TRENTON - William Brown sees one big way the government can show gratitude to those who have served in the armed forces: Give them more help to pay for a college education.
Brown, who served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, is a junior at Rutgers University-Camden. He said that he got tuition help and used federal benefits, but that he and his wife barely paid their mortgage and property taxes, had never owned a new car, and didn't take vacations.
"Veterans have given and sacrificed for this country," he said. "They have earned the ability to receive a college education."
New Jersey is among an increasing number of states looking to enhance tuition benefits for veterans. Critics say the federal GI Bill, which since World War II has helped veterans attend college, is outdated and lacking.
Congress is weighing legislation to enhance the GI Bill, but states have been looking to fill gaps since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks initiated large and extended National Guard deployments.
A New Jersey bill would allow veterans or spouses of veterans killed on active duty to pay only $50 per credit for a degree from a public college or university in the state, saving them hundreds of dollars per class.
New Jersey's proposal would allow veterans to use the benefit within 15 years.
The proposed federal legislation essentially would guarantee a full scholarship at any in-state public university for anyone who serves in the military for at least three years.
But the House and U.S. Senate have passed different versions, and President Bush has threatened to veto it.
Assemblyman Jack Conners (D., Burlington), sponsor of the state proposal, said states needed to act.
"The old GI Bill doesn't even begin to scratch the surface," he said.
Al Bucci of the New Jersey Veterans of Foreign Wars said federal inaction had been "very, very disappointing."