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Hearing Transcript on Review of Pending Montgomery GI Bill Legislation.

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PENDING MONTGOMERY GI BILL LEGISLATION

 



 HEARING

BEFORE  THE

SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY

OF THE

COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

ONE HUNDRED TENTH CONGRESS

SECOND SESSION


JANUARY 17, 2008


SERIAL No. 110-64


Printed for the use of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs

 

 

U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
WASHINGTON, DC:  2008


For sale by the Superintendent of Documents,  U.S. Government Printing Office
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COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS

BOB FILNER, California, Chairman

 

CORRINE BROWN, Florida
VIC SNYDER, Arkansas
MICHAEL H. MICHAUD, Maine
STEPHANIE HERSETH SANDLIN, South Dakota
HARRY E. MITCHELL, Arizona
JOHN J. HALL, New York
PHIL HARE, Illinois
MICHAEL F. DOYLE, Pennsylvania
SHELLEY BERKLEY, Nevada
JOHN T. SALAZAR, Colorado
CIRO D. RODRIGUEZ, Texas
JOE DONNELLY, Indiana
JERRY MCNERNEY, California
ZACHARY T. SPACE, Ohio
TIMOTHY J. WALZ, Minnesota

STEVE BUYER,  Indiana, Ranking
CLIFF STEARNS, Florida
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
RICHARD H. BAKER, Louisiana
HENRY E. BROWN, JR., South Carolina
JEFF MILLER, Florida
JOHN BOOZMAN, Arkansas
GINNY BROWN-WAITE, Florida
MICHAEL R. TURNER, Ohio
BRIAN P. BILBRAY, California
DOUG LAMBORN, Colorado
GUS M. BILIRAKIS, Florida
VERN BUCHANAN, Florida

 

 

 

Malcom A. Shorter, Staff Director


SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
STEPHANIE HERSETH SANDLIN, South Dakota, Chairwoman

JOE DONNELLY, Indiana
JERRY MCNERNEY, California
JOHN J. HALL, New York
JOHN BOOZMAN, Arkansas, Ranking
RICHARD H. BAKER, Louisiana
JERRY MORAN, Kansas

Pursuant to clause 2(e)(4) of Rule XI of the Rules of the House, public hearing records of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs are also published in electronic form. The printed hearing record remains the official version. Because electronic submissions are used to prepare both printed and electronic versions of the hearing record, the process of converting between various electronic formats may introduce unintentional errors or omissions. Such occurrences are inherent in the current publication process and should diminish as the process is further refined.

 

       

C O N T E N T S
January 17, 2007


Pending Montgomery GI Bill Legislation

OPENING STATEMENTS

Chairwoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin
        Prepared statement of Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin
Hon. John Boozman, Ranking Republican Member
        Prepared statement of Congressman Boozman
Hon. Susan A. Davis, prepared statement of


WITNESSES

U.S. Department of Defense:
    Thomas L. Bush, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs
        Prepared statement of Mr. Bush and Mr. Gilroy
    Curtis L. Gilroy, Ph.D., Director for Accession Policy, Military Personnel Policy, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Keith M. Wilson, Director, Education Service, Veterans Benefit Administration
        Prepared statement of Mr. Wilson


American Legion, Ronald F. Chamrin, Assistant Director, Economic Commission
        Prepared statement of Mr. Chamrin
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Patrick Campbell, Legislative Director
        Prepared statement of Mr. Campbell
Military Officers Association of America,  Colonel Robert F. Norton, USA (Ret.), Deputy Director, Government Relations
        Prepared statement of Colonel Norton
Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Eric A. Hilleman, Deputy Director, National Legislative Service
        Prepared statement of Mr. Hilleman


SUBMISSIONS FOR THE RECORD

Larsen, Hon. Rick, a Representative in Congress from the State of Washington, statement
Matheson, Hon. Jim, a Representative in Congress from the State of Utah, statement
Paralyzed Veterans of America, statement
Scott, Hon. Robert C. "Bobby", a Representative in Congress from the State of Virginia, statement
Vietnam Veterans of America, Washington State Council, Jim Pace, President, letter


MATERIAL SUBMITTED FOR THE RECORD

Reports:

Campus Kit for Colleges and Universities, Student Veterans of America, Compiled by John T. Powers, July 1, 2008


PENDING MONTGOMERY GI BILL LEGISLATION


Thursday, January 17, 2008
U. S. House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity,
Committee on Veterans' Affairs,
Washington, DC.

The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 2:38 p.m., in Room 340, Cannon House Office Building, Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin [Chairwoman of the Subcommittee] presiding.

Present:  Representatives Herseth Sandlin, Donnelly, Hall, Boozman.

Also Present:  Representative Davis of California.

OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRWOMAN HERSETH SANDLIN

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  The Committee on Veterans' Affairs Economic Opportunities Subcommittee hearing on pending Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) legislation will come to order.

Before I begin with my opening statement, I know that we may be joined by some of our colleagues who do not serve on the Subcommittee or the full Committee.  In the event that they join us later, I ask unanimous consent that those individuals, which include Congressman Vic Snyder of Arkansas, Congresswoman Susan Davis of California, and Congressman John McHugh of New York be invited to sit at the dais for the Subcommittee hearing today.  Hearing no objections, so ordered.

Welcome, all of you, to the Subcommittee.  Happy New Year to you. 

