Hon. John Boozman, Ranking Republican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Arkansas
Good afternoon everyone. Madam Chairwoman, I appreciate your bringing us together to discuss the future direction of the GI Bill. As in the other programs under our jurisdiction, GI Bill education and training benefits enable veterans and surviving dependents with the opportunity to improve their ability to achieve financial independence outside of any other VA benefits they may receive. According to the College Board, those with at least a bachelor’s degree will make at least $1 million more over a lifetime than someone with a high school diploma. Clearly, it pays to invest in education and training for veterans.
You and I have held several hearings on this subject over the last three years and we have heard from literally dozens of witnesses about the need to make changes to reflect today’s operational environment. Today, members of the National Guard and Reserves are carrying a huge portion of the War on Terrorism and if nothing else, I hope we can find a way to improve their benefits.
I am also concerned that 30% of those who sign up for the GI Bill never use a penny of the benefit. There are many reasons they don’t avail themselves of the program, some of which would be difficult to overcome, but I think we could reduce that 30% to a significantly lower number and I want to work with you on that.
Several of today’s witnesses will advocate paying veterans the full cost of education. If that is to be our goal, I think we need more data. For example, according to the College Board, the average tuition and fees at a public 4-year institution is about $5,800 and about $2,300 at 2-year school. Board data also shows that 65% of all students attend 4-year schools with tuition and fees below $9,000 per year, 56% attend public 4-year schools with tuition and fees ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 per year. Finally, the College Board data indicates 41% of all students attend a 2-year school with a net cost, considering all forms of aid at less than $100. I am quoting those figures to show that the full cost of tuition and fees varies significantly and there are opportunities to attend a wide variety of schools at reasonably low cost. Obviously, room and board costs will add to those costs.
Additionally, there are financial aid packages available today that did not exist for earlier generations of veterans. So, madam Chairwoman, maybe it would be helpful if we asked the College Board to assist us in determining what is the real level of benefits we need to make as our guide.
I want to acknowledge that VA has significant progress in lowering the processing time for original and supplemental claims for education benefits. Last year VA averaged about 43 days for an original claim. Today it averages about 23 days. Supplemental claims are down to 11 days from 17 last year. I wish the folks at C&P could do as well. I note the Education Service has achieved a high level of automation to accomplish that decrease and again, C&P should follow suit.
I have one disappointment with our witnesses. Mr. Rowe, the State Approving Agencies are our main sources of information on how to ensure veterans receive quality education and training in exchange for their benefit payments. Unfortunately, virtually none of your testimony and only 1 or 2 of the association’s 13 legislative recommendations have any relationship to the duties of the SAAs outlined in chapter 36 of title 38. I believe your testimony does not reflect the SAAs’ responsibilities under title 38 and suggest your association refocus future testimony on your statutory duties rather than sounding like an adjunct to the Veterans Advisory Committee on Education.
Finally, madam Chairwoman, you and I would make many improvements if we had the PAYGO offsets. However, PAYGO is a fact of life and we must live by it until Congress changes the budget rules. There are lots of education bills out there, some of which are estimated to cost up to $75 Billion over 10 years. That type of legislation does not appear within the realm of possibility under PAYGO.
But we can do something about making the process even simpler for the veteran and schools and I am eager to see the VA’s report on streamlining that was due to us back in July. If we can’t get veterans more money, we should at least cut some of the red tape involved in getting checks to our veterans.
I yield back.