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Roe: This isn’t a package that comes along every day

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Today, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, chaired by Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.), held a legislative hearing on the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, Chairman Roe and Ranking Member Walz's legislation to improve and extend GI Bill benefits granted to veterans, their surviving spouses and dependents. 

Opening Remarks As Prepared for Delivery

Good evening everyone. Thank you all for being here tonight at this nighttime hearing. As you all know, I try to limit these late evenings, but I can’t imagine a topic more worthy of our attention than ensuring veterans have the education benefits they have earned and deserve.

I am proud and excited that we are here to discuss H.R. 3218, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, which the Ranking Member and I introduced last Thursday with the support of every single Member of this Committee. H.R. 3218, and how we got to where we are today, is a shining example of how well Congress can and should work together. 

This bill is the result of the tireless work of many of the VSOs here tonight and the bipartisan efforts of this Committee – and I am proud of what we will empower servicemembers, veterans, survivors and dependents to achieve with the improvements and enhancements included in this bill.

This is the first major improvement to the G.I. Bill since 2011, and it encompasses 17 bills introduced by our colleagues, many who serve on this committee, but also members of this body who share this committee’s commitment to the men and women who serve. This package includes over 28 provisions and brings forward countless enhancements that veterans groups have requested for years. This isn’t a package that comes along every day. 

H.R. 3218 is aptly named after Mr. Harry W. Colmery, who is credited with actually writing, by hand, the first draft of the World War II-era G.I. Bill. It is appropriate that we honor him for his work on the first GI Bill decades ago.

Tonight’s package would do a number of things but I want to focus on a couple key improvements:

  • It would eliminate the 15 year time limit to use GI Bill benefits for future eligible beneficiaries; Let me repeat that: for the first time in the history of the GI bill, future beneficiaries will be able to carry these benefits with them throughout their lives.
  • The bill would provide significant increases in GI Bill funding for Reservists and Guardsmen, including those who are currently serving on orders that do not accrue GI Bill eligibility, as well as dependents, surviving spouses, and surviving dependents.
  • Provide 100% GI Bill eligibility to Post 9/11 Purple Heart recipients
  • Increase opportunities for veterans to complete a STEM degree and other high technology programs, something I know Leader McCarthy has advocated for and it is a privilege to have him join us this evening.

The provisions I just mentioned only scratch the surface of the benefits that our veterans and survivors will receive under this bill.

I am also proud that my bill, H.R. 1956, the Caring for the Families of our Wounded and Fallen Heroes Act, is included in this package.

This bill would provide an additional $200 per month in education benefits to surviving spouses and children, those of whom do not qualify for the Fry Scholarship. These individuals understand all too well what it means to make the ultimate sacrifice, and it is our duty and honor to provide for them as best as we can.

Before I yield to the Ranking Member, I would be remiss if I didn’t give my sincere thanks to the veterans groups, especially Student Veterans of America, for helping us make this happen. We owe a debt of gratitude to all the Veterans Service Organizations who pushed for this package and stuck it out with us every step of this long process while we worked to make this the best bill it can be. I commend and thank you because we, without a doubt, would not be sitting here on the verge of this historic moment without your efforts. 

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