As many of you know, Congressman Snyder, who again may be joining us, sits on our full Committee.  Until recently, he chaired the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, and now chairs another Subcommittee on the Committee on Armed Services.  The Subcommittee on Military Personnel now falls to the leadership of Chairwoman Davis and Ranking Member McHugh who has served in leadership capacities on that Subcommittee for a number of years.  I look forward to continuing our work with the Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Military Personnel, in particular, as we seek to improve existing educational entitlements for our Nation's veterans.

Also, I want to call attention to the fact that the Honorable Jim Matheson of Utah, the Honorable Bobby Scott of Virginia, and the Honorable Rick Larsen of Washington have asked to submit written statements for the hearing record.  If there is no objection, I ask for unanimous consent that their statements be entered into the record.  Hearing no objection, so entered. 

[The statements of Hon. Jim Matheson, Hon. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, and Hon. Rick Larsen appear in the Appendix.]

Like many of my colleagues here today, I recently had the opportunity to meet with veterans in my district, State and local governing officials, county veterans officers, and Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) to discuss: the work of the 110th Congress, the accomplishments of the first session, and the advancements we hope to continue to make in the second session.

I had the opportunity to speak to South Dakota's Governor, the Honorable Mike Rounds, the State's Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, and the Deputy to South Dakota National Guard's Adjutant General, Major General Steven Doohen, among others, about the changes that were made to the Montgomery GI Bill in the fiscal year 2008 "National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).”

We also discussed this Subcommittee's efforts, along with the Armed Services Committee, to further update the Montgomery GI Bill, particularly for our National Guard and Reserve forces.  This support from the local level for our efforts tells me that we are on the right track.  However, we know there is some heavy lifting yet to be done.

The NDAA for fiscal year 2008, which has been delayed momentarily, but hopefully will be signed into law soon, failed to include language to recodify Chapters 1606 and 1607 from the authority of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  This is an area that will require some ongoing attention and discussion.

While this is a disappointment to some advocating for this change, I am glad that we succeeded in making progress for our Nation's Reserve forces. 

Included in the final version of the NDAA, among other important changes to education benefits, is language that would allow certain members of the Reserve forces to use their Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) education benefits during the 10-year period beginning on the date in which they separate from service.  I support these provisions and look forward to the President signing the bill into law.

Today's hearing will focus on several bills that have been identified as containing components advocated by the veterans' community.  I appreciate the positive responses of the VSOs in helping us identify areas of interest by submitting their top five legislative priorities for us to review as we consider updating the existing Montgomery GI Bill entitlements.

Ranking Member Boozman, I look forward to working with you, as we have done over the past three and a half years. I also look forward to working with all of the Members of the Subcommittee, our colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee, and others in the Congress to streamline, update, and expand existing MGIB benefits.

I would now recognize the distinguished Ranking Member, Mr. Boozman, for any opening remarks he may have.

[The statement of Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin appears in the Appendix.]

OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN BOOZMAN

BOOZMAN.  Thank you, Madam Chair.  I appreciate your bringing us together to discuss the future direction of the GI Bill.

As in the other programs under our jurisdiction, GI Bill education and training benefits provide veterans and surviving dependents with the opportunity to achieve financial independence outside of any other VA benefits they may receive.

According to the College Board, those with a Bachelor's Degree will make at least one million dollars more over a lifetime than someone with a high school diploma.  Clearly it pays to invest in education and training for veterans.

You and I, Madam Chair, have held several hearings on the subject over the last three years and we have heard from literally dozens of witnesses about the need to make changes to reflect today's operational environment.

Today members of the National Guard and Reserves are carrying a huge portion of the Global War on Terror and if nothing else, I hope we can find a way to improve their benefits in a way that reflects their expanded role in our Nation's defense.

I am also very concerned that 30 percent of those who sign up for the GI Bill never use a penny of the benefit.  There are many reasons they do not use their GI benefits, some of which would be difficult to overcome.  But I think we can reduce that 30 percent to a significantly lower number by adding flexibility to the program.  And I hope that we can all work together to get that done.

Several of today's bills would pay veterans what is described as the full cost of education.  If that is to be our goal, I think we need a real understanding of the true cost of education to a veteran considering the many sources of financial assistance available today.

Today there is a mix of Federal, State, and institutional financial aid packages available that did not exist for earlier generations of veterans.  Let us just consider one option and that is the Pell Grant.  The max grant now is about $4,300 per school year.  If the grant program did not consider military pay, most freshly discharged veterans would qualify for the full amount.

The Pell Grant Program also includes several income waivers for veterans that would allow a vet to work part time without impacting the Pell Grant amount.

So between the GI Bill and Pell Grant, a vet could receive over $14,000 for a standard nine-month school year that would not include any kickers or back amounts or other Title 4 education benefits.

It is also important to recognize that many States offer significant education benefits to veterans or those on active duty or serving in the Guard.

There is some really good news.  The VA has made significant progress in lowering the processing time for original and supplemental claims for education benefits.  In fiscal year 2007, VA averaged about 32 days for an original claim.  Today it averages about 23 days.  Supplemental claims are down to under 10 days from 13 last year.

I wish that the folks at Compensation and Pension (C&P) could do as well.  I note the education services achieved a high level of automation to accomplish that decrease.  And, again, hopefully C&P will follow suit.

Finally, Madam Chair, you and I would make many improvements if we had the PAYGO offsets.  However, PAYGO is a fact of life that we must live by until we decide to do something differently.

There are lots of education bills out there, some of which are estimated to cost up to over $75 billion over ten years.  That type of legislation, you know, appears to be very difficult under the PAYGO challenges that we have.

Again, though, I would say, and I think you mentioned this in the past, you know, we have to be responsible and it is a matter of priorities.  And certainly the priorities of this Committee are to expand our veterans' benefits as much as we can.

