SDMCC: Seattle Draft and Military Counseling
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
CCCO's services include:
- National registry of conscientious objectors who wish to record their position.
- Counseling for military personnel who need discharges or other help.
- Counseling for young people considering military enlistment or facing
- CCCO maintains a nationwide list of cooperating counselors and attorneys.
- Over 100 literature items available, including the well respected
HANDBOOK FOR CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS and ADVICE FOR CONSCIENTIOUS
OBJECTORS IN THE ARMED FORCES.
- CCCO provides speakers and trainers for local groups upon request.
- CCCO's NEWS NOTES, a quarterly newletter on conscience, peace,
and war, is available free to supporters.
or, contact the:
Seattle Draft and Military Counseling Center
225 N 70th St.
Seattle, WA 98103
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