Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Hearing Transcript on Updating the Montgomery GI Bill.
UPDATING THE MONTGOMERY GI BILL
SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED TENTH CONGRESS
OCTOBER 18, 2007
SERIAL No. 110-56
Printed for the use of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs
U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
CORRINE BROWN, Florida
STEVE BUYER, Indiana, Ranking
Malcom A. Shorter, Staff Director
SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
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
October 18, 2007
Updating the Montgomery GI Bill
Chairwoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin
Prepared statement of Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin
Hon. John Boozman, Ranking Republican Member
Prepared statement of Congressman Boozman
Hon. Timothy J. Walz
Hon. John Kline
U.S. Department of Education, Allison Jones, Member, Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, and Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, California State University System
Prepared statement of Mr. Jones
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:
James Bombard, Chairman, Veterans Advisory Committee on Education, and Chief, New York State Division of Veterans Affairs, Bureau of Veterans Education
Prepared statement of Mr. Bombard
Keith M. Wilson, Director, Education Service, Veterans Benefit Administration
Prepared statement of Mr. Wilson
U.S. Department of Defense:
Thomas L. Bush, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs (Manpower and Personnel)
Curtis L. Gilroy, Ph.D., Director, Accession Policy, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness (Military Personnel Policy)
Prepared statement of Mr. Bush and Dr. Gilroy
American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Steve Francis Kime, Ph.D., Former Vice President (2003-2005), and on behalf of the Partnership for Veterans' Education
Prepared statement of Dr. Kime
American Legion, Ronald F. Chamrin, Assistant Director, Economic Commission
Prepared statement of Mr. Chamrin
Military Officers Association of America, Colonel Robert F. Norton, USA (Ret.), Deputy Director, Government Relations
Prepared statement of Colonel Norton
Minnesota National Guard, Major General Larry W. Shellito, Ed.D., Adjutant General
Prepared statement of General Shellito
National Association of State Approving Agencies, Charles Rowe, President, and Chief, State Approving Agency, New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs
Prepared statement of Mr. Rowe
National Association of Veterans Program Administrators, David A. Guzman, Legislative Director
Prepared statement of Mr. Guzman
Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Eric A. Hilleman, Deputy Director, National Legislative Service
Prepared statement of Mr. Hilleman
Vietnam Veterans of America, Richard F. Weidman, Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs
Prepared statement of Mr. Weidman
SUBMISSIONS FOR THE RECORD
National Organization for Competency Assurance, James Kendzel, MPH, SPHR, Executive Director, statement
MATERIAL SUBMITTED FOR THE RECORD
Post-Hearing Questions and Responses for the Record:
Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunities, Committee on Veterans' Affairs, to Colonel Robert Norton, Deputy Director, Government Relations, Military Officers Association of America, letter dated October 23, 2007, and response letter dated October 31, 2007
Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunities, Committee on Veterans' Affairs, to Ronald F. Chamrin, Assistant Director, Economic Commission, American Legion, letter dated October 23, 2007 and response letter dated October 30, 2007
Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunities, Committee on Veterans' Affairs, to Eric A. Hilleman, Deputy Director, National Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, letter dated October 23, 2007, and DAV response
Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunities, Committee on Veterans' Affairs, to Rick Weidman, Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs, Vietnam Veterans of America, letter dated October 23, 2007, and response letter dated November 2, 2007
Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunities, Committee on Veterans' Affairs, to Steve Kime, Ph.D., American Association of State Colleges and Universities, letter dated October 23, 2007, and response letter dated October 24, 2007
Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunities, Committee on Veterans' Affairs, to David Guzman, Legislative Director, National Association of Veterans Program Administrators, letter dated October 23, 2007, and response letter dated November 1, 2007
Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunities, Committee on Veterans' Affairs, to Charles Rowe, President, New Jersey State Department of Military, Veterans' Affairs State Approving Agency, letter dated October 23, 2007, and response dated November 2, 2007
Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunities, Committee on Veterans' Affairs, to Tom Bush, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs (Manpower and Personnel), U.S. Department of Defense, letter dated October 23, 2007, and DoD responses
Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunities, Committee on Veterans' Affairs, to Curt Gilroy, Ph.D., Director, Accession Policy, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness (Military Personnel Policy), U.S. Department of Defense, and DoD responses
Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunities, Committee on Veterans' Affairs, to Keith Wilson, Director, Education Service, Veterans Benefit Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. letter dated October 23, 2007, and VA responses
UPDATING THE MONTGOMERY GI BILL
Thursday, October 18, 2007
U. S. House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity,
Committee on Veterans' Affairs,
The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 2:04 p.m., in Room 334, Cannon House Office Building, Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin [Chairwoman of the Subcommittee] presiding.
Present: Representatives Herseth Sandlin, McNerney, and Boozman.
Also present: Representatives Walz and Kline.
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. The Veterans’ Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee hearing on updating the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) will come to order. I ask unanimous consent that Congressman Timothy Walz from Minnesota’s first district and Congressman John Kline from Minnesota’s second district be invited to sit at the dais for the Subcommittee hearing today. Hearing no objection, so ordered.
