Thursday, October 25, 2007

Braley Launches Probe into Iowa National Guard Education Benefit Snafu

The adage goes: There’s the right way, the wrong way and the Army way. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, intends to find out which way the Army took when it shortchanged thousands of National Guard soldiers on their GI Bill educational benefits, including over 600 members of the Iowa National Guard's 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry, based in Waterloo. Braley announced Wednesday that, at his urging, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is launching a formal congressional investigation into the matter.

“When the Pentagon’s ineptitude leads to soldiers and their families being denied the benefits they deserve, it is Congress’ role to provide oversight, accountability, and answers,” Braley said in a press release. “While I am glad to see the Army moving quickly to correct its error and give these troops the benefits they’ve earned, the Pentagon’s explanation of what went wrong in the first place leaves many unanswered questions.”

One question that sparked Braley’s interest in spearheading a congressional probe is whether or not the Army deliberately shortchanged the soldiers. To qualify for GI Bill educational benefits, soldiers must serve 20 consecutive months on active duty, with orders reflecting a call to active duty of 730 days. Despite serving the longest continual deployment of any ground combat unit in Iraq and easily exceeding the 20-month requirement, many members of the 1-133rd were denied GI Bill benefits because the wording of their orders left their call to active duty several days short of the 730-day requirement. A number of these soldiers had individual orders written for 729 days, one day short of qualifying for full-time benefits.

“Serious questions remain about why and how this happened in the first place,” Braley wrote in a letter to House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs Chairman John Tierney, D-Mass. “While I’m hopeful that the cases of the members of the 1-133rd will all be resolved before classes begin next spring, the question of why the Army worded soldiers’ orders just one to five days short of the 730-day requirement, when the Army clearly knows that this is the threshold for receiving Montgomery GI Bill Benefits, is still unresolved.”

Moreover, Braley has concerns about the Army’s expediency of the matter, given that a number of these soldiers are stuck in limbo regarding their future education plans. “While I am pleased that these soldiers’ cases are to be considered as a group and on a expedited basis by the Army Board of Correction of Military Records, I remained concerned about the timeliness of this process, since the records corrections process can often take months,” Braley wrote. “This problem has caused much unnecessary stress and hassle for these National Guard members, and has jeopardized their ability to enroll in colleges and universities throughout the country for the spring 2008 semester.”

Another component of the investigation will look into whether any other National Guard troops have been denied benefits under similar circumstances, currently or in the past. In a letter sent to Braley late Wednesday, Waxman and Tierney confirmed their intention to work with Braley to investigate the situation in a letter.


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