Opening Statement of Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Chairwoman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of South Dakota
As the lone representative from South Dakota, I continue to hear concerns from returning service members and veterans throughout my state about the confusion over existing MGIB entitlements and the inequity of benefits that exists between Active Duty and our Reserve Forces. Unfortunately, this is an all too common concern of Guard and Reserve members across out nation who have often times served side by side with Active Duty Forces in support of military operations at home and abroad.
Since the Montgomery G.I. Bill 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, 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 for National Guard, Reserve and Active Duty service members. However, I think everyone would agree that we must remain vigilant to protect against any decline in benefits. Veterans, service members, 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 Education Benefits for National Guard and Reserve Members of the U.S. Armed Forces. During that hearing, many of our Members and panelists expressed concerns over the: confusion of Chapters 1606 and 1607 entitlements; need to consolidate policy and funding for the Montgomery G.I. Bill Selected Reserve and the Reserve Educational Assistance Program under the authority of the VA; and 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, to Title 38. I believe that this small, but 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 effected 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 the Members on this Subcommittee, and our colleagues in Congress to streamline, update and expand existing MGIB entitlements.
I now recognize our Ranking Member, Mr. Boozman, for any opening remarks that he may have.