A bipartisan group of U.S. Senatorsincluding Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.)today unveiled their plan to provide the men and women of our National Guard and Reserves with benefits that better reflect their increased service to our country.
The Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) Enhancement Act of 2008, introduced today, would make three much-needed improvements to the structure and value of the Montgomery G.I. Bill education benefits for our citizen soldiers by providing accruable benefits for those who have served multiple deployments; by replacing the current three-tiered formula for REAP benefits with one that more accurately reflects service rendered; and by shifting jurisdiction of REAP benefits from the Department of Defense to the Veterans Administration.
"Last year, Congress made important progress by improving access to educational benefits for our citizen soldiers, but too many inequities still remain in the current G.I. Bill," Lincoln said. "Approximately 3,000 members of Arkansas's 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team deployed to Iraq last month. The majority of the brigade has returned for a second tour, but these members will not receive one additional penny of educational benefits because benefits are based on the single-longest deployment for each soldier and are not accruable. With increasing frequency, our country is calling on our citizen soldiers to place themselves in harm's way on our behalf. It's time that a grateful nation takes needed steps to more appropriately honor their sacrifice."
"The government must ensure that the men and women who serve our country excel when they go back to college," Brown said. "This bill would provide the Guard and Reserve with support when they return so they can make a seamless transition back into their life at college. Soldiers should not be punished academically or financially because they were called to duty."
"As a nation, we lean on our National Guard to protect us at home and abroad," said Casey. "Pennsylvania currently has over 700 troops in Afghanistan. A year from now, Pennsylvania could have at least 7,000 National Guard members in Iraq. Providing them with these extended benefits is the least we can do to repay them for spending time away from their families, homes and jobs for our protection."
"Our brave men and women didn't have to stand in line when they signed up to serve, and they shouldn't have to stand in line when they come home," said Klobuchar. "We owe our Guard and Reserve members the opportunities for a better future - this bill honors their service as they return from long deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan."
"The scope of assignments given to the National Guard and Reserves has grown significantly since September 11, 2001," Crapo said. "Their efforts to meet our national security needs must be equally met with the appropriate recognition and compensation."
"Our National Guard and Reservists lay their lives on the line to protect our freedom. Their contributions in battle cannot be underestimated," Smith said. "Despite serving in the trenches of the war on terror, they are not eligible to receive the same educational benefits as full-time members of the military. Giving every opportunity for a bright future is the least we can do for the brave men and women who wear our uniform in battle."
"Only in Washington would some people fail to understand that soldiers who serve longer should receive more benefits. It's an insult to those who have worn our country's uniform to tell them that only a fraction of the days they put their lives on the line are counted towards their benefits. This reform recognizes every day each soldier spends serving their country in a war-zone and honors their sacrifices. Giving soldiers the educational benefits they deserve is one small way we can repay our Guard and Reservists," said Kerry.
"The brave men and women in our Guard and Reserve have been fighting side-by-side with our active duty troops in Iraq and Afghanistan so that we may live in freedom. Our citizen Soldiers make great sacrifices and honor their country by volunteering to serve - often second, third and fourth tours of duty," said Mikulski. "We must recognize and honor their service and sacrifice, not just with words, but with deeds. That's why I am fighting for benefits that reflect the unprecedented sacrifices they are making for their country."
"The GI Bill helped millions of American soldiers get an education after World War II, opening important doors of opportunity for them and propelling the growth of the middle class in this country," said Salazar. "Today, more than five years into the war in Iraq and six years into the war in Afghanistan, it is time that we re-evaluate the educational benefits we are offering those who are serving our country to ensure that we are properly honoring their service and doing all we can to improve retention and recruitment. I am pleased to support the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) Enhancement Bill of 2008 that aims to improve the educational benefits available to the Guard and Reserve; those citizen soldiers who have been called upon to give more than ever expected in the last six years. It is only right that we offer educational benefits that match their service."
"The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed an extraordinary burden on our reservists and National Guard, and we need to step up and show them how much we value their service," Bayh said. "No Americans serving multiple and extended tours in a combat zone should come home and find themselves unable to afford an education."
The REAP Enhancement Act builds on the progress of Lincoln's Total Force Educational Assistance Enhancement and Integration Act of 2007 (S.644). A significant provision of the Total Force billallowing citizen soldiers who have served combat tours to access their educational benefits for up to ten years following their service, just as active duty soldiers have been able to dowas signed into law as part of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act.
The REAP Enhancement Act is endorsed by the Military Officers Association of America and the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States.