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Witness Testimony of Steve Francis Kime, Ph.D., American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Former Vice President (2003-2005), and on behalf of the Partnership for Veterans Education

In addition to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, five of the national presidential higher education associations are members of the Partnership for Veterans Education, and support the Total Force GI Bill proposal.

There has been little progress in GI Bill benefits for the Guard and Reserve. The GI Bill has not kept pace with national military strategy and force deployment policies. The nation is in need of a Total Force Montgomery GI Bill that equalizes benefits.

The evolution of Chapters 30, 1606, and 1607 has led to inequities in educational benefits. There is confusion among veterans and administrators.

Contemporary Adult and Continuing Education and the concept of lifelong learning apply to the entire Total Force structure. Provisions for accelerated payments, high-tech programs, delimiting dates, etc. need a comprehensive new look.

The administration of the current patchwork of laws is inflexible, needlessly cumbersome and inefficient:

  • Support of veteran administrators at academic institutions is weak.
  • All GI Bill funding and administration belong in the Department of Veteran Affairs where veterans are the first priority.
  • An outdated administrative culture dominates GI Bill management. Veterans are micromanaged – the consequences of this management style are high administrative costs and low morale for Veterans.
  • Requirements of an inordinate amount of information, coupled with lack of state-of-the-art computer expertise and equipment, result in backlogs in veteran’s receiving benefits.

The current management of the GI Bill needs comprehensive, ongoing reform. The proposed Total Force GI Bill is a rare management opportunity to reform and integrate the GI Bill to render better, fairer educational benefits for those who have served their country.

It is time for one unified and GI Bill, administered and funded by one Cabinet Department, to replace the patchwork that now exists. There is an historic opportunity at hand to produce a new “Total Force” GI Bill that can be seen by all to be clear, fair, well administered, and in synchronization with national strategy and force deployment policies.

Thank you Chairwoman Herseth-Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman, and members of the committee. I am here today as an educator and a veteran. I speak on behalf of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in cooperation with other national higher education associations that participate in the Partnership for Veterans Education.

AASCU and five national presidential higher education associations have supported Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges in it advocacy of education for servicemembers and veterans for a third of a century.  As members of the Partnership for Veterans’ Education, they have strongly supported improvements to the GI Bill and support the Total Force GI Bill proposal. My testimony today is similar to the testimony I provided to the full committee on March 22, 2006.

The higher education associations in the Partnership for Veterans’ Education include the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), the American Council on Education (ACE), the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), the National Association of State Approving Agencies (NASAA), the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC), and Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC).

Thank you for considering improvements to MGIB. They are much needed and long overdue- especially for our National Guard and Reserve servicemembers.

Thousands of Guard and Reserve servicemembers, many of them college students or aspiring students, are serving on active duty without fair access to GI Bill benefits commensurate with their service. The fact is that the GI Bill has not kept pace with national military strategy and force deployment policies.

Our nation’s active duty National Guard and Reserve forces are operationally integrated under the Total Force policy but their educational benefits are not structured equitably.  Our nation needs a Total Force MGIB.

AASCU and the Partnership support a Total Force MGIB that will:

  • Benchmark MGIB to the cost of attendance at public 4-year institutions. While Congress has attempted to keep pace with college costs in regards to benefits, for this school year, Chapter 30 benefits will cover approximately 75% of the cost of attendance at the average 4-year public institution.  

For this school year the projected average cost of attendance at a 4-year institution is $13,145, while the benefit is $9,909.

  • Consolidate active duty and reserve MGIB programs in Title 38 and align benefit rates with type of length of service.
  • Close the growing benefit gap between Chapter 1606 – the Reserve MGIB-  and the active duty program.
  • Transfer Chapter 1607 to Title 38 and adjust the rate formula to provide one month of active duty benefits under Chapter 30 for every month mobilized.
  • Authorize  the use of reserve MGIB benefits earned during a mobilization for a period of 10 years after leaving service – equal to current portability for active duty members. 

In addition, we need to address other inequities and administrative issues that affect our veteran-students:

  1. Other inequities in educational benefits:

The MGIB and MGIB-SR do not pay for the same training. They should.

Attempts have been made, with mixed results, to adjust the various versions of the active duty GI Bill to contemporary Adult and Continuing Education and the concept of lifelong learning.  These modern trends in higher education apply to all servicemembers in the Total Force structure.  Provisions for accelerated payment, high-tech programs, delimiting dates, etc. need a fresh, comprehensive new look in a single GI Bill that has appropriate access for all types of servicemembers.

  1. There is confusion among veterans and administrators.

Understandable confusion exists concerning the relationship between the kind of service rendered and educational benefit provided by current legislation. 

The three “tiers” in the Total Force GI Bill concept clearly and fairly provide educational benefits commensurate with kind of military service rendered.

  1. The administration of the current patchwork of laws is inflexible, needlessly cumbersome and inefficient:

Support of veteran administrators at academic institutions is weak.  Veterans benefit from the strongest possible counseling and administrative structure at the academic institution level. The Veteran Educational Opportunity Program, funded by the Department of Education, helped support veteran administrators at colleges but was allowed to lapse a decade ago. The fee that is paid for veteran certifications ($7) has not been updated since the 1970s.  Veteran administrators on campuses are partners and, with stronger support, can improve the veteran’s educational experience as well as the administration of the GI Bill.

Government structure has changed since the original GI Bill: there are now two Cabinet-level Departments. Strategy, war fighting and maintenance of a combat-ready force rightly occupy the Department of Defense. GI Bill funding and administration belong, under Title 38 in the Department of Veteran Affairs where veterans are the first priority.

An outdated administrative culture dominates GI Bill management. Veterans are micromanaged with consequences that result in low morale among veterans and high administrative costs that probably exceed the dollar costs of their benefit.

Requirements of an inordinate amount of information, coupled with a lack of state-of–the-art computer expertise and equipment, causes major backlogs in veterans receiving their earned benefits.

The current management of the GI Bill needs comprehensive, ongoing reform. Consolidation and clarification of current laws could serve as a basis for management reform and simplification.  The proposed Total Force GI Bill is a rare management opportunity to reform and integrate the GI Bill to render better, fairer educational benefits for those who have served their country.

It is time for one unified GI Bill, administered and funded by one Cabinet Department, to replace the patchwork that now exists. There is an historic opportunity at hand to produce a new “Total Force” GI Bill that can be seen by all to be clear, fair, well administered, and in synchronization with national strategy and force deployment policies.