It's a different story for Matt Flavin, a first-year Georgetown law student today. He might go on to great things, but he'll have a bigger tab to pay when he does it. The government paid for all of Webb's law school, but for Flavin, who got out of the military in August and enrolled at Georgetown, the check that arrives every month at the run-down group house where he lives, is for a little over $1,100 — about 6 percent of what it costs in tuition, books and living expenses at the private school. The benefit is smaller for members of the National Guard and Reserve.
It is a big disparity, and one of the first things Webb pledged to do when he was elected to the Senate in 2006 was push for a more generous GI Bill to give soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines the same kind of benefit that put him through law school.
Since arriving on Capitol Hill, Webb has drummed up support from 54 senators, including Republicans like John Warner of Virginia, and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, both beneficiaries of the GI Bill. Another co-sponsor is Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who usually sides with McCain where it comes to the war and the military.
Webb is not suggesting that the government pay for everyone in the military to go to private college. He would more than double the GI Bill benefit for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, offering a living stipend of about $1,000 depending on where the veteran lives, and pay the equivalent in tuition of the most expensive state school in the veteran's home state.
It would also give benefits to members of the National Guard and Reserve, who, while they are often deployed overseas, do not enjoy the same benefits as regular troops. The annual cost would be, according to Webb, somewhere between $2.5 billion and $4 billion annually.
Flavin joined the military out of patriotism shortly after 9/11, went to Officer Candidate School and, over the next five years, served tours in Bosnia, Afghanistan and with Naval special forces in Iraq.
While he did not join the military specifically to get benefits from the GI Bill and does not think most troops do, Flavin supports the legislation.
"We owe them something," Flavin said of his comrades. "They've given life, limb, everything there is to give. The people who bore the most pain and suffering are the people who could use these benefits."
At Georgetown, where tuition alone is $39,390 per year for a full-time student, the GI Bill makes a dent, but not a very big one. Figures compiled by Webb's office say the GI Bill covers about 11 percent of the more than $55,000 it costs to attend Georgetown Law School, buy books and live.
President Bush, in his State of the Union address this year, suggested not expanding the GI Bill benefit for current soldiers, but making it easier for them to transfer the current benefits to family members.
The original GI Bill provided a college education to the wave of veterans returning from World War II. It was scaled back in 1956 after nearly 8 million World War II veterans had benefited from it. Since then, the GI Bill has changed several times. The current Montgomery GI Bill was enacted in 1985 and, according to Bush and Gilroy should remain distinct from the World War II version because the military is now an all volunteer force and the GI Bill is a tool used both for the recruitment and retention of qualified troops.
ABC News' Bret Hovell contributed to this report.