This morning, President Bush signed the new GI Bill into law. With that signature, college became affordable for the 1.7 million troops we sent to Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a promise we made to the veterans of World War II: that those who defend our country should be able to take advantage of America's opportunity. This legislation again fulfills that promise, and will do nothing less than change the course of an entire generation.
There were many different forces that worked together to produce the new GI Bill -- it's a history that deserves its own book. Sadly, President Bush mentioned only two of the four leading sponsors in the Senate, and then thanked the three Senators who had joined the administration in vigorously opposing the GI Bill legislation. That kind of logic is nothing new for this White House, but it's an ungracious ending to what could have been a positive piece of this administration's legacy.
I'd like to take the opportunity to correct the record. Here are a few of the people we worked with at IAVA to make the new GI Bill possible:
• The bipartisan coalition of combat veterans in the Senate -- Webb, Warner, Hagel, Lautenberg, and Akaka -- was the backbone of the fight to get this bill passed. They were joined by Representatives Mitchell, Scott, King, and Brown-Waite in the House.
• The Senate and House leadership deserve real credit for making this a priority. And special thanks to the folks who write the checks -- in particular Representatives Murtha, Edwards and Obey on the Appropriations Committee -- who understood that supporting our veterans is a cost of war.
• Thanks to the vast majority of Congress who rallied behind the GI Bill. In the end, the legislation had 58 cosponsors in the Senate and 303 cosponsors in the House. That kind of support is generally limited to resolutions honoring Mother's Day. (You can personally thank your Senator or Representative here.)
• None of this would have been possible without the united front of the Veterans Service Organizations. Veterans of all generations stood together to ensure that those coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan would get the educational benefits they deserved. Without the dedication and unity of purpose of the VFW, the American Legion, the Student Veterans of America, the Military Officers Association of America and others, this bill could not have been written, much less passed.
Of course, the real force behind the movement for a new GI Bill was Iraq and Afghanistan veterans themselves, advocating in their communities across the country, and the patriotic citizens who joined them in asking their representatives to do the right thing. For all those who contributed time, energy, and effort to help us accomplish this feat, we owe our gratitude. As our nation comes together to celebrate this 4th of July, we can all be extremely proud of this victory.