Opening Statement of Hon. John Boozman, Ranking Republican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Arkansas
Thank you Madame Chairwoman for bringing us together today to discuss the accelerated payment option of the Montgomery GI Bill.
First, I have a list of the approved high technology programs taken from the VA website and I ask unanimous consent that the list be entered in the record.
The original intent of this payment option was to improve the affordability of relatively high cost, short duration programs. Absent specificity from Congress, the Department coordinated with the National Science Foundation and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to create the approved list and I’m sure the department is prepared to describe the process. Despite what is a lengthy list, incongruities exist. For example, urban forestry is approved but nursing is not.
I believe it may be time to refocus the program and better define the goal of the program. While improving funding for high tech courses is a valid goal, I think it ignores one of the major shortcomings in the GI Bill, and that is the 30% of those who sign up but never use their benefit. College is not for everyone nor does a long term degree program fit in every life situation.
For example, those service members who leave the military are often married with children and cannot afford four years away from the job market and need help in the form of affordable short-term education or training in fields that may be normally viewed as non- high tech. I believe, therefore the accelerated benefit program should be a tool to make veterans’ education benefits more flexible to help these veterans.
We should focus primarily on improving access to non-degree programs. That would include things like short-term certification courses but not a course that is part of a degree. And, given the level of sophistication of most sectors of the economy, it is hard to find jobs other than the most basic general labor that do not either require or strongly encourage formal education or training. Take truck driving for example. My district is home to the headquarters of 5 of the 10 largest trucking companies in America and I know for a fact that they are constantly seeking new long and short haul drivers. With all the regulations regarding hazardous materials and driving standards, truck driving is becoming more technically oriented every day. And I believe the industry needs about 100,000 more drivers for jobs that offer starting pay in the $40,000 range.
I note that one of our witnesses today will testify to the standards to certify truck driving schools. I have seen their criteria and let’s just say today’s schools are not what our fathers would have been taught. Other transportation modes such as the railroads and certainly aviation also have significant technical training.
But high technology should not be the only determinant. There are sectors of the economy crying for help these days, most of which require employees to master some measure of high technology. Transportation, hospitality, construction, healthcare, are just four of the dozen high demand job fields that offer good wages and careers for our veterans.
Madame Chairwoman, I look forward to working with you to make our education benefits programs more relevant to all of our veterans.