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A new GI Bill for this century

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In the past month, Minnesota has been sadly reminded about the deep sacrifice that our men and women in uniform make on behalf of our country. As we mourn the loss of five brave soldiers, we should also pay tribute to all Americans, past and present, who have worn the uniform.

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Our country is in the midst of two wars and our service-men and women have under-gone repeated deployments to combat zones where they have faced unprecedented challenges and conditions. Currently, thousands of Min-nesotans are serving on the frontlines in Iraq and Afghan-istan. These wars have created a new generation of veterans who need our country to stand with them.

When we ask our young men and women to fight and to die for this nation, we make a promise that when they return home we will take care of them - something we failed to do for too many of our Vietnam veterans when they came home from war. This spring, I had the privilege of visiting Vietnam with Senator John McCain. It was some-thing I will never forget. What I took away most from that trip was the incredible sense of duty he has to our country. I know that every man or woman who's ever been in uniform shares that sense of duty. Just as our soldiers have fulfilled their duty to America, so must America fulfill our duty to them.

Yet in recent decades, vet-erans' education benefits have not kept pace with the soaring cost of college tuition, leaving many veterans unable to complete their educations once they come home. The American service men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country since September 11, 2001 deserve better.

To make sure our veterans get the education they de-serve, Congress last year pas-sed the "21st Century GI Bill." This bill, which I was proud to sponsor, went into effect this month and provides our post-9/11 veterans with compre-hensive educational benefits similar to what our Second World War veterans received. Under the maximum benefit, the 21st Century GI Bill pro-vides for tuition and fees and a monthly housing allowance for up to 36 months of higher education.

Notably, it also ensures that Guard and Reserve members receive education benefits comparable to those granted to active duty soldiers. Our government needs to make sure members of the Guard and Reserve who've been called to active duty are not treated any differently than their regular military counterparts when they return home.

The G.I. Bill of the World War II era transformed our nation, helping build a strong middle class by providing 7.8 million veterans with a higher education or job training -- and a stable future. In fact, for every dollar invested in WWII veterans, $7 were generated. We have the same opportunity today.

There is no greater investment we can make in the future of our veterans than granting them the chance to pursue a higher education. By providing these benefits, we truly honor their service and sacrifice and open up the path to opportunity and success in civilian life.

Ensuring our veterans have access to a good education is just one part of our promise to them. We also have an obliga-tion to help them transition back to civilian life and to make sure they get the care they need. As part of that ef-fort, Congress passed new funding for soldiers' medical care.

This new coverage includes research and treatment of traumatic brain injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the signature physical and mental injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We also passed Wounded Warrior legislation to make sure our injured veterans get the best care possible from the battlefield to when they return home.

To help returning soldiers with their transition home, I worked to expand Minne-sota's pioneering "Beyond the Yellow Ribbon" program. I've also introduced the "Vets to Paramedics Transition Act" to encourage returning veterans with medical training to pur-sue further education as para-medics. This would help vet-erans find jobs, and help fill the shortage of emergency personnel in rural areas.

There wasn't a waiting line when our brave Americans signed up to serve and there shouldn't be a waiting line in the United States of America when they come home and need an education or health care or support.The 21st century G.I. Bill brings us one step closer to fulfilling this obligation to our veterans.

Amy Klobuchar, DFL-Minn., is a member of the U.S. Senate.

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