So thank you, Madam Chair.

[The statement of Congressman Boozman appears in the Appendix.]

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you very much, Mr. Boozman.

As I mentioned previously, we have now been joined by Chairwoman Susan Davis of California, former Member of this Committee. I certainly look forward to working with her in making continued improvements to Montgomery GI Bill benefits, given her work on the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.

Let me invite our first panel to join us here.  We have Colonel Robert Norton, Deputy Director of Government Relations for the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA); Mr. Patrick Campbell, Legislative Director for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA); Mr. Eric Hilleman, Deputy Director for the National Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) of the United States; and Mr. Ronald Chamrin, Assistant Director on Economic Commission for the American Legion.

Gentlemen, welcome back to the Subcommittee and happy New Year.  We look forward to working with you in 2008.  We want to remind you that your entire written statement will be submitted and made part of the hearing record.  If you could limit your opening remarks to five minutes to give us ample time for questions and follow-up, we would appreciate that very much.

Colonel Norton, we will begin with you.  You are recognized for five minutes.

STATEMENTS OF COLONEL ROBERT F. NORTON, USA (RET.), DEPUTY DIRECTOR, GOVERNMENT RELATIONS, MILITARY OFFICERS ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA; PATRICK CAMPBELL, LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA; ERIC A. HILLEMAN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE SERVICE, VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES; AND RONALD F. CHAMRIN, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, ECONOMIC COMMISSION, AMERICAN LEGION

STATEMENT OF ROBERT F. NORTON

Colonel NORTON.  Thank you, Madam Chair, and happy New Year to you as well and to Ranking Member Boozman. 

I am honored to have this opportunity to appear before you today on behalf of the Military Officers Association of America.  We are indeed grateful for this Subcommittee's continuing interest and leadership in improving the Montgomery GI Bill.

We also want to thank Congress for pending final passage of the Partnership for Veterans Education’s top priority last year, establishment of a 10-year readjustment benefit for Reservists who serve the Nation on active duty.

I want to add a special thanks to Representative Vic Snyder for his pivotal role and leadership in the Armed Services Committee and this Committee for making that happen.

Turning to the bills before the Subcommittee today, MOAA supports elements of all seven bills as indicated in our statement, but we do have some concerns either of a technical or equity nature on some of them.  I would be happy to address any of these bills in the Q and A period.

But stepping back for just a moment, Madam Chair, I want to help frame the consideration of these bills by letting the Subcommittee know that MOAA's top two priorities for the MGIB this year are, one, raising reimbursement rates and, two, establishing month-for-month entitlement for Reservists who serve cumulative tours of active duty of at least 90 days per tour.

On raising GI Bill rates, I will focus on H.R. 2702 because this bill is similar to a bill that is getting a lot of attention in the Senate sponsored by Senator Jim Webb, S. 22.

We strongly endorse the most important feature of H.R. 2702, namely raising GI Bill rates to cover more of the cost of education.  That is our top priority this year. 

We also like extending the readjustment period to 15 years and opening up the GI Bill to all men and women who enter the service.  That will help both recruiting and readjustment for today's warriors.

Translating that to the Montgomery GI Bill, opening the GI Bill to all new recruits would mean repealing the $1,200 payroll reduction at some point.

But we do have some concerns over establishing a new GI Bill program that directly competes, if you will, with the Montgomery GI Bill in Chapter 30.  Unless the Subcommittee were to repeal the MGIB or somehow put it on hold, we do not see how the proposed post 9/11 GI Bill in H.R. 2702 and the Montgomery GI Bill can coexist side by side.

Moreover, since there is no sunset clause in the bill, it would operate alongside the Montgomery GI Bill for the indefinite future.

In raising the rates, our top priority, MOAA would recommend instead of the metric used in H.R. 2702 that the Subcommittee endorsed using the average cost at a four-year public college or university as the benchmark. 

Right now, according to Department of Education data for this academic year, the MGIB pays about 75 percent of the average cost for full-time study at a public college.

Turning to Reserve benefits, with adoption of the readjustment benefit for Reservists' service on active duty, it now makes more sense than ever to integrate the Reserve program in Title 38.  That leads to our second major priority.

In moving Chapter 1607, the REAP Program, to Title 38, MOAA recommends changing the rates for Reservists who serve active-duty tours to month-for-month entitlement.

When you look at, for example, Madam Chair, the Minnesota Guard and Reserve, the New York, Arkansas, South Dakota, and California Reserve forces, eventually all of these great young men and women will serve three or more tours of activity duty.  Because of that service, many will have completed three cumulative years of active duty.  They should be entitled to the full Montgomery GI Bill rate, presently $1,101 per month.  But the pending Defense authorization would only allow them 80 percent, the “80 percent solution” of the full Montgomery GI Bill even though they will have served three cumulative years of active-duty service.

The principle should be in our view same service, same battlefield, same benefits. 

We are encouraged that Chairman Filner has said that the Montgomery GI Bill will be a top three priority this year and we look forward to working with you to create a better GI Bill that matches the extraordinary demands of service today and gives better support to Armed Forces' recruitment programs.

Thank you, Madam Chair and Ranking Member Boozman.  I look forward to your questions.

[The statement of Colonel Norton appears in the Appendix.]

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you, Colonel Norton.

Mr. Campbell, you are now recognized.

STATEMENT OF PATRICK CAMPBELL

Mr. CAMPBELL.  Happy New Year.  A lot has happened for me in the last New Year.  I had my 30th birthday and I graduated law school, so I appreciate it.  This is my first foray back into veterans' issues.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify and also thank you for bringing this issue up.  You know, I am glad that we are starting the dialogue about how we are going to renew our social contract with this generation of veterans.