Welcome, Mr. Kline, we appreciate you joining the Ranking Member and me. I believe your colleague from Minnesota will be joining us soon, Mr. Walz, for this very important hearing.
Before I begin my opening statement, I would like to call attention to the fact that Mr. James Kendzel, Executive Director for the National Organization for Competency Assurance, has asked to submit a written statement for the record. If there is no objection, I ask for unanimous consent that his statement be entered. Hearing no objection, so entered.
[The statement of Mr. Kendzel appears in the Appendix.]
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. As the lone representative from South Dakota, I continue to hear concerns from returning servicemembers and veterans throughout my State about the confusion over existing Montgomery GI Bill entitlements and the inequity of benefits that exist between Active Duty and our Reserve forces. Unfortunately, this is an all too common concern of Guard and Reserve members across our Nation who have oftentimes served side by side with Active Duty forces in support of military operations at home and abroad.
Since the Montgomery GI Bill was enacted more than 20 years ago, our Nation’s utilization of the Selected Reserve forces has dramatically increased. When the Montgomery GI Bill was signed into law in 1984, servicemembers of the Guard and Reserve were rarely mobilized, but that simply is not the reality today. Indeed, today’s citizen soldiers are serving with distinction and have sacrificed a great deal in contributing to our Nation’s efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, we will hear today from our witnesses that Guard and Reserve members are being called to duty for extended periods of time, while their educational benefits do not reflect their increased service to our Nation. I know that I am not alone in this Congress when I say that our veterans deserve a Montgomery GI Bill that will meet their needs in the 21st century.
Much progress has been made in education benefits and National Guard, Reserve and Active Duty servicemembers. However, I think everyone would agree that we must remain vigilant to protect against any decline in benefits. Veterans, servicemembers and military families of this Nation deserve our best efforts.
Some of the panelists may recall a hearing we held on March 22nd on the subject of educational benefits for National Guard and Reserve members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Even before that, under the leadership of Mr. Boozman we had a field hearing in the great State of Arkansas and other hearings that probed this same issue in the prior Congress.
After those hearings, and during the hearing on March 22nd of this year, many of our members and panelists expressed concerns over: the confusion of Chapters 1606 and 1607 entitlements; the need to consolidate policy and funding for the Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve and the Reserve Educational Assistance Program under the authority of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); and the U.S. Department of Defense's (DoD’s) concern over the issue of retaining authority over kickers.
Since the March 22nd hearing, we have worked with our colleagues in the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to include language in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 to recodify Chapters 1606 and 1607 of title 10, United States Code, in title 38. I believe that this small, but very important, step will simplify and improve the educational assistance programs created to provide our Nation’s servicemembers, veterans and their dependents with the benefits they rightfully deserve.
Furthermore, we have worked with the House Armed Services Committee to ensure that kicker authority is not affected by legislation that might be considered by Congress in the near future. We understand DoD’s use of this important recruitment and retention tool and look forward to working with them to ensure future legislation improves their recruitment and retention goals.
Today’s hearing will follow-up on the recommendations that were provided in the 109th Congress and by our Subcommittee hearing earlier this year.
Ranking Member Boozman, I look forward to working with you, all Members on this Subcommittee, and our colleagues in Congress to streamline, update and expand existing Montgomery GI Bill entitlements.
I now recognize our Ranking Member, Mr. Boozman, for any opening remarks he may have.
[The statement of Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin appears in the Appendix.]
Mr. BOOZMAN. Thank you, Madam Chair. I appreciate you 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 enable veterans and surviving dependents with the opportunity to improve their ability to achieve financial independence outside of any other VA benefits that they may receive. According to the College Board, those with at least a bachelor’s degree will make at least a million dollars more over a lifetime than someone with a high school diploma.
Clearly, it pays to invest in education and training for our veterans. You and I have held several hearings on this 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 War on Terrorism, and if nothing else, I hope we can find a way to improve their benefits.
I am also 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 don’t avail themselves of the program, some of which will be difficult to overcome. But I do think that we could reduce that 30 percent to a significantly lower number, and I know that we will be working together to do that, Madam Chair.
Several of today’s witnesses will advocate paying veterans the full cost of education. If that is our goal, I think we need more data. For example, according to the College Board, the average tuition fees at a public four-year institution is about $5,800 and about $2,300 at two-year schools. Board data also shows that 65 percent of all students attend four-year schools with tuition fees below $9,000 per year. Fifty-six percent attend public four-year schools with tuition and fees ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 per year.
Finally, the College Board data indicates 41 percent of all students attend a two-year school with a net cost considering all forms of aid at less than $100. I am quoting those figures to show that the full cost of tuition and fees vary significantly and that there are opportunities to attend a wide variety of schools at reasonably low cost. Obviously, room and board costs will add to those costs.
Additionally, there are financial packages available today that will—that did not exist in earlier generations of veterans. Madam Chair, I think it might be helpful, in fact, I think it would be helpful if we ask the College Board to assist us in determining what is the real level of benefits we need to make as our guide.
