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

Like many of my colleagues here today, I recently had the opportunity to meet with local government officials and veterans back in my home state of South Dakota.  During one of my meetings, I had the opportunity to speak with the leadership staff of South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds and the South Dakota Adjutant General (Major General Steven Doohen) about ways to improve existing veterans programs. 

In particular, we discussed this Subcommittee’s efforts to update the Montgomery G.I. Bill and the provision we have worked on with the House Armed Services Committee Members to expand education benefits to our Reserve Forces.

While the future of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2008 is unclear, we in this Subcommittee remain committed to improving the educational assistance programs for our nation’s servicemembers, veterans and their dependents.

Currently, NDAA fails to include language to recodify Chapters 1606 and 1607 from the authority of the Department of Defense to the Department of Veterans Affairs.  While this is a disappointment to all those advocating for this change, I am glad that we did succeed in making progress for our nation’s Reserve Forces.  Included in the final version of the NDAA, we were able to gain bipartisan support for language that would allow certain members of the Reserve Forces to use their REAP education benefits during the 10-year period beginning on the date which they separated.

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

I look forward to working with the Members of this Subcommittee, and our colleagues in Congress to streamline, update and expand existing MGIB entitlements.