SDMCC: Seattle Draft and Military Counseling Center

THE MONTGOMERY GI BILL:

Less Than Meets the Eye

IT LOOKS GOOD ON PAPER

We've all seen the advertisements, "Join the Army and earn up to $25,200 for college." The ads seem to say that if you join the military, college is all but paid for. This recruiting pitch capitalizes on the most basic American Dream, to better oneself through education. It seems too good to be true! Well, as with all other advertising, we need to ask if the military's promises of education money are truth or exageration. This article will help you or someone you know to do just that.

Advertisements that offer money for college if you join the military are advertising two programs, the Montgomery GI Bill and the Army or Navy College Fund. Almost all enlistees join the Mongomery GI Bill on entering the military. Far fewer enlistees qualify for the higher-benefit Army/Navy College Fund, and they must also participate in the Montgomery GI Bill.

BUT THERE ARE CONDITIONS

In order to receive any education benefit there are several conditions that must be met. First, you must contribute $100 per month for the first twelve months of your tour. Those payments must be made for all twelve months and can't be cancelled once they're begun. There is no refund of that $1200, ever. Additionally, you must receive an honorable discharge, something that 20% of all veterans don't get.

The maximum benefit you can qualify for under the Montgomery GI Bill is $12,000. To earn a larger benefit, like the $17,000 and $25,200 the military is so fond of advertising, you must qualify for the Army/Navy College Fund. To do this you must score in the top half of the military entry tests and be willing to enter a designated job specialty. These designated Military Occupational Specialties are the most unpopular in the military. The military has a hard time filling them because they have no skills that are transferable to the civilian job market.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER DISCHARGE?

You might think that once you're discharged, you're immediately eligible for college aid. Unfortunately, even after you've been honorably discharged you're still a long way from getting that money. Even though you've earned your tuition benefit you probably won't get it all. The military has still more requirements for you to fulfill before you get all of your money. Of course, you must be attending an accredited school. The military's payment plan is based on a four year college schedule: they'll pay you equal portions of your money over 36 months (the equivalent of four academic years of nine months each). This schedule is not flexible! If you, like the 41% of 1972 veterans who attend college, attend a two year school you can not receive larger payments over a shorter period of time. That means a two-year college graduate will receive only half of the money they have earned!

You might argue, I earned that money so I should be able to use it in the way that's best for me. But your argument will fall on deaf ears. The Montgomery GI Bill was meant to look good. The military can advertise large amounts of education money but the program is designed so the money is hard to get and harder to use. The inflexibility of the payment system shows that the military is not interested in helping you get further education, they want to recruit you.

WHAT BENEFITS DO YOU REALLY GET?

Even if you qualify for and receive the full $25,200, it isn't worth as much as you might think. While World War II GI Bill participants were able to attend 90% of all schools (public and private) with the tuition grant they were given, $25,200 will cover just ONE year at many private schools today. Even state universities can cost $8,000 per year. Those benefits probably won't increase while you're in the military (benefits haven't been raised permanently since the program was begun in 1985). But the cost of education will continue to rise at a rate of 5-10%. By the time you finish your tour, your education benefit will be worth a quarter less than when you signed up. If you don't go to school right after the military, which many people don't, your benefit will become worth less and less.

You need to ask yourself in a serious and realistic way, do you intend to go to college? If yes, you need to have a plan. That plan may include joining the military, but you can see that will work for only a few people, If your plans for going to college seem to be more dream than reality you need to take a long look at what is really possible. If you're hoping that the military can make an unplanned dream come true, it's not going to happen. You still need to contribute a lot of your own money even if you do get money from the military.

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

It takes more than money to get through college. It takes discipline, skills and perseverance as well. People of ten talk about a skill that you are supposed to learn in the military, discipline. It's something that is valued highly. Saving for college will take a different kind of discipline than that of the military. But saving for college takes a kind of discipline most people don't learn in the military. Do you want to learn how to make decisions on your own or learn how to always follow someone else's orders? The military takes care of every detail, telling you where, when and how to do everything. Maybe that's the kind of discipline you think you need. But it isn't the kind of discipline most of us need in the real world. We need to think on our own and make our own decisions. To save for college requires the kind of self discipline that the real world requires of us.

Saving for college is hard work. But there are people who you can turn to for help. You need to have a plan. You need to look at the type of school you want to attend. How much does it cost? What will your living expenses be? Your high school guidance counselor can help, even if you've been out of school for awhile. If you know of a school you're interested in, ask at the Admissions Office. Many public libraries also have higher education assistance centers. Your local church might also sponsor scholarships or be able to help you. Local groups, from school groups to neighborhood associations, can help. The federal government also has progams that give, or loan you money without forcing you into the military. Ask your Congressional representative's local office about them.

EDUCATION IN THE MILITARY

Recruiters also like to talk about educational opportunities while you're in the military. According to recruiters, not only will you learn skills in your job specialty but you also have the chance to take college courses on-base or close by. In theory, this may be true. But when the military commissioned a study to see what soldiers thought of military recruiting, an overwhelming number responded that they thought military advertisements' promises of education were "lies...false [or] not the truth to me." Rather than working with the helicopters you see in slick advertisements, they found themselves "buffin' floors and pickin' up cigarette butts."

