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Submission For The Record of Paralyzed Veterans of America

Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman, and members of the Subcommittee,  Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), would like to thank you for the opportunity to submit a statement for the record  concerning pending legislation that addresses education benefits for today’s veterans including changes to the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB).  With so many men and women serving in the Global War on Terror, these benefits will be critical to their readjustment when they leave the service.

H.R. 1102, the “Total Force Educational Assistance Enhancement and Integration Act”

PVA supports H.R. 1102, the “Total Force Educational Assistance Enhancement and Integration Act of 2007.”  This bill recodifies the educational assistance provisions for members of the reserve components from the current Title 10, to Title 38, United States Code. This bill also allows the use of such educational assistance for apprenticeships and on-job training, flight training, licensing and certification tests, and individualized tutorial assistance.  This will allow a veteran who does not want to attend a four year college to use the educational assistance for other types of career training. Placing the Guard and Reserve education programs into Title 38 will place the oversight responsibility in the  Department of Veterans Affairs allowing Congress to better monitor these programs to ensure that they are serving the veterans.

H.R. 1211, the “Resuming Education After Defense Service Act”

PVA supports H.R. 1211, the “Resuming Education After Defense Service Act of 2007.”  This legislation would provide educational assistance under the Montgomery GI Bill for Selected Reserve members who serve on active duty in the Armed Services for a total of two years during a five-year period.  This applies to service from the period beginning on September 11, 2001, and ending December 31, 2008.

PVA does not support the requirement in Section 2 (d) (2) that requires the active duty service member to contribute $100 per month for the first 12 months of service. There should be no cost to the active duty service member. The MGIB should be an automatic entitlement for service members.

H.R. 1214, the “Veterans Survivors Education Enhancement Act”

PVA supports H.R. 1214, the “Veterans Survivors Education Enhancement Act.”  This bill amends Title 38, United States Code, to expand and enhance the educational assistance for survivors and dependents. The bill expands the age of eligibility for dependents from twenty six years of age to thirty years of age.   This legislation specifies that payments of educational assistance shall not be charged against the entitlement of an individual because that person is ordered to serve on active duty.  Section 3532 of the bill increases the total amount of educational assistance to $80,000, and calls for regular increases from time to time.  

The bill also increases the range of programs that the educational assistance can be used for.  This reflects the fact that various programs to prepare for future employment do not require the standard four years of college.

H.R. 2247, the “Montgomery GI Bill for Life Act”

Although PVA has no specific objection to this legislation, we have some concern that it could change the underlying meaning of the MGIB.  Education benefits, particularly the MGIB, are meant to be a readjustment benefit for service members immediately upon leaving the service or in the interim 10-year period.  By eliminating this 10-year period, the benefit would then be opened up to a generation of veterans who may have long since passed the need for readjustment. 

The one benefit that we do see to this legislation is it could allow a veteran to make a career change if he or she finds that their current career choice was not the right one.  The availability of the MGIB benefit later in life would open many new doors.  However, we do not want this change to open up the opportunity for veterans who may have retired from a career already to use the benefit simply to give them something to do.  This could certainly occur. 

H.R. 2385, the “21st Century GI Bill of Rights Act”

 PVA supports H.R. 2385, the “21st Century GI Bill of Rights Act of 2007.”   This bill will begin the process of providing for today’s and tomorrow’s veterans by increasing education, housing, and entrepreneurial opportunities.  America has an obligation to uphold the spirit of the original GI Bill and Congress has a responsibility to enact legislation that will return similar comprehensive benefits to our veterans. This bill will extend eligibility to all servicemembers (active duty, National Guard, and Reserves) who have served since September 11, 2001 and deployed overseas in support of a combat operation.  This would include active duty personnel who have served a minimum of two years on active duty since September 11, 2001 and National Guard and Reserve personnel who have served a minimum aggregate of two years on active duty since September 11, 2001.

The legislation will pay eight undergraduate college semesters (or 36 months) of tuition, fees, books, room and board, and other educational costs commensurate with costs paid by non-veterans.  This would allow a veteran to attend college without accruing a large amount of debt. 

This bill also eliminates payments into the program as part of an enlistment contract as currently required in the Montgomery GI Bill.  During previous wars, those serving in the military were exempted from fees for benefits. New recruits in the military begin their service receiving a relatively low rate of pay. They should not be penalized $100 each month simply because they may be considering attending college in the future.

H.R.2385 would also exempt veterans from paying loan fees when they receive a loan under the Veterans Affairs Home Loan Guaranty Program. Other types of home loans do not require a loan fee.  A loan fee should not be required of a veteran.

H.R. 2702, the “Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act”

PVA supports H.R. 2702, a bill that would enhance the current educational benefits for the men and women who have served on active duty since September 11, 2001.  The dollar amount of educational assistance would be equal to the established amount of tuition of an approved institution.  This would give the veteran a greater selection of institutions to pursue their education since they would not be restricted to less expensive institutions.  An additional amount of funding would be paid for the cost of room and board, and a monthly stipend of $1000 would be paid to the student for other expenses.  Tutorial assistance would also be available, and would be paid for a period up to 12 months to help the student with difficult courses.  This amount would not be taken from the student’s entitlement.  The bill allows the veteran up to 15 years to take advantage of these benefits.  This is an important addition since many returning veterans may not be emotionally ready right away to start school.  This educational package offers the veteran many incentives to encourage them to enroll in school or continue with their educational program. 

H.R. 2910, the “Veterans Education Tuition Support Act”

PVA supports H.R. 2910, the “Veterans Education Tuition Support Act of 2007.”  This bill would benefit members of the Armed Forces who use various forms of financial aid to fund their college education and are called to active duty. Currently, upon returning from active duty the service member  must start paying back the educational loan after one month.  However, transition from military service and service in the combat theater is a difficult challenge.  This bill would allow a 13 month transition period for these service members to reenroll before beginning payment on their student loan. It also calls for a six percent interest rate cap on student loans of members of the Armed Forces that are deployed on active duty.

Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman, and members of the Subcommittee, this concludes our statement.  PVA would like to thank you again for the opportunity to submit a statement for the record and we would be happy to answer any questions.