I want to use this time to discuss IAVA's, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's top three priorities.  Just like Bob said, you know, our number one priority is raising the GI Bill rates so they cover the full cost of education.

Number two is that we deal with the issue of Reservists who have been deployed multiple times.

And third, and very important to me, is how do we provide meaningful protections for deploying servicemembers.

And since I know my esteemed colleagues are going to be spending a lot of time on the first two issues, I want to start with the last, how do we provide meaningful protections for deploying servicemembers.

In 2003, Congress passed the "HEROS Act" which granted the Secretary of Education the power to waive certain student loans for deploying servicemembers.  The "HEROS Act" was actually a direct copy of the "Persian Gulf Conflict Higher Education Assistance Act," just with a cooler name.

The bill said that it is the sense of Congress that all institutions offering post-secondary education should provide full refunds to students who are activated and that these schools should make every effort to minimize deferral of enrollment or reapplication requirements.

I testify before you today that servicemembers deserve more than a sense of Congress.  Deploying servicemembers across this country are not receiving refunds and are facing numerous bureaucratic hurdles to reenroll in school.  Over 400,000 Reservists have deployed and last year, 40,000 of them were enrolled in school.

I can say from personal experience that these bureaucratic hurdles are both infuriating and can be a complete roadblock for returning students.  When these servicemembers get home, their only thoughts are about, you know, taking classes, remembering what they learned before they left, or trying to figure out, you know, how to figure out life in an air conditioned classroom when the last year they spent was in a Humvee.

I spent my year on a trash pile in Iraq and I come back, you know, with a comfy chair and air conditioning.  I did not know which way was up.

What few returning students are prepared for is how schools refuse to make any reasonable accommodations to the fact that we spent the last year of our lives in a war zone.

I personally know of servicemembers who were denied enrollment because of a paperwork snafu or because they were gone too long.  I also know of servicemembers who were denied refunds.  And I am sad to find out that my own alma mater does not provide refunds for deploying servicemembers.

To be fair, most schools do the right thing.  But for those returning servicemembers who are not so lucky, they suffer through a bureaucratic nightmare.  That is why returning students need Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)  type protections.  I guarantee that they will get their refund and when they get home, they will be reinstated to the same status they were before they left.

We thank Congresswoman Susan Davis for introducing the "Veterans Education Tuition Support Act," H.R. 2910, and we encourage this Committee to take up that bill as soon as possible because the issue is growing.

The second I want to discuss is the issue of Reservists who are doing multiple tours.  Right now, as most of you know, education benefits are based on the longest single tour and not the longest cumulative amount of tour.

A pointed example of this is I, an Army National Guard, had served 16 months active duty while my co-worker, Todd Bowers, a Marine Reservist, has served the same amount of time, but he did his in two tours.  That means I am entitled to $220 more a month in education benefits because I did mine in one tour and he did his in two.  That just does not make any sense.

I learned yesterday, from the Army Times, that 25 percent of Reservists have been deployed more than once.  So we are talking 100,000 Reservists have served multiple tours.  And if you look at the Air Force and Air National Guard, most of them are working on their third or fourth tour.

There are two practical ways to deal with this issue.  First is to modify the REAP Program, which is the Chapter 1607, which says the more service you do, the higher the benefit you get, or you look to a month for month as Colonel Norton just said.

I posit to you that the modification of the REAP Program would produce a better education benefit for Reservists. 

If you indulge me and turn to page five of my testimony, you will see some charts.  You will see that although the month-for-month process seems simpler, it actually produces a worse benefit in the end for two reasons.

One is once you run out of the month for month, for every month of active-duty service, you earn a month of active-duty benefits, once you run out of that benefit, you will have $1,100 a month ,one month.  The very next month, you are going to get $330 a month.

If you happen to get out of the Reserves and separate, there is no portability for Chapter 1607 benefits.  So if you are out the Reserves, once you use your month-for-month entitlement, you are done.  You are not entitled to any more education benefits.

So Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America strongly encourages looking at modifying the current Chapter 1607 program by making it cumulative as it is suggested in H.R. 4148 and adding intermediary steps so that it goes at 90 days, six months, one year, one year and a half so that you are always going up.  You are never going to experience a drop in education benefits.

My time is up, but I just want to say thank you for having this hearing.  The social contract, you know, we fulfilled their social contract after World War II and Korea and we sent veterans to school for free.  This country was rewarded with the greatest generation.  How will we fulfill our end of the social contract with this generation?

[The statement of Mr. Campbell appears in the Appendix.]

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you very much for your testimony.

Mr. Hilleman, you are now recognized.

STATEMENT OF ERIC A. HILLEMAN

 Mr. HILLEMAN.  Thank you, Madam Chairman and Ranking Member Boozman.

On behalf of the 2.3 million members of Veterans of Foreign Wars and our auxiliaries, I would like to thank this Committee for its diligence, its dedication, and its bipartisanship exhibited in updating the Montgomery GI Bill.

We applaud this Committee and Congress for including the post-service usage for the Guard and Reserve members in the "National Defense Authorization Act of 2008."  We laud this accomplishment and we ask that this Committee and the Congress continue to update the GI Bill.

The VFW's top two priorities for the GI Bill this year are like that of my colleagues, increase the Montgomery GI Bill rate.  We would like to see it cover the full cost of tuition, education, room, board, and provide a cost-of-living stipend.

