Font Size Down Font Size Up Reset Font Size

Sign Up for Committee Updates

 

Witness Testimony of Patrick Campbell, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Legislative Director

Madam Chairwoman and members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity on behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), thank you for the opportunity to testify at this legislative hearing on educational assistance bills. We are also grateful that H.R. 2910, the Veterans Education Tuition Support Act (VETS) and the by product of my graduate thesis, will be discussed today.

I. World War II Education Benefits for a Post 9/11 Generation

After World War II, nearly eight million servicemembers (more than half of the entire American fighting force) took advantage of the education benefits afforded them by the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. A veteran of WWII was entitled to free tuition, books and a living stipend that completely covered the cost of education. Since 1945 over 21,400,000 servicemembers have utilized at least some of their educational benefits.  Over the past 10 years, at least 66% of active duty service members and 42% of Reservists and National Guard have gone to school on the “GI Bill.” 

Today we are still reaping the benefits of one of the greatest social investment programs ever implemented. A 1988 Congressional study proved that every dollar spent on educational benefits under the original GI Bill added seven dollars to the national economy in terms of productivity, consumer spending and tax revenue. Today we have the opportunity to renew our social contract with our servicemen and women. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) supports reinstating a World War II style GI Bill that will cover the true cost of education.  We endorse H.R. 2702.

The current Chapter 30 Montgomery GI Bill, created in 1984, contains several obstacles that hinder veterans’ use of their well-earned benefits. First, active duty educational benefits require a hefty $1,200 initial buy-in. Although nearly 95% of active duty servicemembers buy into the program, only 8% of servicemembers use all of their educational benefits and more than 30% never touch their GI benefits.  These veterans return over $230 million to the US Treasury through their nonrefundable contributions.

Second, servicemembers are required to pay tuition, room & board and textbook costs up-front and are then reimbursed over the course of the semester. Before servicemembers can attend a single class they must pay tuition and fees amounting, on average, to $5,836 for a public school and $22,218 for private schools. Servicemembers are faced with the daunting task of paying for school by taking on multiple jobs to raise the money, attending a less expensive or prestigious institution, taking out student loans and/or “living on mama’s couch” to cut expenses. H.R. 2702 would overcome this obstacle by paying tuition costs in a lump sum at the beginning of the academic term.

Lastly, education benefits have failed to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of higher education. Education benefits are increased yearly based on inflation rates. As evident from the chart below, the cost of education has outpaced inflation by over 100% since 1984. The bifurcated benefits in H.R. 2702 that would make upfront tuition payments to schools and provide a living stipend to veterans would prevent future generations from suffering from diminished benefits. Although the living stipend will continue to be increased based on inflation rates, the tuition benefits would be pegged directly to the education rates in each state and therefore would keep pace with the relative cost of education.

Line graph showing the published tuition an dfee charges, in constant 2006 dollars, 1976-77 to   Line graph showing the published tuition an dfee charges, in constant 2006 dollars, 1976-77 to 2006-07

(Chart from the College Board’s “2006 Trends in College Pricing.”)

In 2006, Chapter 30 benefits only covered 75% of the cost of a public school education and 32% of a private school education.

IAVA believes that a World War II style GI Bill is more than just a social investment; it’s an important readiness tool. The military needs to recruit an additional 70,000 active duty servicemembers over the next two years.  Improving education benefits for veterans is an important strategy for accomplishing this goal.  The alternative is to continue to lower recruitment standards and increase enlistment and retention bonuses.  We have already seen the military double the number of GED waivers and increase the number of felonies allowable by a new recruit.  Enlistment and retention bonuses have already climbed to $20,000 and could grow even higher. 

The GI Bill is the military’s single most effective recruitment tool; the number one reason civilians join the military is to get money for college.  As our military recovers and resets in the coming years, an expanded GI Bill will play a crucial role in ensuring that our military remains the strongest and most advanced in the world.

Poster outside the DC Armory on July 12, 2007

(Poster outside the DC Armory on July 12, 2007)

The original WWII GI bill was called the “Servicemen’s Readjustment Act” for good reason. Returning WWII and Korean veterans were given the chance to readjust to civilian life by making college a full time job. Giving veterans the opportunity to truly take advantage of their education benefits will help build this country’s next “greatest generation.”

For all of these reasons, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) believes that both H.R. 2702, the “Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007” (Scott) is the best option to provide our servicemembers every opportunity to succeed in higher education.

II. Calculation of REAP benefits based on Cumulative not Continuous service

Benefits for Reserve/National Guard servicemembers should be based on the cumulative length of their active duty deployments and not on their single longest deployment. This fix would eliminate a glaring inequity faced by reservists serving multiple deployments. Currently, Marine Reservists serving more frequent but shorter tours rarely qualify for the higher level of REAP benefits. The average Marine reservist has been deployed multiple times on 9 month tours of duty. Despite having served at least 18 months of active duty, they will receive $220/month less in education benefits then an Army National Guardsman who served the same amount of active duty in a single tour.

IAVA endorses the provisions of H.R. 1102, the Total Force GI Bill, which would provide benefits for reservists serving multiple tours and allow reservists who have served overseas to use their earned education benefits after they separate from the military. We applaud the work of this committee to include the portability provision of H.R. 1102 in the National Defense Authorization Act.

