Revised bill could boost recruiting

By Tom Philpott: CNJ columnist

The quality and number of American youth drawn to military service should climb soon because of enhanced education benefits to be provided under the new Post-9/11 GI Bill, say Pentagon recruiting experts.

“It is a very attractive incentive package, there’s no question about that. So individuals will be very interested in enlisting for education benefits,” predicted Curtis Gilroy, director of accession policy for the Department of Defense.

“But we will see a spike in the quality of our enlisted cohort as well,” Gilroy added, because that heavier flow of prospective recruits “primarily will have college in mind.”

Defense manpower officials had warned Congress against passing a new GI Bill that was too generous, saying it could put at risk the all-volunteer force if too many recruits left after three years to attend school fulltime.

Congress passed a generous GI Bill anyway, even enhancing the plan conceived by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., with a provision from Sen. John Warner, R-Va., that offers the brightest post-9/11 veterans virtually a cost-free education at any college or university in the country.

But in deference to Pentagon worries about decimating force retention, lawmakers added a transferability feature. It will entice members to serve at least four more years in return for the privilege of transferring unused GI Bill benefits on to their spouses or to children.

“If transferability does not completely mitigate the adverse effects that we anticipate on retention,” said Gilroy, “the services can use additional selective re-enlistment bonuses to further enhance retention among the people that they want to keep.”

Nervousness in the Pentagon over Webb’s original GI Bill has given way to excitement over expected gains in number and quality of recruits.

“We have a sea change with this new GI Bill,” said Bob Clark, Gilroy’s assistant director of recruiting policy, when asked to predict the program’s impact. “It’s unlike anything that any one of us is familiar with.”

The Post-9/11 GI Bill, which takes effect Aug. 1, 2009, will be available to any veteran who has served at least 90 consecutive days on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001. The full benefit, earned for three years’ active duty since 9/11, covers tuition and fees up to whatever the most expensive state-run school charges. It also will pay a monthly living allowance, based on local rental costs, and a $1,000-a-year stipend for books and supplies.

Private colleges and universities who agree to waive half of what they charge above the highest-priced state school will see the VA pick up the other half. This “yellow ribbon” provision raises the value of the GI Bill enormously for veterans who can qualify academically for top schools.

The transferability provision only applies to members on active duty or in reserve drill status as of Aug. 1, 2009. Also, they must have at least six years in service and must agree to serve at least four more years.

Gilroy said the services have been making their numerical recruiting goals. But quality has slipped for the active duty Army as measured by entrance test scores and numbers of recruits with high school diplomas.

Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at: milupdate@aol.com