Being from a distinctly lower middle-class family in central Nebraska, I grew up in a house where we never wanted for food or shelter, but where there was no money for luxuries and where members of my immediate and extended family had little hope of ever going to college. So I went into the military, got the original G.I. Bill -- yes, I am that old -- and decades later enjoy a healthy standard of living based on getting an incredible education and all the doors that has opened for me.
I gave to my country and my country gave back to me.
And, in purely financial terms, I'm also convinced America has more than recouped my educational costs based on 30 years of much higher wages (and associated revenue from my taxes) than I would ever have realized based on my diploma from a rural Nebraska high school.
So Veterans benefits are earned -- and they matter.
Which is why I get so disgusted whenever I see all the faux military-loving Republicans turning up on Veterans Day with their flowery pronouncements of how much we Vets mean to them when they prove at every turn that they really don't give a damn about the troops, Veterans or military families.
Of course, Exhibit A is Iraq and the Republican party's steadfast refusal to ever allow our troops to come permanently home to their families and their continued desire to keep them bogged down in a war for nothing. But I mention the G.I. Bill specifically because of the following samples of Republican hypocrisy we see every Veterans Day:
What's the common denominator in this crew? They all were among 22 Republicans who voted against the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, authored by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) -- a highly-decorated Vietnam Veteran -- and passed with 75 votes on May 22nd of this year.
"On Veterans Day -- and every day -- we thank the men and women who have fought to keep us safe and free." - Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
"We must remember the great debt that we owe veterans and members of the armed services who fight to maintain our freedom around the world. Throughout history, our soldiers have risked their lives to defend our freedom, and we must not forget their sacrifices." - Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ)
"Veterans Day is our opportunity to honor America's veterans who have courageously served our country. These brave men and women have fought to keep our nation free and secure, and we thank them and their families for their service and sacrifice on our behalf." - Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)
"So this day, perhaps more than any other day, is a time to honor them. We owe them our respect and profound gratitude." - Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Webb's bill brought back the full, post-service educational benefits that I and so many other Veterans have enjoyed. After three years of service, it provides tuition and fees for any in-State public college, a stipend for books and supplies and a housing allowance based on actual housing costs in the area. The benefit is extended to both active-duty troops and members of the National Guard and Reserve who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
An opportunity. A way to better oneself after sacrificing much for the country. And a nation expressing gratitude in a meaningful, tangible way.
President-elect Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) both found time in the midst of their frenzied presidential campaigns to vote for it, while John McCain (R-AZ) couldn't be bothered to even show up to vote on Webb's bill -- probably because he wanted to be president and it would have looked bad when he voted against it.
And this instance of the GOP's true anti-Veteran sentiments, came despite the fact that some old-school and fairly conservative Veterans groups like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars strongly supported the legislation.
So why did these patriots who wear their little flag lapel pins and festoon their SUVs with support-the-troops ribbons vote against the new G.I. Bill?
Because they were primarily afraid that, after serving in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of our military men and women might -- horror of horrors -- actually avail themselves of the benefit they so richly deserve and leave the military. Yes, people like Alexander, Corker, Kyl and Hatch want them to remain in harm's way, not going off on some college campus recovering their lives and bettering themselves.
Here's John Cornyn (R-TX), who also voted against the measure, on the Senate floor in May arguing that point:
"I know it is not his intention, but Senator Webb's bill actually would encourage people not to reenlist by providing a perverse incentive to leave early in order to obtain the benefits they would receive after 3 years of service. We need to make sure we encourage continuation of service, retention in the military in the best interests of our All-Volunteer military force."
"A perverse incentive." Amazing.
But what can you really expect from a Republican Chickenhawk like Cornyn who never served in the military himself but who loves war and considers it a "perverse incentive" to give combat Veterans an opportunity to go to college.
Hillary Clinton said it best on the Senate floor on May 22nd, 2008 when she declared "we often hear wonderful rhetoric in this Chamber in support of our troops and our veterans, but the real test is not the speeches we deliver but whether we deliver on the speeches."
And in that spirit, Senators Alexander, Corker, Kyl and Hatch -- and every other Republican who voted against this important Veterans benefit -- I hope you'll forgive this Vet today when I say that you can take your self-serving, Veterans Day press releases and shove them.
You can read more from Bob at BobGeiger.com.