STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - December 21, 2005)
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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, the original GI Bill of 1944 was intended to help veterans readjust to civilian life, and to recognize the service they provided to their country. Subsequent GI Bills, including the one in force today, have been important tools to recruit the world's best troops.
The GI Bill is meant ``to help meet, in part, the expenses of such individual's subsistence, tuition, fees, supplies, books, equipment, and other educational costs.'' At certain points historically the payment has met over 100 percent of these costs.
Yet, today's troops, performing with such distinction in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations around the world, are returning home to a GI Bill that covers only 63 percent of the average price of a public four-year secondary education.
Veterans are struggling to make up the difference in the price of their education.
We have heard of a 28-year-old Navy veteran who served two deployments in the Persian Gulf between 1996 and 2002. When he went to school he had to supplement his GI Bill benefits by working part-time as a bartender and taking out tens of thousands of dollars in emergency loans.
We've heard of a veteran who served 4 years in the airborne infantry prior to enrolling in a local community college in California under the GI Bill. He has been able to make ends meet at the community college by subsidizing his GI Bill benefits through part time work, but he worries that he will be unable to fulfill his dream of finishing up at UC Davis because his benefits and part time job will not cover the higher costs at the 4-year public secondary institution.
But not all veterans are in a position where they can worry only about their education. Almost 60 percent of enlisted men and women are married today, compared with 40 percent in 1973. These veterans are faced with choosing to borrow in order to invest for the future or take care of their family now.
We know of veterans who have lost that fight. One was unable to come up with the remaining third of the cost of his education and support his wife and baby daughter. His wife had convinced him to use his GI Bill benefits, but for this young veteran, ``the benefit just didn't match up to the cost of living'' and he dropped out of school after only one semester.
Over the past 10 years, less than 10 percent of eligible veterans who signed up for the GI Bill from 1985 to 1994 used their entire educational benefit, although 70 percent have used some portion of it.
The legislation I introduce today is the start of an effort to help veterans meet the everincreasing costs of education. It is only a start. I recognize that the cost of this proposal has to be addressed for the legislation to advance. Toward this end, Senator ENSIGN and I have written to the Veterans' Affairs Committee seeking reauthorization of a reporting requirement that will inform this process. And I plan to work with my colleagues in the coming months to find a solution that meets the needs of America's veterans.
We know that improving GI Bill benefits isn't just about saying thank you. It is critical to recruiting the world's finest military. As recently as 2004, a survey of active duty service members found that GI Bill education benefits were the primary reason individuals chose to enlist. We recently increased sign-up and reenlistment bonuses for members of the military. The GI Bill must increase too.
This legislation, the Armed Forces Education Benefits Improvement Act, would increase GI Bill educational benefits to cover the average price of a 4-year secondary education. According to the most recent report by the U.S. Department of Education, an average public 4-year education cost $14,260 in 2004-05, compared with the $9,036 provided under the current GI Bill for the same time period.
The Armed Forces Education Benefits Improvement Act would also provide for real growth in future benefits that keep paces with the ever increasing cost of education. The bill would index the increased benefit to the ``college tuition and fees'' component of the Consumer Price Index. Currently, the increasing cost of education is out-pacing growth in GI Bill benefits, which are indexed to the less rapidly growing overall inflation.
This legislation would also increase the base amount provided for members of the Selected Reserve by approximately 59 percent. And it maintains the same ratio in the FY05 Defense Authorization Act for those members of the Selected Reserve called up to active duty for at least 90 days.
Finally, the Armed Forces Education Benefits Improvement Act would open' enrollment for updated Montgomery GI bill benefits to certain active duty service members who declined to accept the Veterans Education Assistance Program, VEAP, offered between January 1, 1977 and June 30, 1985. These veterans are the only group of active duty service members--other than service academy graduates and recipients of certain ROTC scholarships--who have not been able to sign up for GI Bill educational benefits.
I am pleased that this legislation has been endorsed by the Military Officers Association of America and the Reserve Enlisted Association.
I know my colleagues are as inspired as I am by the dedication, courage, and honor of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines we meet around the world. They serve with a selfless devotion to their country and their mission--and we are all so very proud of them. The least that we can do is ensure the GI Bill education benefits keep pace with the cost of education in this country. I look forward to working with my colleagues over the coming months to bring this legislation to fruition.
I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.