And secondly, allow National Guard and Reserve members to count every month of service toward accruing a GI Bill benefit.  Remove the qualifying impediment that a longest, continuous service period creates.

Since the inception of the GI Bill, every generation of warriors has had a benefit to ease their transition back into civilian life, providing an opportunity for education and serving as an investment in the future of our Nation.

Today's GI Bill is not meeting the needs of our veterans.  Skyrocketing education costs are forcing veterans to shoulder the bulk of their college expense.  Our military in the wake of current conflict is suffering from recruiting shortages.  Moreover, young veterans are more likely to become unemployed and homeless than their peers.  A new approach to veterans' transition, stabilization, and education is needed.

The increasing cost of education are diminishing today's GI Bill.  According to the Department of Education, the national average cost of an undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board charged to full-time students in degree-granting institutions for the 2005, 2006 period was $17,447.  A veteran receiving the full-time, active-duty GI Bill for the same period only received $9,306.  That is approximately 53 percent of the total cost of education.

This disparity makes it difficult for a single veteran to attend college and prohibitive for a veteran with a family.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services set the 2005 poverty line for individuals earning at or below $9,570.  A two-person household was $12,830.  A three-person household, $16,090.

A student veteran earning no additional income is living below the poverty line, accumulating large student loans, and struggling to afford an education.

For a veteran with a family, they are dramatically below the poverty line.  And if they are relying solely on the GI Bill to sustain them and their dependents through college, they face an uphill battle.

The GI Bill has evolved from its origins as a transition and stabilization benefit, to serve as a recruitment tool. 

With each successive year of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, we face the increased challenge of meeting projected recruitment and retention numbers for the military.  A robust education benefit would provide a positive recruitment tool to broaden the socioeconomic makeup of the military, improving overall quality of individual recruits and, thus, the overall quality of the force.

Veterans are increasingly at a disadvantage to their peers in the job market.  Of the 200,000 men and women that annually leave service to enter the workforce, a veteran is twice as likely to become unemployed. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, unemployment among veterans between the ages of 20 and 24 is 15.6 percent in 2005.  Nonveterans of the same age group face an unemployment rate of 8.7 percent.

Through education benefits, a veteran's marketability, their long-term career growth, and positive readjustment can be enhanced through creating such a powerful benefit.

Near the end of World War II, our Nation's economy was recovering from depression and showing promise of expansion.  With the creation of the World War II GI Bill, millions of servicemembers took seats in classrooms across the Nation.  Seven point eight million veterans took advantage of the bill ushering in an era of prosperity.  For every tax dollar spent, the government received approximately seven in return.

The original bill vastly expanded the middle class, improving American lives, veteran lives, and profoundly affected American families.

The VFW urges Congress to pass a comprehensive GI Bill for the 21st century as an investment in our troops, our veterans, and our Nation.  Thank you.

[The statement of Mr. Hilleman appears in the Appendix.]

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you very much.

Mr. Chamrin, you are recognized for five minutes.

STATEMENT OF RONALD F. CHAMRIN

 Mr. CHAMRIN.  Thank you, Madam Chair, and happy New Year.  And it is an honor to be back before the Committee once again.

The American Legion appreciates the opportunity to present our recommendations and observations of the current state of veterans' education and related programs, proposed legislation, and laws.

Recent legislative activities in relation to the fiscal year 2008 "National Defense Authorization Act" that contains significant changes to the GI Bill, place this hearing at an opportune time.

With the final disposition of the NDAA unclear as it is now in the Senate and hopefully will be presented to the President, the American Legion will comment on proposed legislation in reference to the current established statutes.

The American Legion asks the Committee to refer to our written statement for a full explanation of the top priorities of modification and enhancement of veterans' education benefits.  Portability of benefits, raising the rates, equity of benefits for time served on active duty, termination of the $1,200 contribution, transferability of benefits, accelerated payments, and recodification are viewed as extremely important to our organization.

In regards to recodification, the American Legion recommends that Congress move the REAP Program and the GI Bill Selected Reserve from Title 10 to Title 38.  The American Legion recommends that once all the Reserve benefits are moved to Title 38, all the GI Bill funding will become annual and mandatory appropriations.

Traditionally seen as a recruitment tool, the GI Bill is a readjustment tool that more closely falls in line with the purview of the VA.  The VA Education Service has a proven track record of improving delivery and facilitation of services, as well as a dedication to veterans.

Furthermore, the Committees on Veterans' Affairs are better equipped in that they have established oversight protocol of veterans and VA programs.  It is our hope that transferring oversight from the Committees on Armed Services to the Committees on Veterans' Affairs will expedite legislation seeking to improve educational benefits for veterans.

I would like to share a story of Staff Sergeant Jimmy Marrello, a Reservist from Illinois.  He has made the Dean's List while he was in school and was a finalist for the Noncommissioned Officer of the Year competition.  Unfortunately, none of his Federal activations were two consecutive years and, thus, he is ineligible to enroll in the GI Bill active duty.

Staff Sergeant Marrello will only receive a maximum of $23,000 of REAP benefits.  If he had served two consecutive years, he would be able to enroll in GI Bill active-duty benefit and receive $31,000 and have the ability to use those benefits after leaving service.

Amazingly, when he completes his upcoming tour in the Horn of Africa, he will have completed 48 months of active-duty service starting in 2003, but never in a two-year sequential period.

