Topeka A former Marine with two tours in Iraq and one to Liberia is hoping the Senate follows the House's lead on reforming the GI Bill.
Dan Parker, who spent five years in the Marines, is now attending Kansas University on the GI Bill. He said Monday that the additional funding proposed in a bill passed by the House last week would encourage more veterans to go to college and complete their degrees.
He said the Senate should pass the bill and President Bush should sign it.
"I think it would a politically devastating mistake if the president were to veto it," Parker said.
Parker spoke at a news conference at Topeka High School with Rep. Nancy Boyda, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and Democrat representing the 2nd District of Kansas.
Boyda said her father took advantage of the original GI Bill when she was growing up in Missouri.
"The GI Bill is what actually took our family to the middle class," Boyda said. "I can't imagine that the Senate would take this out."
The House last week adopted changes to the program, which was first enacted after World War II to help returning veterans earn college education. The new measure would increase funding for the bill, providing veterans with 100 percent of their tuition to a public university.
Boyda said changes in the bill also would make it an attractive tool for the National Guard to recruit new members. Soldiers who have at least three months of active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, would be eligible for the full education benefits. And the benefits would extend for 15 years, up from the current 10 years.
Parker said he had about 15 hours of courses left to finish his degree in English and political science. He has worked jobs on campus and in the Lawrence community to pay his college bills. Parker joined the Marines after high school in McPherson. He was in Iraq in 2003, then Liberia as part of a Marine expeditionary force. He returned to Iraq in 2004 in Anbar Province west of Baghdad.
In college, Parker is a member of the Kansas Collegiate Veterans Association, a group that serves as a conduit for veterans on campus and the community. The group helps veterans work through campus issues, he said, such as working out a system for paying tuition bills that matches payment schedules for GI Bill checks.
He said that only about 30 percent of veterans use their GI Bill benefits, and of that only 8 percent will get a college degree.
Parker is weighing his options after college, including returning to the Marines, perhaps as an officer.
The House bill also includes money for several military construction projects, among them a new hospital at Fort Riley. The $350 million appropriation would replace Irwin Army Community Hospital, which is more than 50 years old. A new hospital will help the Army meet the health care needs of the additional soldiers and families that were assigned to Fort Riley.
The post is home of the 1st Infantry Division, which returned its headquarters to Fort Riley after 10 years in Germany. The move back to Kansas is expected to bring the fort's soldier population to about 18,600 over the next three to five years.
In addition, the Army plans to construct a new $50 million facility to treat wounded soldiers who are recovering from their injuries so they can return to active duty or transition to civilian life.