I want to acknowledge that VA has made significant progress in lowering the processing time for original and supplemental claims for educational benefits. Last year, VA averaged about 43 days for an original claim. Today, it averages about 23 days. Supplemental claims are down to 11 days from 17 last year. I wish the folks at Compensation and Pension could do as well. I know the education service has achieved a high level of automation to accomplish that decrease and again, they should be complimented for that.
Finally, Madam Chair, you and I would make many improvements if we didn’t have the PAYGO offsets. However, PAYGO is a fact of life and some of these things are proving difficult to do as far as figuring out where we can get offsets, and yet something that we can do that is very achievable is making the process simpler for veterans in schools, and I am eager to work on the VA’s report on streamlining, getting the report that was due in July so that we can make an even further effort in that regard.
If we can’t get veterans more money, we should at least cut some of the red tape involved in getting checks to our veterans. Thank you very much. I yield back.
[The statement if Congressman Boozman appears in the Appendix.]
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you, Mr. Boozman.
Mr. Kline, I am aware of your broader interest in this entire topic, but also the specific circumstances that bring you to our hearing today. We would certainly welcome you to insert written opening statement for the record. We will go straight to the first panel so we can have time to get to the others.
Mr. KLINE. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Okay. Thank you.
I would now like to invite our first panel to join us. All of our witnesses today are distinguished individuals who are well qualified to discuss the issue of updating the Montgomery GI Bill. Joining us on the first panel is Colonel Robert Norton, Deputy Director of Government Relations for the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA); Mr. Ronald Chamrin, Assistant Director of Economic Commission for the American Legion; Mr. Eric Hilleman, Deputy Director for National Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) of the United States; and Mr. Richard Weidman, Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs for the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA).
Gentlemen, welcome back to the Subcommittee. I do want to remind each of you that your complete written statements have already been made part of the record for today, please limit your remarks to five minutes. There is a lot to say on this topic and we will have a lot of questions. Because we have four panels today, if you could limit the remarks to five minutes so that we do have sufficient time for follow-up questions.
Colonel Norton, please, 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; RONALD F. CHAMRIN, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, ECONOMIC COMMISSION, AMERICAN LEGION; ERIC A. HILLEMAN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE SERVICE, VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES; AND RICHARD F. WEIDMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR POLICY AND GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS, VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA
Colonel NORTON. Thank you, Madam Chair. Good to see you again. And thank you, Ranking Member Boozman, for this opportunity to appear before you today on behalf of the Military Officers Association. We are very grateful for the Subcommittee’s continued interest in approving educational benefits for the members of our Armed Forces and veterans.
The GI Bill exists to support the readiness of our Armed Forces and to assist those who have honorably served this Nation. Recruiting, retention and readjustment are the pillars of the program. All three are critical to the success of the all-volunteer force.
If we were grading the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) on outcomes, we would conclude that the program is not an honor graduate. The MGIB is not structured to best accomplish what Congress intended, and benefits do not match the service and sacrifice of our warriors. In considering legislation to modernize and improve the GI Bill, we recommend that three tests be applied. First, do legislative proposals match benefits to the service and sacrifice of our Armed Forces men and women? Second, are the components of the GI Bill organized to give optimal support to recruiting, retention and readjustment outcomes? And three, are benefits keeping pace with the cost of education in training programs?
In the case of the Minnesota National Guard and tens of thousands of other Reservists, the Reserve Montgomery GI Bill does not meet the test, the first test of matching benefits to service and sacrifice. We can debate the administrative aspects of their case, but in our view, two points are incontrovertible.
First, under current law, Reservists can’t use their benefits earned on Active Duty after they complete their service commitments. Second, when these troops are reacted, and they will be called up again and again under operational Reserve policy, they can’t earn any additional Montgomery GI Bill entitlement.
On the second test, is the GI Bill optimized to accomplish its basic purposes, the answer in our view is no. Active duty recruits still must give up $1,200 of their first year’s pay at a time when they are under great stress and often in economic straits. Basic Reserve benefits have dropped from 48 percent to 29 percent of the Active Duty program at a time when Guard and Reserve recruiting is under enormous strain.
In terms of readjustment, the GI Bill only pays 75 percent of the average cost of a four-year public college education for full-time study, according to Department of Education data. So recruiters don’t have as strong a product to offer and service men and women and veterans don’t have a readjustment benefit that matches the cost of education.
These young men and women are our Nation’s finest. If they want to go to school in the service or later after they separate, the GI Bill should cover at least the average cost of a public college. MOAA recommends 10 priorities for updating the Montgomery GI Bill as indicated in the executive summary of our statement. I will restate our top three, Madam Chair.
First, put all the eggs in one basket. Move the Reserve programs into Title 38, Total Force team, Total Force Montgomery GI Bill. The full House, as you indicated, Madam Chair, has already adopted this recommendation and we strongly recommend that final passage of this provision in the Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2008. In other words, we are hoping that the House will insist in negotiation with the Senate that this outcome happen.