Your decision about whether to join the military, with or without the Montgomery GI Bill, is not an easy one. Unfortunately, it's not as simple as weighing the pros and cons of this or that benefit. Other jobs may be hard to come by, but they don't demand what the military demands. You give up your freedom when you join the military, entering a different world with different laws, where others can control your life 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

THE MILITARY'S MISSION

Above all else the military is an institution with one overriding purpose: to prepare for and fight wars. You literally sign your life over to the military. For some who joined the military before the Gulf War, they didn't fully realize this until they were faced with an actual war in Saudi Arabia against Iraq. Don't make the same mistake they made. If you're going to join the military be prepared to fight a war, even a war you may not agree with. It could be a war we lose, like Vietnam. Or, it could be a war we win, like in Kuwait. Either way, people are killed and you might be the one who kills them. As much as the war in Iraq has been celebrated, you can find US veterans who can't forget some of the awful things they saw there. Is that the kind of risk you want to take to finance your college education?

There are ethical issues that may or may not be important to your practical decision about whether to join the military to help fund your education. But they are important. It's a form of economic discrimination, sometimes called economic conscription or an economic draft, that forces lower income people into the military in order to earn a living, try to learn a trade or get money for their education. The American Council on Education even attributes a drop in black college enrollment to more aggresssive military recruiting in the eighties. The worst thing is, often those who are forced into the military to learn a trade, or earn money for school, don't even get what they believe they were promised!

HOW PEOPLE USE THE NEW GI BILL

We can't tell you a whole lot about how well people have been able to use the Montgomery GI Bill. The military has expended very little effort figuring that out. Initial figures indicate that only 35% of veterans who have paid into the program have received any educational benefits. The Montgomery GI Bill was not created to send you or anyone else to school. It was designed to recruit soldiers. It may be all the same to you, as long as you end up with money for college. But why the program was created affects its design and how well it is funded. The Montgomery GI Bill is designed to attract you with a large sounding amount of money with lots of strings attached. The maximum benefit of $25,200 quickly dwindles down to $9600 or $4800 for an alarming number of recruits. Many don't find that out until after they've joined! By then it's much too late...

HOW MUCH WILL YOU REALLY GET?

Military advertising would have you believe that if you join, $25,200 for your college education is as good as in the bank. But before you plan to spend that $25,200 let's take a look at another scenario, one you're more likely to see. To get $25,200 you must qualify for the Army or Navy College Fund, something only a small percentage of enlistees are able to do. Otherwise the maximum you can get is $10,800. That $10,800 includes, believe it or not, $1200 of your own money! So now we're down to $9600. By the way, the $1200 you pay in is not refundable, even if you don't use the education benefit.

To receive any of that $9600 you must be among the eighty percent of veterans to receive an honorable discharge (again, no refund of your $1200 if you don't). Even after all this, you still may not see all of your benefit. Because of the monthly benefit payment structure, you have to attend school for four years to get all $9600. If you attend a two year school, as nearly half of 1972 veterans did, you receive only half of your benefit. That's a grand total of $4800 from the military!

$25,200 ADVERTISING - MILITARY SERVICE = $4800 REALITY

IS THIS REALLY A GI BILL?

There are few things the federal government has done in the last fifty years that have been as popular as the original GI Bill. Your parents or grandparents, along with millions of other veterans, may have attended school through the GI Bill. But the GI Bill of popular memory no longer exists. It has been replaced by the Montgomery GI Bill which the military features prominently in its advertisements and recruiting pitches. The Montgomery GI Bill has taken the name "GI Bill" but it is a recruiting package with few similarities to the original GI Bill.

The old GI Bill was available to veterans in varying forms from the end of World War II until 1976. It was the largest program of educational financing that the federal government ever undertook. Part of the reason for the success of the old GI Bill were the motivations for its creation. After the second World War, people felt thankful for the sacrifices of the many people who served in the military during the war. They were also afraid that there weren't enough jobs at home for the millions of returning veterans (remember that the Great Depression had occured just before WWII). One way to show thanks and to keep people out of the work-force was to entice veterans to go to school.

The old GI Bill was designed with one purpose: to send veterans to school. Participants were paid in two installments, one for their tuition and the other to cover living expenses. The tuition payment was scaled to the cost of tuition and the subsistence payment went up if a veteran was married or had children. This payment system, and the amount of the payments, allowed veterans to attend 90% of all public and private schools without paying a cent or their own money for tuition. Despite the effectiveness of the old GI Bill, the system has been changed dramatically. The present Montgomery GI Bill is designed to recruit young people and not to send them to school.

ABOUT CCCO

CCCO was founded in 1948 as the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors. It provides counseling and legal help for people facing the draft and for people who need discharge from the military, either as conscientious objectors or for other reasons. It also tries to reach young people before they enlist with information on military life and conscientious objection.

CCCO's services include:

or, contact the:

Seattle Draft and Military Counseling Center
225 N 70th St.
Seattle, WA 98103
206-789-2751

e-mail: SDMCC

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