measure seeks to ensure that veterans have more or less equal amounts of money to live on and that all can afford at least public education in their region. A second approach, already in the Senate bill, would allow veterans to use benefits at a faster rate to cover higher costs. Both approaches were taken in legislation following World War II.
House hearings today offer President Carter an opportunity to stand with Vietnam-era veterans whose chances for equitable benefits are fast running out. As an Annapolis graduate who knows the value of a federally sponsored education, President Carter can align his administration with policies that realistically aid veterans where most needed. It has been argued that veterans who choose to attend high-cost schools should not expect more GI Bill assistance. But what of those many veterans from areas that offer no choice but high-cost colleges or technical schools?
Until lately, Reps. Ray Roberts (D-Tex.) and Olin Teague (D-Tex.) have dominated the GI Bill debate in the House.Others are now coming forward who are more in touch with the actual needs of veterans hoping to educate themselves. It remains for the rest of the House, especially the leadership, to take the broader approach.