Second, establish a 10-year readjustment benefit as authorized for activity duty members for National Guard and Reserve veterans called to Active Duty. We either treat operational Reservists as veterans or we don’t. It is as simple as that. The House has endorsed a sense of Congress provision that this should happen. This makes sense to us, but now the House needs to adopt a provision in the Senate’s defense bill to establish a readjustment benefit for activated Reservists.
And thirdly, raise GI Bill monthly rates to cover the average cost of a four-year public college or university education.
In closing, Senator Webb expressed the core idea at a Senate hearing on the GI Bill in July. Same soldier, same battlefield, same benefits. The all-volunteer force has been tested as never before and we must not let it fail. Action on the Montgomery GI Bill is long overdue and we respectfully recommend the Subcommittee and the full Committee make this issue a priority.
Thank you, Madam Chair. I look forward to your questions.
[The statement of Colonel Norton appears in the Appendix.]
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you, Colonel.
Mr. Chamrin, you are recognized.
Mr. CHAMRIN. Madam Chairwoman, Ranking Member Boozman, Members of the Subcommittee and guests, thank you for the opportunity to present the American Legion’s views on veterans’ education benefits. We commend this Subcommittee for holding a hearing to discuss these very important and timely issues. We thank the Committee for accepting our record in its entirety and for brevity, as we are limited to a brief statement, we will try to highlight our most key point.
The American Legion supports passage of major enhancements to the current All-Volunteer Force Education Assistance Program, better known as the Montgomery GI Bill. The current make-up of the operational military force requires that adjustments be made to support all Armed Forces members. We would like to see all of our recommendations enacted into law, but the most pressing need is to ensure that all veterans who have earned education benefits are able to use them.
Accordingly, the American Legion strongly supports measures that create portability of benefits. These portability measures must also be retroactive to protect those veterans who have already lost Reserve Education Assistance Program (REAP) and Selected Reserve benefits. It must occur immediately.
A closer look at the Selected Reserve enlisted attrition figures that were released by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Public Affairs Office, reveals that the total number of enlisted servicemembers who have departed the Reserve Components since 2002 is 850,000, or an average of 142,000 annually. 443,000 of the Reserve Components have deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom (OIF/OEF) as of August 31st, 2007. We can safely assume that a significant majority of these Reservists served honorably on Active Duty for at least 90 days, thereby earning them REAP benefits in addition to any GI Bill Selected Reserve benefits that they have.
Therefore, we conservatively estimate that at least 400,000 veterans of the Reserves, or 50 percent of the force that have already left, have lost earned education benefits that could have been used to increase their earning potential. Only 41,000 have used REAP benefits, a sharp contrast to the 400,000 who we believe have lost earned benefits. Noting that our figures are of National Guard and Reserve servicemembers that were deployed in support of OIF/OEF, there are additional Reservists that were called to Active Duty to the Continental United States or deployed to other regions of the world.
Hence, our conservative estimate of 400,000 veterans losing earned benefits is more likely than not much greater. The DoD Office of Public Affairs recently reported that their attrition rates are actually equal and/or lower in the Reserve Components since the Global War on Terrorism began. They even announced recently that it met or exceeded their Active Duty recruiting or retention goals for fiscal year 2007. So prior retorts from the DoD in opposition of extending the delimiting date for fear of harming retention are hard to explain, given the recent recruitment and retention rates.
The most visible example of the unjust denial of benefits is the demobilization of 2,600 members of the Minnesota National Guard who have just performed the longest continuous combat tour in Iraq of any military unit to date. If they leave the Selected Reserve, they will lose all earned education benefits. This travesty is not unique to these Guardsmen and the passing of portability benefits would assist these veterans.
Corporal David Tedford Holt, a Tennessee enlisted Reservist currently on Active Duty states: "With the high operational tempo of my unit, and with that many of our soldiers are deployed for more than 18 months during their initial six-year contract with the Army Reserves, it has become virtually impossible to support a family, develop as a soldier and member of the Army Reserve and obtain a four-year degree using the GI Bill benefits that are lost the moment a soldier leaves the Army Reserve. While many soldiers enter the Army Reserve without families or financial obligations and are thus able to attend school full-time when not in military training, the Global War on Terrorism has stirred the patriotism of more and more men and women who are choosing to take a leave of absence from their jobs and families in order to serve. These important soldiers and leaders are far less able to take advantage of the GI Bill benefits that are offered to them during their term of enlistment."
An officer that works closely with Corporal Holt stated that "he had no idea that enlisted soldiers lose their GI Bill benefits when they leave the Reserves." He continued to state, "I wonder how many officers actually know the reality of the situation. I bet that they don’t and in turn are harming their subordinate enlisted soldiers."