I want to talk about two pieces of legislation containing entitlement of benefits for aggregate time served, H.R. 1211 and H.R. 2702.  While these two bills are steps in the right direction by providing benefits for time served, the American Legion is concerned that it fails to recognize those veterans that complete their tours honorably, but do not serve an aggregate of two years and do not meet the other requirements for eligibility.  These veterans have served their country honorably, yet are excluded from earned benefits.

The eligibility requirement as proposed by bills H.R. 1211 and H.R. 2702 requires a servicemember to serve an aggregate of at least two years of honorable active-duty service in the Armed Forces after September 11th, 2001. 

However, the American Legion supports a GI Bill participant reimbursement rate adjusted for time spent on activation and supports Reservists utilizing their educational benefits even after release from the Selected Reserve.  Therefore, equity of benefits will remedy the situation.

The American Legion recommends benefits for time spent on Federal activation at the full-time rate proposed in the legislation for those veterans that have served less than two years, but also allow them to use their benefits after completion of a service contract. 

If a servicemember does serve an aggregate of two years due to multiple deployments, extensions, or enlistment in the active-duty force, then they would be in receipt of the full duration of benefits as proposed in H.R. 1211 and H.R. 2702.

Focusing now on H.R. 2702, it grasps the essence of the original GI Bill in 1944 and seeks to provide this Nation's veterans with an educational benefit package similar to that earned by veterans in the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.

Following World War II, wartime veterans saturated colleges and then used their advanced degrees to gain employment in all sectors of our country.

H.R. 2702 will pay up to the maximum amount of tuition regularly charged for in-State students for full-time pursuit of programs of education.  Furthermore, it will pay for an amount equal to the room and board of the individual plus a monthly stipend in the amount of $1,000.

Therefore, the American Legion fully supports the intent of H.R. 2702 to provide additional educational benefits for full-time, active-duty servicemembers and those individuals who are ordered to active duty as members of the Reserve components of the Armed Forces.

However, we do reiterate our recommendation to amend this proposed legislation to allow for use of benefits after service and entitlement of benefits based on time spent on Federal activation.

The final bill that I will address is H.R. 2910, the "Veterans Education Tuition Support Act of 2007."  This proposed legislation identifies the current plight that returning college-bound servicemembers have been unjustly enduring from some institutions of higher learning and, accordingly, the American Legion supports this bill.

2910 recognizes the complete transformation of the Reserve components into an operational force.  Activations and intermittent duty such as training or duty in support of operations are now an obligation of service.

A refund of tuition and fees prepaid by a servicemember to a university for classes not taken due to performance of military obligations is long overdue.

The American Legion is concerned that activations during the middle of a course is extremely disruptive and while legislation aims to correct injustices financially, in most cases, the veteran must restart the course and has lost valuable time due to deployment.

Madam Chair and Members of the Subcommittee, the American Legion appreciates the opportunity to present this testimony and to continue our proud history of advocating for increased educational benefits to members of the Armed Forces.

That concludes my testimony.  I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

[The statement of Mr. Chamrin appears in the Appendix.]

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you.  Thank you all for your testimony.

I would now like to recognize the Ranking Member for questions.

BOOZMAN.  Thank you all very much for being here.

I agree with you, Colonel Norton.  I think Congressman Snyder in his role being on VA and being over on the Armed Services Committee really has done a great job of bringing some things together that are very difficult to do sometimes.  So, as a fellow Arkansan, we are very proud of him.

One of the things that has kind of come up a little bit as we talk about paying for adopting some sort of the full-cost mechanism.

Would that have any effect on somebody that attended a two-year community college or trade school?  Would they not have as much benefit then as somebody that attended a four-year university type program?  I mean, how do you go around things like that?

Colonel NORTON.  I believe, Mr. Boozman, the way it works now is for full-time study whether at a private university, public college or university, or community college, you get, if you have a full Montgomery GI Bill, $1,101 a month.  So many veterans who actually start out at community college level could pay for all their community courses and have some additional funding for living expenses and so forth.

So that is a good thing.  In other words, it is a standard benefit and if you want to go to a private school or more expensive public school, then you would have to come up with the difference. 

That is why we think it is feasible for the Subcommittee to think about a national average cost benchmark.  And that has been the Partnership for Veterans Education position for more than six years.

Mr. CAMPBELL.  If you do not mind me addressing that issue real quick.

BOOZMAN.  You can address it.

Mr. CAMPBELL.  One of the problems with the current GI Bill that I see is it encourages people to go the cheapest school they can go to.  That is why when you get a list from the VA of the top 25 schools, you know, GI Bill users, it is almost all correspondence courses.

And one of the problems we have now is we have been incentivizing going cheap and we have not been incentivizing going to the best school that they can get into.

So in the bills that we have been discussing, you know, IAVA proposes having a tuition benefit that flexes, you know, even to whatever the highest national average.  But you get a certain stipend.  That is not going to change. 

But depending on what school you go to, you can get up to, you know, a certain amount of tuition no matter private, public, and that will incentivize going to a better school because, I mean, we should be encouraging people to going to four-year universities and not doing all their courses on line.  Now, that is a good option for some people.  But, you know, right now people are making money by going to correspondence courses versus barely trying to live by going to a four-year university.

Mr. HILLEMAN.  Mr. Ranking Member, if I may, your question related to a lesser benefit for veterans who seek an abbreviated program or an accelerated payment program, correct?

BOOZMAN.  Yes.  The question is with you being concerned because of the—and I understand what you are saying, Mr. Campbell that you would like to have the ability to get the money that you need and that might take more money than somebody that is in a lesser course and, yet there might be a real need for that tech program that you want to do.

I guess are you going to come back at some point there and say this veteran was discriminated against because he did not get as good a benefit as the other veteran with the flex that you are talking about?

