Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Obama a Little Late on Extending GI Bill Benefits

(Update: The Obama campaign responded to an msnbc.com First Read inquiry about the proposed GI Bill legislation: "A number of different legislative options have been proposed to extend educational benefits for veterans, including the Cantwell bill. Senator Obama has been evaluating whether to cosponsor these bills or propose his own bill.")

During a campaign stop in Des Moines on Tuesday, Army veteran John Strong suggested to Sen. Barack Obama that the U.S. government should withdraw time limits on educational benefits given to soldiers under the GI Bill. Currently, many GI benefits that help veterans pay for college expire in 10 to 14 years after the person has left the service.

Obama responded that Strong, an unemployed senior citizen, had an outstanding idea. “We might introduce legislation next week,” the presidential candidate from Illinois told Strong. “Maybe we’ll name it after you.”

The only glitch is that this legislation has already been named and introduced in the U.S. Senate on May 1st. The “Cantwell/Larsen Montgomery GI Bill for Life Act of 2007” was introduced in May by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. S. 1261, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, would repeal the 10-year and 14-year deadlines.

Given the hundreds of bills introduced in the Senate each session, it would be challenging to keep track of every piece of legislation, but Obama is a member of the Senate Veterans Committee, where the bill was referred once it was introduced on the floor by Cantwell.

The Montgomery GI Bill for active-duty service members and veterans is a "pay to play" benefit that requires each service member to make a $1,200 non-refundable contribution upfront. In return for the contribution they can use their entitlement -- up to $1,075 per month for 36 months -- to help pay for education, apprenticeship and job training.

The catch is that the GI Bill automatically expires 10 years after the veteran leaves active-duty service. This "use it or loose it" aspect of the GI Bill has left many veterans feeling misled and cheated. According to a Department of Veteran Affairs report, nearly 30 percent of eligible veterans are unable to use any of their education benefits and most eligible veterans are only able to access a portion of their GI Bill before the 10-year limit is reached.

"GI Bill benefits should not come with an expiration date," Cantwell said in a May 1 press release announcing the bill. "When our service members leave the military, family obligations, work commitments and economic difficulties often get in the way."

Like Strong, many veterans postpone going to school because of several factors including employment constraints, family obligations, illness and disabilities associated with military service. After the rally, Strong told The Des Moines Register that he obtained a four-year college degree in social sciences in 1964 and then became a psychologist specialist for the military, serving in Europe from 1966 to 1968. He took early retirement from Greyhound several years ago and hasn't been able to find a job since. "A lot of us never used" the educational benefit, "and now that we're older, we need it," Strong said.

In many cases, 10 years have passed and they simply lose their benefits. "We need to remove this arbitrary time limit and make sure our veterans can get valuable skills training when the time is right for them," Cantwell added. "Veterans should have access to their education benefits for life."

2 comments:

Jb1125 said...

First Read Blog asked the Obama Campaign about this:

The Obama campaign got back to us and said, "A number of different legislative options have been proposed to extend educational benefits for veterans, including the Cantwell bill. Senator Obama has been evaluating whether to cosponsor these bills or propose his own bill.

http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2007/07/11/266129.aspx

T.M. Lindsey said...

Thanks for the update.