I will now briefly talk about one selected piece of legislation, H.R. 1102. The American Legion supports the Total Force GI Bill. This bill solves many problems, most significantly the inequities of benefits of the members of the Reserve Components as compared to their full-time Active Duty counterparts. One major selling point of this proposal is the portability of education benefits. The American Legion asserts that servicemembers called to active service perform duties at a equal rate to their full-time counterparts and should be treated as such.
In conclusion, portability legislation must be enacted into law immediately. This legislation discussed today aims to better serve veterans and ultimately assist them in financial stability and helps our country. We also strongly feel that our full list of recommendations in our written statement should be enacted to ensure that veterans and military members are better equipped with a secondary education. In turn, highly skilled veterans with advanced degrees can be emplaced in the workforce to ensure the country’s competitive edge in the global market in the not so distant future.
The American Legion appreciates the opportunity to present this statement for the record and to continue our proud history of advocating for increased educational benefits to members of the Armed Forces. I will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
[The statement of Mr. Chamrin appears in the Appendix.]
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you for your testimony.
Mr. Hilleman, you are recognized for five minutes.
Mr. HILLEMAN. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. Ranking Member Boozman, Members of the Subcommittee, on behalf of the 2.3 million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and our Auxiliaries, I would like to thank you for holding this important hearing on the GI Bill. The original GI Bill was an investment in America. The GI Bill benefitted half of the 16 million service men and women of World War II. These men and women earned higher degrees and higher salaries because of the education benefit. Higher taxes were earned on their wages and the investment paid for itself seven times over. These veterans are largely responsible for the tremendous prosperity that we enjoyed in the last century.
Over the years, the purchasing power of the benefit has dissolved while the purpose of the GI Bill has also evolved. The Department of Defense now uses the GI Bill to recruit and retain high quality personnel, attracting young education-oriented troops. The GI Bill has shifted from being a robust transition assistance benefit to now only covering a fraction of the cost of education.
The current benefit requires veterans to seek large student loans, compete for scholarships, work part or full-time jobs, and rely on family funding to get through school. This is far from the original intent of the legislation. In cases where a young veteran has a family, they must choose between feeding their family and working to support them, or seeking an education. Making the decision to feed your family today or forego an education tomorrow is not a decision we should ask our young men and women to make.
We urge this Committee, and the Members of Congres, to fully invest in a seamless transition for today’s troops. We believe that the benefit of a comprehensive GI Bill for the 21st century would provide full tuition support, a small stipend and other education-related costs. It would serve to strengthen DoD’s recruitment efforts and retention, provide a national cadre of seasoned patriotic leaders, and most importantly, improve the lives of veterans and their families.
The VFW strongly supports the enactment of H.R. 2702, the "Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007." We recognize that this bill does not address the inequities that exist between Active Duty service served by Guard and Reserve members in Afghanistan and Iraq under 24 months. Yet we believe that with this bill as a vehicle, Congress can move forward and build in provisions to reward the noble service of the Guard and Reserve members. We believe the GI Bill would boost recruitment, maintain retention standards and ease the transition from Active Duty to civilian life, while covering the complete cost of education.
I thank you for this opportunity to testify and present our views. I look forward to answering any questions this Committee may have. Thank you.
[The statement of Mr. Hilleman appears in the Appendix.]
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. We appreciate the testimony. Thank you.
Mr. Weidman, you are recognized.
Mr. WEIDMAN. Madam Chairwoman, thank you for inviting Vietnam Veterans of America to present our views today. Mr. Boozman, distinguished Members of the Committee, we would like to associate ourselves with the specific programmatic remarks for the short run in terms of fix of the Montgomery GI Bill as outlined by the Military Officers Association.
As you know, there was a broad education coalition that led to significant increases about seven years ago in the Montgomery GI Bill to make it more affordable and Colonel Bob Norton led that effort and held us all together. It is not an easy task to hold the entire veterans and military organization community together for a long period of time, but Bob has those kinds of skills, learned as an officer in the 196th Light Infantry Brigade.
I do want to take a broader view here though if I may, please, Madam Chairwoman. Other statements talked about us being at war or the military at war, and there is no shared sacrifice in this war. The cost of war does not stop when you pull the people off the battlefield. Healthcare goes on for the rest of their lives. Benefits for those who have been torn up, either physically or neuropsychiatrically, goes on for most of their life, and as well as the need for ongoing healthcare that doesn’t diminish with age. It only becomes greater, but also all benefits.
It is part of the cost of war, and under the schemata that we have set up and the rules of the game, if you will, to put it as part of PAYGO in discretionary domestic spending, the cost of taking care of the men and women who have put life and limb on the line in defense of the Constitution of the United States, is simply unacceptable.
It should be on the defense side, quite bluntly, not subject to caps, not pitting the needs of veterans against those of the nutrition needs of small children and other very important domestic programs, because it is part of the cost of war just as new replacement F-16’s and Raptor fighters are. And it is our contention that that is where we need to go with this entire thing, because otherwise, we are going to be fighting over scraps for the time on and on and on.