Mr. HILLEMAN. In viewing the law, it is structured on a month-by-month basis, on the time table of 36 months. And certainly accelerated payments abbreviate the total number of months of usage; for example, technical school is a lump-sum payment.

If we stick to the model of using 36 months of eligibility, you should still receive a percentage of cost for whatever program they are in based on that accreditation. The veteran should not lose benefits; they are getting a number of months of education for a specific cost.  Overall, there is a formula that can be worked out.

BOOZMAN.  Very good.  My time is about to run out, I see.  One other question that if you would briefly comment because we are going to hear this is the idea that if we allow servicemembers to use their benefits after leaving the service, what is your thoughts about that negatively impacting retention rates?

Colonel NORTON.  Well, I think Congress has already basically made that decision, Mr. Boozman, in that the "Defense Authorization Act," which the House passed last night, the new version, if you will, of the NDAA, and the Senate is expected to pass it early next week.  It establishes a 10-year readjustment benefit for Reservists who serve on active duty.

So Congress has rejected the bogus argument about retention.  People who serve in the Armed Forces, both active duty and Reserve, are volunteers.  They are motivated by lots of different reasons to stay or to leave the service. 

Research done by DoD itself has indicated that education ranks way down on the list either for reasons to stay in or to get out.  But I think the bottom line is Congress has made the decision.  Reservists who serve the Nation on active duty have earned a readjustment benefit and it will probably be signed into law within the next couple of weeks.  We are very pleased to see that.  Thank you.

BOOZMAN.  Thank you.  And I certainly agree with what you just said.  Thank you.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Before I recognize Mr. Hall, I would like to make a clarification to Colonel Norton.  In the version of the NDAA that we passed last night, and that we expect the Senate to act on, the 10-year portability is solely for Chapter 1607 benefits.  It also includes a move to three cumulative years for Chapter 1607.  Are both of those provisions retroactive to October of 2004?

Colonel NORTON.  Yes, Madam Chairwoman.  That is correct.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you.

Mr. Hall?

Mr. HALL.  Thank you, Madam Chair and Mr. Ranking Member Boozman.  I associate myself with both of your remarks and I compliment you on the way you work together on this Subcommittee.

And for our witnesses, I thank you for your eloquent, concise, and amazingly unified testimonies.  It is very helpful when we have people coming in telling us basically the same thing. 

What I am hearing, I think, from all of you is that cumulative service, especially with regard to Reserve, is what should count, not the longest individual tour or single deployment. 

That, Colonel Norton, I summed up your testimony in one sentence.  Same service, same battlefield, same benefits.  Sounds like a good TV slogan.  But that is very helpful to me.

Mr. Hilleman, in your written testimony, you did not mention this, but you said in your written testimony, we are not a Nation at war, we are a Nation of military at war.  And that is one of the problems, I think, in terms of getting attention to these problems.  And that is another, you know, whole topic that we could spend a session on alone.

West Point is in my district.  I am on the Board of Visitors of West Point.  My brother-in-law is a 1969 graduate and a Lieutenant Colonel who works for the Association of Graduates.  And, you know, I have heard from him and from recent discussions on the Board that even there at the Academy, they are looking at increased education benefits as a way of retaining mid-level career officers to keep them. 

Once they have been trained and have gotten the experience and our country has invested in their education and their training and that now we are talking about increased postgraduate benefits to keep them reenlisting as one of the ways to do that.

So I wanted to ask maybe Mr. Campbell and Colonel Norton, do you think bonuses or education benefits are the most effective recruiting or retention tool or as a combination of the two?

Mr. CAMPBELL.  I have seen a study that said for in terms of recruiting, education benefits is the number one reason for a civilian to join the military.  And, you know, I echo what Colonel Norton said that in terms of retention, education benefits does not rank up there.

I know that I will be reenlisting because of the student loan repayment because having just graduated law school, I owe a lot of money.  But, you know, it is not one of the reasons why people stay.  It is one of the reasons why, you know, you join.  There is this social contract people believe.  You join the military, we will pay for school.  It just seems like common sense. 

And when you actually get real close to the poster, you can actually see the picture in my testimony of the sign that is outside of my drill hall.  You know, there is a big asterisk that says this amount of money, you know, up to this amount of money.

And, you know, I do not think DoD is being dishonest.  I just think that, you know, we have scaled back the benefits and we are not meeting that social contract.

Colonel NORTON.  I would just add, Mr. Hall, that with respect to West Point graduates, as you know, since you follow this very closely, we are losing a tremendous number of company-grade officers, captains and majors in the ground forces. 

More than half the class of 2002 has already left the service.  They have completed their five years and they have said thank you very much.  I may love the Army, but you are putting too much pressure on me and my family with repeated deployments.

With respect to the GI Bill, as you know, Service Academy graduates are ineligible for the Montgomery GI Bill.  We would like to see and we are recommending that they should be given an opportunity for the Montgomery GI Bill if they agree to extend their service commitment. 

In other words, at the end of the five-year point, if the service says, well, if you will agree to serve an additional period of time, three years or more, you can now enroll in the Montgomery GI Bill.  The same would be true, I think, for scholarship recipients, ROTC scholarship recipients who are also denied an opportunity to enroll in the GI Bill.

In combination with tuition assistance and other cash incentives, this is what helps to encourage people to stay on board at a time when operational tempo and the pressures on them and their families are enormous.

Mr. HALL.  That's a very good idea.  Thank you for sharing that.

