McCain: Webb’s GI Educational Benefits Bill will Harm Retention

I wrote about Jim Webb’s (D-VA) Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007 (S. 22) introduced January 4, 2007 in a Veteran’s Day entry on November 12, 2007 . Since that time the bill finally had a hearing in the Veterans’ Affairs Committee on May 7.

Today’s Washington Post campaign blog carried an entry about McCain’s speech today in honor of Memorial Day in New Mexico which included his opposition to Webb’s bill, saying it would harm retention.

It strikes me as harsh on McCain’s part to deny educational benefits in order to bolster retention. Webb counters that his bill will also help with recruitment. Both statements are born out by the CBO cost estimate of May 8:

…because the higher educational benefits would reduce the costs of
attending college after military service, enacting S. 22 (as modified) also
would increase the number of servicemembers who would separate from
military service to take advantage of those benefits. Additional reenlistment
incentives would then be required to keep the number of reenlistments, and the
experience profile of the military force, constant.

Educational benefits have been shown to raise the number of military recruits.
Based on an analysis of the existing literature, CBO estimates that a
10 percent increase in educational benefits would result in an increase of about
1 percent in high-quality recruits. On that basis, CBO calculates that raising
the educational benefits as proposed in S. 22 would result in a 16 percent
increase in recruits. To maintain the same force levels and thus the same
number of recruits, enlistment bonuses and other recruiting costs could be
reduced.

The marginal cost of enlistment bonuses and the other expenditures necessary
to attract an additional enlistment is about $35,000. CBO estimates that
reduced spending for those purposes would result in a savings of almost
$5.6 billion over the 2009-2013 period.

Literature on the effects of educational benefits on retention suggest that every
$10,000 increase in educational benefits yields a reduction in retention of
slightly more than 1 percentage point. CBO estimates that S. 22 (as modified)
would more than double the present value of educational benefits for
servicemembers at the first reenlistment point—from about $40,000 to over
$90,000—implying a 16 percent decline in the reenlistment rate, from about
42 percent to about 36 percent. CBO assumes that to maintain the same force
size, the services would offer selective reenlistment bonuses (SRBs). An
$8,000 bonus to personnel at the first reenlistment point is estimated to
increase reenlistments by about 2 percentage points. Thus, CBO estimates that
SRBs of about $25,000 for each first-term servicemember who reenlists would
offset the expected effects on retention of increased educational benefits,
resulting in a cost of $6.7 billion over the 2009-2013 period for additional
reenlistment bonuses.

A March 6, 2008 article on Military.com (a commercial site for those with military connections) quoted a Department of Defense official who refused to be named as saying that WWII,

was a different era when the government was worried about long-unemployment lines from millions of returning draftees. A robust GI Bill now would make it difficult to keep careerists.

“Why would anybody stay for another deployment when they can go out on a four-year free ride, with guaranteed rent and utilities at the E-5 standard, which by long-standing DoD policy is a two-bedroom townhouse?”

Given current conflicts, this official continued, even volunteers who like service life might decide “to sit out for a year or two, in a large rented townhouse, and come back when things are more hospitable.”

Again pretty cynical. Veteran’s benefits not for service but to avoid mass unemployment (and ensuing social unrest?) Wonder what veterans would say about that?

Amid the debate and namecalling the Post article engendered, I found this interesting comment signed Vietnam Vet:

It would be illuminating if the posters here would identify themselves as combat veterans, or not. In my neck of the woods (active duty Marine Corps), the very nearly unanimous view is that Senator McCain has turned his back on us, as he assumes we’re safely in the Republican column. He’s playing to the breast beating know-nothings who fight their wars from their Lay-Z-Boys.

McCain is a sell-out, pure and simple. A shriveled old dogma-spewing party hack. Picture the turkey on the table in the movie “Christmas Vacation” staring Chevy Chase… McCain, like the shriveled remnants of the over-cooked bird, is a grotesque carcass of his former self, reduced to being a mouth-piece of the Bush machine.

I would like to see a poll which judges how reprensentative this attitude is. If a significant number feel this way, it could mark problems for McCain.

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