In terms of whether legislation that is needed, not that is "what is practical," is we need an amalgamation of the bills introduced on the Senate side by Senator James Webb, himself a combat veteran of Vietnam and father of an OIF veteran, and Senator Blanch Lincoln, that combines the best and makes it a Total Force real GI Bill for two reasons really, beyond the intrinsic rightness of it.
Number one is that we need to show the young people who are contemplating enlisting, either in the Guard, Reserve, or Active Duty, that we value their service, that the country really values their service when we go to war and they put their life and limb on the line in defense of the Constitution so that they—it is not just when they get torn up that we will take care of them with medical care, but that we value investing in them in winning the piece after they have won the war on the battlefield.
And the second reason is, it is not just in the veteran’s interest. It is very much in the country’s interest to train a whole new generation, a whole new generation to take their rightful place of some of our finest young people. They should not be limited by finances. They should be limited only by their intelligence, their drive, and their ambition to succeed.
There are countless folks, including Senator Frank Lautenberg, who spoke very movingly a few months ago about without the real GI Bill, and I say the real GI Bill that paid tuition, books, and fees, he could not have even conceived going to college, much less going to Columbia University. And he came from a very poor family and then went on to become very wealthy and a leader in both the private sector and the public sector.
And that is true of many individuals coming out of that World War II. It is an investment in America’s future that we cannot afford not to make, if I may suggest to the Committee. And so we look forward to working with you on either the short-term fixes. But in the 110th, right now is the time to change the rules of the game and to move in the second session to have a real GI Bill modeled on that, which was afforded to my father’s generation, your grandfather’s generation, Madam Chairwoman.
So I thank you very much for allowing us to present our views here today, and be glad to answer any questions that you may have. Thank you.
[The statement of Mr. Weidman appears in the Appendix.]
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you, Mr. Weidman.
Thank you all for your testimony.
Mr. Boozman, did you want to start out with a question this afternoon?
Mr. BOOZMAN. Thank you very much. And I will very quickly, because, we have Colonel Kline and Sergeant Major Walz, and I am really interested in what they have to say, especially with their backgrounds.
But I guess a couple things, Colonel Norton, I agree with the three things that you mentioned about putting all the eggs in the basket and all of you mentioned that lumping this thing together.
And I mentioned earlier, one thing that we have to do is when you look at—you quoted 75 percent, I think, based on the figures you had. We can pull all these different figures and they are just all over the place. So one thing I do think, and you all will be very helpful in doing this, is we have to figure out what is the cost now, compared to the benefit that was back after World War II or what we intended with the current law, and then, go from there. That, to me, only makes sense.
The other thing you mentioned that this is just a part of the cost of war, and I agree with that totally. There is no ifs, ands, or buts. And I think that this Committee is on the forefront of pushing all of these things forward. And I guess when I alluded to PAYGO in my opening statement, right now the reality is that we are stuck with that situation.
And so I think we are trying to get those things changed. All of us are tremendous advocates of Total Force GI Bill. We are all co-sponsors or original co-sponsors in many cases of the bill that you have, you know, that we have alluded to. But like I said, that is a battle that we have got to fight.
And then we have got to fight another battle in the sense of what can we go right now with these ancillary things. And that is really what I was referring to. So I think we really do have a very, very bipartisan Committee. We are like a family. We have our spats at times, but the heart of everybody on this Committee is in that direction.
But I see those as two different battles, the big battle that we have in the sense of how do we fund these things. I agree totally, it is a cost of the war.
On the other hand, what can we do right now to make our servicemember’s lives easier with the current rules that we have. I yield back.
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you, Mr. Boozman.
Mr. Walz, did you have any questions for this panel?
Mr. WALZ. Well, just a couple here, Madam Chair. And I want to thank you and Ranking Member Boozman for your leadership on this very important Subcommittee. I appreciate the opportunity of joining you as a Member of the full Committee. I know the work you do, the bipartisan work, and I would associate myself with the Ranking Member’s comment that we are committed to getting this right. We are committed to working together.
I would also like to mention my colleague from the second district of Minnesota is here. Congressman Kline, Colonel Kline, Marine Corp Colonel, has been a tireless advocate for our veterans and for our servicemembers. We have traveled together to welcome our servicemembers back home from their tour of duty in Iraq, and we share the same commitment on this.
So you are joined by a group of people here who share this, and there are just a few, just a couple questions I would ask on this. It does come back to this issue of resources and we know right now that one of the things you are going to hear later from the Minnesota National Guard and it may be an issue to ask of them, this issue of using incentives for recruitment and retention and as they play into that. And right now we have seen a shift to signing bonuses and the re-up bonuses and things like that.
Is it your opinion from your organizations here, are we putting the resources in the right spot at a time of conflict or a time of war, or are we not looking long-range on this, because I share your concern on this. I am absolutely committed that we need a Total Force GI Bill. I am absolutely committed. We need to upgrade this for long-range goals of educating our next generation of leaders that are coming back, making sure that we are getting our best and brightest, not only to see that we will take care of them, but to make that investment.
