THE DISPARITY in education benefits to veterans continues to hamper, and even suppress in many cases, the educational goals of ex-servicemen. A recent study by a congressional coalition of North-east and Midwest members found that, since 1968, an equal number of veterans in the Northeast and Midwest. The difference is in the lower tuition costs in the Sunbelt, where more low-cost public education is available, many eligible veterans simply can't afford the higher tuitions in the Northeast and Midwest, even with the GI Bill's help. Those who drafted the current GI Bill may not have wished to put veterans in some parts of the country at a disadvantage, but that is much the way it has worked out.
The question is what to do about it. One approach, advanced by the Veterans Administration, is an across-the-board increase in education benefits. Legislation passed by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee offers a 6.6 per cent increase. As generous as this may appear, it serves to continue the inequities that make it easier for veterans in one area of the country to get an education than it is for veterans in other areas.
A second approach, advanced by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and also contained in the committee's bill, would allow veterans whose tuitions exceed $1,000 to use their 45 months worth of benefits at a faster rate. That makes it easier to pay high tuitions but it also means that the money runs out sooner. Although this approach is better than the straight 6.6 per cent across-the-board increase, it still leaves a number of problems unsolved. In helping veterans whose tuition goes beyond $1,000, the Cranston approach doesn't eliminate the disadvantage of veterans in colleges in Michigan, Ohio, New York or other Midwestern or Northeastern states. They still have almost $1,000 less to live on than their California counterparts, because the latter have little tuition to pay.
To remedy this. Sens. Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) and Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.) are offering an amendment that would reduce the 6.6per cent increase to four per cent and apply the savings of $200 million (according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office) toward easing the tuition burden of veterans in colleges and technical schools in many more states. This striks us as a addressing the issue from a broader perspective - which is to say that more veterans are likely to be served. It also promises to be a better use of federal funds because it focuses the available money on those most needing it.
A second possible outlet for money saved by reducing the across-the-board increase is an extension of time during which veterans can take advantage of their benefits. From 1966 to 1972, benefits were much too low to be of much use by many veterans who served in Vietnam. Extending the eligibility period would allow these veterans to avail themselves of an educational opportunity that, for all practical purposes, was closed to them.
Either Sen. Cranston's approach or the Javits - Moynihan plan would assuredly be more positive than the across-the-board increase adopted by the House. With a conference committee struggle likely to occur, the Carter administration has an opportunity to move forcefully from its narrow position to one that will distribute whatever funds are available to more veterans - more equitably.
The time for the administration to move is now, while the bill is still before the Senate. And the argument for doing so is all the stronger in the light of the President's recent refusal to veto a bill that severely weakens his program to help veterans, principally those of the Vietnam war, to "upgrade" other-than-honorable discharges and thus restore their entitlements to GI benefits, and improve their chances of getting jobs. The principle beneficiaries of the increased education benefits, it should be emphasized, would also be veterans of Vietnam. We are talking, in other words, about still another part of the unfinished business of the Vietnam war.