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Opening Statement of Hon. Stephanie Herseth, Chairwoman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of South Dakota

Good afternoon.  The Veterans’ Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee hearing on the education benefits for National Guard & Reserve Members will come to order.

As the lone representative from South Dakota, which this year will have about 2000 veterans use G.I. Bill payments for their education, I have an especially strong interest in exploring options to improve and modernize the Montgomery G.I. Bill (MGIB), particularly for National Guard and Reserve service members.

Ranking Member Boozman, I look forward to working with you, all the Members on this Subcommittee, and our colleagues on the Armed Services Committee to update this important program.

Since the MGIB was enacted more than 20 years ago, our nation’s utilization of the Select Reserve forces has dramatically increased.  When the Montgomery G.I. Bill was signed into law in 1984, service members of the Guard and Reserve were rarely mobilized, and that simply is not the reality today.  Indeed, today’s citizen-soldiers are serving with distinction and have sacrificed a great deal in our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Unfortunately, although they are being called to duty and mobilized for extended periods of time, their educational benefits do not reflect their increased service to our nation.  These patriots have earned and deserve high quality education and training benefits to be used in a fair and equitable manner. 

I would also like to welcome all of today’s witnesses, and I very much appreciate your testimony as your views and insights are critically important to us as we go about examining this issue.  I am particularly interested in understanding and exploring the views and perspectives on the proposed “Total Force G.I. Bill.”  This proposal would, among other things, organize all G.I. Bill programs under Title 38 and provide a 10-year portability of Chapter 1607 benefits.  I believe these concepts would help reflect the reality of the Total Force Policy.  However, I understand there may be concerns about how this proposal may affect retention, so I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.

Much progress has been made in education benefits for National Guard & Reserve Members.   However, I think everyone would agree that we must remain vigilant to maintain against any decline in benefits.  Veterans, service members, and military families of this nation deserve our best efforts and I plan on working with my colleagues to examine and develop policies aimed to improve readjustments services for our men and women in uniform.