So I would just ask you on your knowledgeable opinion on this. I know it is somewhat subjective. But do you think we are putting our resources in the right place on this? If you just want to go down the line, whoever wants it.
Colonel NORTON. Congressman, I think it is a question of balance. A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report concluded that the Defense Department has increased cash bonuses for enlistment and re-enlistment by about a thousand percent since 9/11. The reality is is that DoD manages the force, distributes needed manpower into the needed skills by using cash bonuses.
At the same time, over the last six years, the Defense Department has not put forward any, and I mean any, substantive recommendations on the GI Bill, especially for the Reserve Forces to improve it as part of the recruiting incentive package. So we would conclude by that, frankly, that the Department really sort of takes the GI Bill for granted.
And if that is the case, and I think that adds substance to the argument that we should move the Reserve programs over where the Active Duty GI Bill has been since World War II, use the GI Bill primarily as a readjustment tool and let the Department of Defense use cash bonuses as they increasingly want to do to attract people into the Armed Forces and to get them to reenlist.
Mr. CHAMRIN. Mr. Congressman, we don’t have an official policy for recruitment or retention incentives. We feel that the DoD should be able to use what they feel is right to get troops enlisted or join the military. However, in regards to education, the American Legion is a community organization. We try to take care of the veteran and take care of their family.
So with education benefits, you are looking at long-term investments. I believe, 78 million baby boomers will retire by 2010 according to the I LO Institute and 13 million to 15 million skilled workers will also retire by 2020. So, we have to invest in the future, not just for the veteran, but for the family of the veteran.
Mr. HILLEMAN. If I may, Congressman, thank you for this question. The VFW is very supportive of a comprehensive improvement to the GI Bill, one that would boost recruitment. We have seen in recent years eroding of the standards for individuals entering the force. They have raised the enlistment age to 42, I believe, in the Army. They are taking more waivers for drug offenses and Graduate Equivalent Degrees than ever before. We believe with a comprehensive and powerful education incentive, we would up the quality of our recruits.
Most recruits coming in the military list the GI Bill as one of the top five reasons for joining. When DoD polls those same troops that stay, the ones that stay on Active Duty, the retained enlisted, do not list the GI Bill as a reason they stayed in. The GI Bill is a powerful recruitment tool and we believe that if employed properly, the quality and the quantity of the troops would increase. Thank you.
Mr. WEIDMAN. In regard to the bonuses, you give a man a fish and he eats for a day. You teach a man how to fish and he eats for a lifetime. Twenty-five thousand dollars sounds like a whole lot of money to an E-4, but it is going to cost that individual, that young man or woman more than that to buy a new pick-up. You have increased GI Bill benefits available to that individual and their lifetime earnings will more than double.
Mr. WALZ. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you, Mr. Walz.
Mr. KLINE. Thank you, Madam Chair, for allowing me to join you today. I am a Member of the Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee and I have had the opportunity to sit in on some joint hearings before. But it is interesting to me that we are scrambled up in red tape. There is red tape in the bureaucracies in the Executive Branch, in the VA, in the Army, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and here in Congress, as we have Committees with cross-jurisdiction and a lot of confusion.
I know, for example, that our good friend, Vic Snyder, who was the Ranking Member and then the Chairman of the Personnel Subcommittee, has been pushing this rope for a long time to get these GI Bill benefits merged. And it has been tough sledding. That is no excuse. It is just the way it has been. And I am very glad that we are addressing this issue now in a very serious way.
I regret that the Minnesota National Guardsmen and those in surrounding States are kind of paying a price for some of this bureaucratic snarl that we have going right now and I am looking forward to that panel. So let me just say that I think there is a broad commitment in Congress on both sides of the aisle to address this problem and fix the problem so that the GI Bill benefits are modernized and simplified and there is a simplified execution of it.
And I will not ask any questions, just in the interest of time. And certainly, I want to talk to our Minnesota tag. But thank you, gentlemen, very much for your testimony.
And thank you, Madam Chair.
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you. We have also been joined by Mr. McNerney, a distinguished Member of our Subcommittee. Mr. McNerney, do you have any questions for the panel or opening comments you would like to make?
Mr. McNERNEY. I have one question, actually. The GI Bill, as I just heard since I have walked in, is an important tool to motivate people to join the service, to motivate our young Americans to join the service. And I think it should be. A lot of people that join the service are in lesser economic situations and see that as an opportunity. And I think it is a fine way for the American government to motivate and to help people along and to get service in return.
One of the things about the GI Bill is that if you are going to be going to a program that is not a four-year program, but a three-year or a two-year program like law school or some graduate study, you still only get the same rate of GI Bill as if you would be going to an undergraduate program, and yet the expenses are so much higher. The tuition is higher and so on. Do you think that would be a good idea to change that so that if you are in a two-year program or a three-year program, you get the same total payout in a smaller time frame as someone that is going to an undergraduate program? Colonel Norton?
