In Print: Volume 87: Number 1
By Joseph B. Keillor
87 Wash. U. L. Rev. 175 (2009)
The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 (“Act”)—popularly referred to as the “GI Bill for the 21st century”—restores veterans’ educational benefits to the generous level of the famed post-World War II GI Bill. The original bill has been widely assessed as among the most culturally transformative pieces of legislation of the twentieth century. Nearly eight million veterans—many of whom otherwise would have lacked access to the nation’s elite institutions of higher learning—pursued higher education through the GI Bill in the years immediately following World War II. It has been credited with ensuring the successful reintegration of millions of veterans into civil society, creating a new American middle class, and making higher education available to African Americans in significant numbers for the first time. However, despite the clear precedent of veterans’ educational benefits profoundly impacting society, the new GI Bill legislation has attracted only modest attention that largely omits discussion of the Act’s likely societal impact.
This Note thus seeks to inform the reader about the Act, explain its shortcomings, articulate its likely societal impact, and offer recommendations for improving the Act’s substance and enhancing its impact. Part I will examine the Act’s passage, focusing on the political and policy context in which the Act was passed. Part II will articulate the central substantive provisions of the Act and compare them to previous GI Bills. Part III will then examine omissions and complex features of the Act that may forestall full realization of the Act’s objectives. Part IV will demonstrate how the Act is likely to have unintended consequences on universities’ pricing practices, potentially causing the Act to substantially exceed cost estimates. Part V will articulate how the resulting infusion of significant numbers of veterans with recent overseas combat experience into America’s universities will force society to confront an unhealthy, growing gulf between civil society and the military, with the potential for either renewed understanding or an explosive clash. Finally, Part VI will draw upon the preceding sections to offer a series of recommendations designed to ensure realization of the Act’s objectives, prevent gouging of the taxpayer, and facilitate a positive outcome to the heightened level of civil-military interaction.