In consideration of any GI bill legislation, we urge the committee to consider an alternative method for addressing the issue of multiple deployments. There are two practical fixes to the benefit accrual issue facing Guard and Reservists:

1) Month for Month Accrual: As proposed in H.R. 1102, a Reservist who has been called to active duty would receive a month of active duty education benefits for every month of active duty served ($1100/month). Once a reservist exhausted their active duty education benefits they would then only be entitled to the lowest level of education benefits, Chapter 1606 ($330/month) or, if they separated from the military, they would not be entitled to any education benefits.

2) Step Accrual: By simply modifying the current Chapter 1607 REAP program to be based on “cumulative” service, a Reservist would receive higher monthly benefits for additional active duty service. Benefits levels would either remain constant or increase as the reservist does more active duty service. This idea is currently proposed in H.R. 4148, National Guard and Reserve Active Duty Higher Education Act.

Although the month for month proposal seems simpler, it suffers from two fundamental flaws. First, once reservists use up their accrued active duty level education benefits, they experience a precipitous drop in benefits. This drastic decline in benefits means a veteran receiving Chapter 30 level benefits ($1100/month) one month will then start to receive Chapter 1606 level benefits ($330/month) the next month. Second, under current law and under the new provisions proposed by the National Defense Authorization Act, Chapter 1606 benefits are not portable, Therefore, a reservist who separates from the military and has used up the active duty level education benefits will have no more education benefits to draw from.

IAVA strongly endorses modifying the current Chapter 1607 structure of benefits to be based on cumulative service and by adding intermediary qualification steps that increase the level education benefits for every six months of active duty service.

Current REAP Program (Step)

REAP -Chap 1607

Benefit

 2 years continuous AD
or 3 years Cumulative AD=

80% AD

($880/month)

$7,920/yr.

1 year continuous AD =

60% AD

($660/month)

$5,940/yr.

90 days continuous AD =

40% AD

($440/month)

$3,960/yr.

Arrow

 

Proposed Changes (Step*)

Revised Chap 1607

Benefit

3 yrs. cumulative AD
($1,100/month)

100% AD
$9,900/yr.

2.5  yrs. cumulative AD
($990/month)

90% AD
$8,910/yr.

2  yrs. cumulative AD
($880/month)

80% AD
$7,920/yr.

1.5  yrs. cumulative AD
($770/month)

70% AD
$6,930/yr.

1  yrs. cumulative AD
($660/month)

60% AD
$5,940/yr

6 months cumulative AD
($550/month)

50% AD
$4,950/yr.

90  days cumulative AD
($440/month)

40% AD
$3,960/yr.

I have put together some charts to help illustrate this issue. The first chart shows the benefits a National Guard soldier would receive from a one year deployment. The second shows the benefits for a Marine serving two deployments or a reservist serving an 18 month deployment.

Army Reserve/National Guard Deployment

 

Army Reserve/National Guard Deployment Line Graph
Based on this chart a reservist in month to month scenario would receive a total of $21,120 over 36 months (12 months at $1100/month and 24 months at $330/month). In a step scenario they would receive $23,760 ($660/month for 36 months).
Two Marine Deployments or an early Army Resere/National Guardwo Marine Deployments or an early Army Reserve/National Guard

Based on this chart a reservist in month to month scenario would receive a total of $24,970 over 36 months (18 months at $1100/month and 18 months at $330/month). In a our proposed step scenario they would receive $27,720 ($770/month for 36 months)

 III. USERRA Type Protections for Deploying Students

Finally, H.R. 2910, the Veterans Education Tuition Support (VETS) Act, (Davis, S.) will provide meaningful protections for deploying students. In 2007, nearly 100,000 Reservists and National Guard soldiers were enrolled in college (an increase of 36% since 2005). Forty percent of these soldiers have been deployed at least once. Unfortunately, these student-soldiers face unique hardships when they are called to active duty service.

 

Total Reservists

Chap. 1607*

Chap. 1606*

 

2005

           81,209

            -  

      81,209 *1607: Deployed at least once

2006

           88,892

      23,747

      65,145 *1606: Never deployed

2007

           96,685

      39,642

      57,043  

 

 

 

Without federal protections these servicemembers face a patchwork of refund and reenrollment procedures which are both confusing and inconsistent.  Trying to navigate the bureaucratic potholes while attempting to re-enroll in school after a deployment can be an infuriating process. When I first returned home from Iraq I received harassing calls from my student loan lender, my roommate from Iraq was denied reenrollment at his college and my coworker who was deployed weeks before his finals was given essentially no accommodations by his school. Those who fight for our rights abroad should not be forced to fight for their rights when they return home.

The VETS bill will:

  • Require colleges to refund tuition for service members who deploy (or provide future credits).
  • Restore veterans to their academic status when they return.
  • Cap student loan interest payments at 6% while the student is deployed.

I am proud to report that § 707(b) of H.R. 2910, which extended the period of time a student-soldier has to re-enroll after returning from abroad has already been enacted into law (§ 204 of Public Law 110-84, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act).

If passed, H.R. 2910 will become the student-soldier's equivalent to USERRA (the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act). IAVA strongly encourages this committee to consider and pass H.R. 2910 for all the Reservists and National Guard soldiers in each of your home districts.

Improving the GI Bill will benefit veterans and the country as a whole.  By allowing veterans to take advantage of the best educational opportunities available, we can fulfill our promise to our servicemembers and create an opportunity for them to become tomorrow’s leaders.