Colonel NORTON. Congressman, in the ideal, I think that is probably a good idea. In the real world, I think it would be a living nightmare for the VA to be able to figure out for each of the tens of thousands of veterans getting out of service every year exactly how much they would get, depending on whether they went to a two-year school, a training program, undergraduate, graduate. It would be extremely difficult to do that.
That is why we like the idea, and the Partnership for Veterans Education likes the idea, of benchmarking GI Bill rates on the average cost of a four-year public college or university. And the Department of Education tracks that data. Our friends in the Partnership from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities watch that data very closely for the Partnership. And right now the average cost that is picked up by the GI Bill is about 75 percent.
So if a young man does decide to go to—young man or woman does decide to go to a two-year school, they would actually be out ahead of the game, because they would be—for full-time study, they would probably be able to cover a little bit of their living costs at the cheaper rates of a community college and enable them to bootstrap up, if you will, to a four-year school. And in fact, a lot of veterans do start out at two-year schools.
So we like the idea of an average benchmark as the way to do it. But we also think that if they can’t use it when they get out of the service, then whatever rate is set by the Congress is no good. In your State, Congressman, there are 4,300 Guardsman and Reservists on Active Duty defending the Nation right now, as of October 17th. When they separate from the Guard or Reserve honorably, complete their commitment, they can’t take a penny of their earned Active Duty benefits with them into civilian life. So whatever the rate is for them and for the Minnesota Guardsman is meaningless.
Mr. McNERNEY. Thank you for that answer. Actually, the real problem is that I think that Congress isn’t putting enough resources into GI Bill to give that—at a high enough level to really be able to help students through college. The level it is at right now, it is good, but it is not really sufficient and we need to do our best as Members of Congress to convince the public that that is a worthwhile investment. So those are my comments.
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you.
Mr. WEIDMAN. Madam Chairwoman, may I comment back on that?
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Briefly, yes, because I have some questions, too, and we have to get on to our next panel. Briefly, if you want to comment on it briefly, please do.
Mr. WEIDMAN. The problem you touch on, Mr. McNerney, is the problem. The public hears that there is a GI Bill and thinks it is my father’s GI Bill. But this ain’t my father’s GI Bill by a long shot. He was able to go to Southern Methodist University in Texas, which was very expensive at the time, as somebody who came from nothing on the real GI Bill as we call it at VVA.
And that is not true today by a whole long shot. The solution is to be paid tuition, books and fees and a living stipend no matter where you can get in. If you can get into the high cost institution you are talking about, then you can go there and not be limited by your family background.
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you. I think that is an important point to make, about the comparison between and among generations.
I have a couple of comments and then a couple of questions. Picking up on the dialogue between you, Mr. Weidman, from your opening statement, and some comments that the Ranking Member made on PAYGO. I want to be clear as not only Chairwoman of the Subcommittee, but as a Blue Dog Democrat who advocated for PAYGO, that educational benefits come under mandatory spending. Any changes that we make to increase the benefits, which I favor, should be as comprehensive as we can get to improve these benefits.
Not to abide by PAYGO is not good for today’s veterans and their children, because it adds to the deficit. At some point someone is going to have to pay, and it is future generations that are going to have to pay. PAYGO is simply about priorities. We have established other priorities thus far in this Congress. There are 360 bills, most PAYGO compliant. This is about priorities and I think every Member on this side and many of my colleagues in Congress on both sides of the aisle, if we have to find the offsets, we will find the offsets because we support enhancing these benefits. It is a priority for us. It is a priority for many.
But I also don’t want us to fail to pick up a dime in search of the dollar and that we make the kind of progress that is feasible if we can’t find agreement. Especially when you have seen, obviously, some barriers in both the House and Senate in the last and current Congress in being able to pass legislation, even when there seems to be widespread agreement and then get them signed into law.
I think that we can do this and we can make progress like we have made progress even incrementally so far in terms of what we have done to move the jurisdiction over. That has been a condition precedent that we have needed to make sure that we are able to then have our ducks in a row to make all of this happen.
Again, I just wanted to state that, because I think that we shouldn’t shy away from the issue of PAYGO because it makes for some tough choices. Many of us are willing to make the tough choices necessary to enhance these benefits. Again, I don’t want today’s veterans and their children to be paying for this in another way, because we simply added on to the deficit and I think that we can do this in the short-term. I am hopeful we can do this in this Congress and we can certainly keep making progress, whether it is Senator Webb’s proposal on something very comprehensive or whether it is something that addresses certain issues that we have confronted, that we have addressed and tried to formulate proposals both in the last Congress and this one.
This is about streamlining benefits, whether it is taking what does cost money and finding the offsets. We want to be responsible and I think that is what today’s veterans would want us to do, is to be responsible with how we do this, and to ultimately get it done. You have the assurance from me, and I think what you have already heard from my colleagues on the dais, their commitment as well to continue to push this with leadership on both sides of the aisle.
I do want to ask a few very specific questions. Colonel Norton, let me start with you. My understanding is that servicemembers who go directly to school have their previous military wages count against them as income, even though they are not going to continue to get those wages. So that prohibit