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Witness Testimony of David A. Guzman, National Association of Veterans Program Administrators, Legislative Director

Chairwoman Herseth, Ranking Member Boozman, members of the subcommittee, you honor us by inviting NAVPA to testify here today on behalf of America’s most important resource, the American Servicemember, past and present, who preserve the freedoms we so much enjoy though their selfless contributions to this great nation.

For the past several years NAVPA has developed a legislative agenda outlining the many program enhancements to veterans’ educational benefits that we see as necessary in order for veterans to keep pace with the ever increasing need for an educated work force.  we have long touted the concept that the school certifying official is at the business end of va educational programs

The delivery of veterans promised benefits have fallen short or at best have been diluted by the concept that we must “pay-go”, that is, find off-sets to pay for these education benefits. 

Our government has a history of finding dollars for the bullets and bombs, but when it comes time for bandages and band-aids we seem to limit our liability.  Veterans deserve better.  NAVPA has proposed that appropriations for war contain a set-aside for medicine and benefits for when the service member returns and becomes one of our veterans of war.

NAVPA fully supports the Total Force GI Bill proposal.  We would like to see an equitable education program for all veterans for all periods of active service, especially for those who put their life on the line in combat.  The National Guard and Reservists are pulling their share of active deployments yet their educational benefits lag well behind the active duty Montgomery GI Bill (Ch 30) benefits.  They fight along side their fellow active duty companion yet receive much less in compensation.

NAVPA advocates administrative like changes to the MGIB that would expand the student work-study program, clean up the financial aid dilemma that includes MGIB benefits in the financial aid formula and excludes many veterans in need from receiving federal financial assistance when needed.  We advocate the elimination of the 10 year delimiting date in favor of the life-long learning concept, and urge the VA to embrace electronic processing for all claims, all programs of education, for all veterans and their dependents.

we also advocate for the combat veterans who receive general discharges under honorable conditions who currently are denied benefits although they have paid into the mgib.  perhaps if this small group of veterans were able to receive education or training under the mgib they too would become better citizens, gain meaningful employment and contribute to society in a positive manner.  these veterans do receive other va benefits, services and medical benefits.

NAVPA also would like to see an increase in compensation for schools and businesses that administer veterans education and training programs.  When the Vietnam Era GI Bill was in existence the schools were responsible for the administration of two VA educational programs; today they are responsible for the accurate administration of 7 major education programs and 4 others which are either pilot, test, hostage relief or restored entitlement, bringing the total to 11 programs, with no change in the $7.00 per student compensation in over 25 years.  the result is that Schools are slowly eliminating the stand-alone office of veterans’ affairs and placing the certification responsibilities as additional duties placing enrollment certification responsibilities in other offices with additional duties lessening training opportunities and placing a burden on the program administrator to maintain compliance with federal and state laws resulting in lessening of the service to our veterans.  The program should include full funding not only for the veteran but also for the administration of the many veterans educational programs at all levels from the department of veterans affairs to the school or agency administering the programs.

Veterans’ educational benefits, be they active duty benefits, benefits for guard and reservists, vocational rehabilitation, OJT and apprenticeship or survivors benefits, actually cost little to nothing to the American citizen because, as history has proven,  the return on investment will pay back up to 7 fold.  Legislation for veterans education and training must continue to adjust to fit changes in america’s society.   

An educated society is less likely to be involved in crime, will pay taxes, buy a home and contribute to the community.  To me it is a no brainer to upgrade the education and training opportunities of our service-members and veterans and give them a meaningful benefit that will, in turn, be right for America and the right thing to do for our veterans.

Again, I thank you for this opportunity to testify.  Although I have distributed the NAVPA Legislative Agenda for 2007, which I mentioned earlier, to members of congress during my February 2007 visit, I will leave two copies for this committee.

I now stand ready for any questions you may have.  Thank you.