U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today sent the following letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, expressing concerns that some members of the National Guard and Reserves are being denied educational benefits they deserve after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Members of the National Guard and Reserves are required to serve for 730 days in order to receive the education benefits earned by those who serve in active duty. However, according to news reports, many returning National Guard and Reservists have discovered that they will not receive these benefits either because their service fell a few days short of 730 days, or because their service orders were issued for a few days less than 730 days.
In the letter, Obama, a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, calls on Gates to clarify the Department's authority to provide waivers for these service members; evaluate how widespread the problem is; and propose recommendations to resolve this problem.
"The fact that those men and women in the National Guard and Reserves who put their lives on the line to serve their country are being denied full educational benefits is simply wrong, and we need to fix this problem today," Senator Obama said. "Like members of our military serving in active duty, service members in National Guard and Reserve leave their families, and risk life and limb for our country. There is no reason that they should have to fight this kind of bureaucratic mess to be able to access the benefits they deserve when they come home. I urge Secretary Gates to address this issue as soon as possible and consider any options that will allow us to fully keep promise to these heroes and their families."
Below is a copy of the letter:
October 16, 2007
The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
Washington, D.C. 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Gates:
As you know, in many cases, members of the National Guard and Reserves are required to serve for 730 days in order to receive the level of educational benefits afforded to their active duty counterparts. However, according to recent news accounts, a number of returning service members have discovered that they will not receive these benefits either because they served a few days less than 730 days, or because their service orders were issued for a few days less than 730 days.
I believe that these members of the National Guard and Reserves are being unfairly treated, and I ask that you exercise some flexibility and, where appropriate, grant waivers from this service requirement for educational benefits.
This problem is just one challenge presented by the complexity of the current maze of educational benefits and the varying eligibility requirements facing our returning service members. Even as Congress works to update these benefits, slash red tape, and ensure fairness and equity for our service members, I would ask that you respond to these interim questions:
* What statutory authority, if any, does the Department of Defense currently have to provide waivers for those cases in which members of the Guard or Reserves have fulfilled their commitment to serve our nation but have fallen short of receiving benefits that are due to their active duty counterparts?
* What plans are underway to review orders issued since 9/11 to Guard members and Reservists to determine how widespread this problem is, and does the Pentagon plan to provide waivers for these cases? If so, what would be the military's threshold for time served in order to grant the more generous educational benefit to members of the Guard and Reserves until the law can be revised?
* What legislative changes would the Department recommend to correct the inequities in the eligibility criteria for educational benefits for our service members?
While there are different views of the war in our country, I know there is no disagreement about the tremendous sacrifice being made by the men and women who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have performed valiantly under exceedingly difficult circumstances. They have done everything that we have asked of them. And at a minimum, we owe them educational benefits that are understandable, accessible, and are commensurate with their noble service.
For that reason, I ask that you exercise some degree of flexibility in addressing cases of Guard and Reserve members who have fallen a few days short of receiving the educational benefits they deserve and, wherever appropriate, I ask that you grant waivers from this service requirement. Thank you for your consideration to this request.
United States Senator