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Witness Testimony of Eric A. Hilleman, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Deputy Director, National Legislative Service

MADAM CHAIRWOMAN AND MEMBERS OF THIS COMMITTEE:

On behalf of the 2.3 million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. (VFW) and our Auxiliaries, I would like to thank you for your invitation to testify at today’s important hearing on the GI Bill and education benefits legislation. 

In 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the Serviceman's Readjustment Act known as the GI Bill of Rights.  This bill helped millions of Americans realize the American dream.  Nearly 12 percent of Americans served in uniform between 1945 and 1956 and more than 8 million returning veterans received debt-free college educations, low-interest home mortgages and small-business loan assistance.   In 1947, half of the nation’s college students were veterans.  For many, they were the first in their families to further their education beyond high school.  Today the WWII GI Bill is credited with creating the middle class.

Subsequent wartime GI Bills were not nearly as robust as the WWII bill.  The Vietnam-era GI Bill was a scaled down version from the WWII style bill.  Despite this, nearly 6.8 million veterans out of 10.3 million eligible veterans used their benefit.  Education benefits during the Vietnam era, despite popular beliefs, dramatically aided veterans in their transition from active duty to civilian life. 

It is time for a new GI Bill.  It is time to revitalize the American dream; invest in the overall health of our slowly depleting military force; expand the socio-economic makeup of the military; and provide the ONE PERCENT of our population that dons the uniform a life-changing benefit.   

The VFW has long advocated for the creation of a GI Bill for the 21st Century in the fashion of the original WWII bill.  We envision:

  • A GI Bill that increases military recruitment efforts, broadening the socio-economic makeup of the military, and strengthening our national security.
  • A powerful transition assistance program allowing veterans to readjust to civilian life, improve their ability to care for themselves and their families, and to become the leaders of tomorrow.
  • A GI Bill that recognizes the sacrifices of the hundreds of thousands of Guard and Reserve members who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, and during Katrina. 

We are not a nation at war; we are a nation with a military at war.  The majority of Americans have not been asked to sacrifice anywhere near that of the seven-tenths of one percent now serving in uniform or their families.   Many troops have been to Iraq and/or Afghanistan multiple times.  Some Guard and Reserve units are serving their second or third tours in country.  Now is the time to honor their service with a GI Bill for the 21st Century, providing them with opportunities to become future leaders of our nation.

Pause for one moment and consider the quality of life that WWII GI Bill recipients passed on to their children and grandchildren.  We as a nation need to recognize the indirect benefits our families received thanks to the education, housing and small business investment benefits given to the Greatest Generation.   

Many in Congress have recognized the importance of these issues and have introduced bills to improve this key program.  We urge you to examine these bills with an eye toward their enactment: 

H.R. 2702, the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2007     

This legislation would enhance military strength while providing an educational benefit that equips a generation of veterans to face the challenges of tomorrow.  The VFW has long advocated a GI Bill in the spirit of the original WW II bill, which would cover tuition at the highest State institution, housing, fees, books, and provide a cost-of-living stipend.  This legislation would accomplish these goals and more.  It recognizes the tens of thousands of guard and reserve members who have actively served an aggregate of 24 months defending our nation.  It lengthens the post-service usage period from 10 to 15 years from the date of discharge and establishes a post-service benefit for the Guard and Reserve.  The VFW enthusiastically supports this bill. 

H.R. 1102, Total Force Educational Assistance Enhancement and Integration Act of 2007

We support this vital legislation, which addresses the inequity between active duty GI Bill and reserve GI Bill education benefits.  H.R. 1102 would reward Guard and Reserve members with an equitable education benefit.  For every month they serve on Active Duty, they would receive one month’s Active Duty GI Bill benefit, usable within ten years from their date of discharge.  This bill also eases the administration of education benefits, simplifying U.S. Code, and giving the Department of Veterans Affairs the responsibility of administering the benefit as they currently do with the Active Duty GI Bill. 

H.R. 2247, the Montgomery GI Bill for Life Act of 2007

The Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) has opened the door to higher education for millions of Americans.  This bill seeks to eliminate time limits that often prevent service members from using a life-altering benefit when they need it the most. H.R. 2247 would eliminate the post-service 10-year time limit for the active duty MGIB and the in-service 14-year time limit for Guard and Reservists.  Time limits prevent service members from seeking training and education later in life or at mid-career milestones.  The VFW supports the life-long career approach to the benefit.  If a service member has earned the benefit, why prevent them from using it? 

Many service members seek education and retraining later or at mid-career.  This helps them adapt to the ever-changing economy, transitioning from fields that may offer more job security.  Also, many younger veterans and service members have family obligations that prevent them from seeking an education early in life.  The VFW supports H.R. 2247 and the repeal of time limits on the GI Bill. 

H.R. 2385, the 21st Century GI Bill of Rights Act of 2007

We support H.R. 2385 extending eligibility to Active Duty troops and National Guard and Reserve members who serve an aggregate of two years on active duty.  This bill would pay tuition, books, fees, room and board over the course of four years of full-time education.  It lifts the $1,200 buy-in fee. It further exempts veterans from paying loan fees, enhances access to low-interest loans through the Veterans Affairs Home Loan Guaranty Loan Program, and increases the cap on the veterans’ home loan program from $417,000 to $625,000.  This legislation also establishes a veteran’s micro-loan program, providing no-money-down micro loans for entrepreneurial ventures up to $100,000 and capping interest at 2.5 percent. 

Ms. Chairwoman and members of the committee, this concludes the VFW’s testimony, I would be happy to answer any of your questions. Thank you.