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

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.  The Veterans’ Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee hearing on accelerated education benefits for veterans will come to order.

Today, we will be hearing testimony on accelerated education benefits.  In 2001, Congress passed legislation assist veterans in paying for short-term high-cost education programs.  Instead of paying the monthly education payments, accelerated education benefits provide a lump sum of 60 percent of tuition for certain programs.

To be eligible to participate in the accelerated education benefit program, individuals must qualify for the Montgomery G.I. Bill – Active Duty, be enrolled in a short-term high-cost education program such as life or physical science, engineering, mathematics or computer specialties, and intend to seek employment in a high technology industry.  In addition, the tuition and fees must be 200 percent the MGIB benefit that an individual would receive for that term.  To date, approximately 4,000 veterans have or are benefiting from this important program. 

You might recall that on May 25, 2005, under the leadership of Mr. Boozman, this Subcommittee conducted a hearing on the issue of accelerated education benefits.  That hearing raised several interesting issues that we can build upon today.

While I am supportive of this program, I am very interested in receiving testimony to help the Subcommittee determine: if the process time is adequate and meeting the needs of service members; if expansion of eligible programs is warranted; and if expansion beyond the Montgomery G.I. Bill - Active Duty Chapter 30 is warranted as well.

Joining us on our first panel is Congressman Michael Michaud, a senior member of our Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Health. 

On our second panel of witnesses, we will hear from Mr. Chris Burruss, President of the Professional Truck Driver Institute; Mr. Rick Weidman, Director of Government Relations for the Vietnam Veterans of America; and Mr. Ron Chamrin, Assistant Director of Economics for the American Legion.

Participating on our third panel is Mr. James Bombard, Chairman of the VA’s Veterans’ Advisory Committee on Education; and Mr. Keith Wilson, Director of Education Service for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

I look forward to learning more from the testimonies we receive today and working with our colleagues to ensure our nation’s veterans are provided the best education services that they have rightfully earned and deserve.