Thursday, March 20, 2008

Braley’s Probe Helps Guard Receive Deserved Education Benefits

Thanks to the efforts of Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, Iowa National Guard members will have one less thing to worry about when they return from deployment.

Braley announced today that all 595 members of the Iowa National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry affected by an Army error last year that disqualified them from receiving GI Bill education benefits have now had the error fixed and qualify for full GI Bill benefits. Nationally, the issue has affected more than 3,700 soldiers in 34 states.

“I’m happy to hear that every 1-133rd member who was initially denied GI Bill education benefits because of the Army error can now draw full benefits,” Braley said in a statement. “The Pentagon made a mistake, but I’m glad they fixed it.

“I’m even happier to hear that 74 of these vets are using their full benefits to further their education. These Iowans are making the most of a great opportunity.”

Last August, nearly 600 members of the 1-133rd returned from a 17-month tour of duty in Iraq — the longest continual deployment of any ground combat unit in Iraq. Many of the troops learned they didn’t qualify for GI Bill benefits because an Army error in the wording of their orders left them one to five days short of a 730-day qualification threshold.

In October, when Braley discovered his constituents’ education benefits had been shortchanged by the Pentagon, he helped launch a formal congressional investigation into the matter. Braley was suspicious that some members of the 1-133rd’s active duty orders were written one to five days short, thus denying the citizen soldiers full-time education benefits.

"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 October press release. "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."

Soldiers who qualify for Montgomery GI Bill benefits can receive up to $894 per month for educational expenses; the benefits can be used for up to 10 years after leaving the service.

If the error was not corrected, the 1-133rd soldiers would’ve only qualified for less-extensive Reserve Education Assistance Program (REAP) benefits. These total up to $660 per month, but reserve members no longer qualify if they leave the service.
Originally posted on the "Iowa Independent"

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