I just wanted to ask about the language.  Mr. Campbell, you talked about current law saying that colleges should reimburse Reservists or Guard who are called up, who are activated and have their education interrupted.  And I assume that you think we should change that language to shall or must.

Mr. CAMPBELL.  Most definitely.  And I got an e-mail from someone who got deployed, you know, early, and it says, you know, he got back after being gone for three semesters and that school had a policy if you were gone for two consecutive semesters that you would be automatically kicked out.  So he had to not only reapply, he had to take the SAT again. 

And the only way they got around it was they had talked to their Adjunct General who then talked to the Governor who then talked to the University President and they let them in.  But because they let them in after the deadline for readmitting, he then had to go and beg the Associate Dean of that school who just happened to be a Vietnam Marine and that is why he got back into school.  And this was over six people that had this problem.  It took them over two months before they found out they could get back into school.

And veterans do not like to beg.  I mean, that is why the Veterans Services Organizations do it for them.  I mean, that is why we are here, I mean, because, you know, we just do not—you know, our job is to be that voice because, you know, veterans are a humble people.  They do not like to have to beg people to do the right thing, you know.  And this will do the right thing by mandating that schools give refunds and mandate that they get reenrolled when they get home.

Mr. HALL.  Thank you.

And thank you, Madam Chair. 

My time is up.  But if you have more of those concrete suggestions for how schools can accommodate returning veterans or soldiers who are leaving a very different world in combat that you described and coming back into the air conditioned, cushy academic world, the more specifics we get from you, from all of you, the better we can adjust the law.  Thank you.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you, Mr. Hall.

Mr. Donnelly, do you have questions for the panel?

Mr. DONNELLY.  Thank you, Madam Chair.

In regards to these colleges who do not give a refund, in your judgment, is it just a complete lack of understanding or has there ever been explained to you a reason for this kind of conduct?

Mr. CAMPBELL.  Actually, in researching this, I called all the University of California schools.  And I called every one of them and asked them what is your refund policy for servicemembers.  I called each of them.  Only one new the answer right off.  I called again, called again.  And after two weeks, four of them knew the answer.    Most people have never been faced with this issue, so they do not have policies.  So when you have some administrator at some school who does not have a policy, they are going to stick with what they know and that is there are no refunds after a certain period of time or if it is at some point, they get it pro rata.

And I actually found a General Counsel memo right as the Iraqi War started from the University of California General Counsel Office saying that the schools had the authority to provide refunds, but, I mean, no one even knew where the memo was.  I am probably one of the few people in the University of California system that even knows it exists.

So, you know, most do the right thing, but, you know, there are people out there who just—I mean, it is the same reason why we have USERRA protections for people coming home about their jobs.  Most jobs will just let people, you know, go back to work.  But there are a few employers out there, there are a few schools out there who just do not honor service in the same way.  They view it as a burden to them to let these people back into their school, that they are messing with their bureaucratic system, you know.

I will be honest with you.  I am always in the office talking about something because I am always that individual who, you know, messed up the paperwork somehow and I am always trying to navigate the system because I do not seem to fit any one of the paradigms that most people do.

And, you know, we just need to be sure that we make space for these people because, you know, we did not ask.  We volunteered to, you know, join the military service, but most of us did not ask to go overseas.  And all we want to do when we get home is just start classes.

Mr. DONNELLY.  In putting these ideas together, you also mentioned that, you know, some people are gone three semesters and they look up and they have been booted out because if you have two consecutive, you are gone.

Do you have, or can you put together for us, a list of the challenges that are faced at the college level by our vets as they leave or as they come back because I think that that would be extraordinarily helpful in putting together real solid legislation in regards to this?

Mr. CAMPBELL.  Definitely.  And there is actually a survey being done of all the schools right now on what is their veteran population and what concerns the veterans are having in those schools.  That is actually being done as we speak.  So, you know, as soon as I get that information to you.  And I have a lot of ideas in my head that I will be getting to you very soon.

Mr. DONNELLY.  Thank you.

[The following was subsequently received from Mr. Campbell:]

Aside from the provisions contained in H.R. 2910, this issue brief was published by the Student Veterans of America and contains a list of issues facing student veterans, which appears in the Appendix.]

Mr. CHAMRIN.  If I may just to follow-up with this.  A lot of these problems are with Reserves and National Guard members.  And it falls in line with the deployment cycles and all these deployment cycles are in limbo. 

So, you have a Reserve member who is hearing whispers or might know that their unit is going to get deployed, so they voluntarily withdraw from school instead of being in school for two or three months and then getting withdrawn, let us say, in November which is the full-time middle of your semester.

So, passing this legislation will provide legislative protection of these people rather than having them to volunteer to withdraw from school. 

I can personally attest that I withdrew from school after 9/11.  I was told I was going to Afghanistan.  I did not go to Afghanistan.  I was out of school for three full years and finally went to Iraq in 2003.  I did have a lot of military duty in between those times.  But if I went to Afghanistan right away, it would have made more sense rather than withdrawing from school for three full years.

Mr. DONNELLY.  Well, and, you know, thank God for the success we are having.  But in my home State of Indiana over the Christmas break, we sent off 3,400 more members of the Guard.  We actually had a send-off at the RCA Dome where the Colts play football.  Twenty-five thousand family members, 3,400 Guard members heading to Iraq.

And so I am sure they have been for the last X number of months because it has been talked about for a year, the last X number of months in a position where they are doing those kind of things of wrapping everything up.

So the more assistance you can give us in putting together solid legislation, we would really appreciate it.

Mr. CAMPBELL.  And I will also give you a copy of our dep