STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - April 29, 2008)
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Mr. MCCAIN. Mr. President, I am very pleased to join today with Senator Lindsey Graham, the Ranking Member of the Personnel Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Richard Burr, the Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Committee, in introducing the Enhancement of Recruitment, Retention, and Readjustment Through Education Act. This legislation, which is designed to greatly enhance veterans' education benefits, is also cosponsored by Senators Chambliss, Lieberman, Cornyn, Alexander, Hutchison, Martinez, Stevens, Cochran, Collins, Barrasso, Domenici, Dole, Wicker, and Isakson.
Mr. President, America has an obligation to provide unwavering support to America's veterans, servicemembers, and retirees. Men and women who have served their country deserve the best education benefits we are able to give them, and they deserve to receive them as quickly as possible. And that is what our legislation is designed to accomplish.
The Enhancement of Recruitment, Retention, and Readjustment Through Education Act would increase education benefits for servicemembers, veterans, and members of the Guard and Reserve. It would help facilitate successful recruitment efforts and, importantly, encourage continued service in the military by granting a higher education payment for longer service. It also provides a transferability feature to allow the serviceman and woman to have the option of transferring education benefits to their children and spouses. In developing this legislation, the one theme we heard from almost every veterans' services organization is the need for such a transferability provision.
As my colleagues know, our proposal is not the only measure that has been offered to increase GI education benefits, and I want to commend the efforts of Senators WEBB, HAGEL, WARNER and others on their work to bring this important issue to the forefront in the Senate, by the introduction of S. 22. Each of us supports a revitalized GI program. While I don't think anyone disagrees with the overall intent of S. 22, I believe we can and should do more to promote recruitment and retention of servicemen and women and to ensure that veterans and their families receive the education benefits they deserve, and in a timely manner. But I remain very hopeful that we can all work together in a bipartisan manner to ensure that Congress enacts meaningful legislation that will be signed into law as soon as possible.
Unlike S. 22, our legislation builds on the existing Montgomery GI Bill educational benefits to ensure rapid implementation. Unlike S. 22, our bill focuses on the entire spectrum of military members who make up the All Volunteer Force, from the newest recruit to the career NCOs, officers, reservists and National Guardsmen, to veterans who have completed their service and retirees, as well as the families of all of these individuals.
The legislation would immediately increase education benefits for active duty personnel from $1100 to $1500 a month. To encourage careers in the military, the education benefits would increase to $2000 a month after 12 or more years of service. Further, it would allow a servicemember to transfer 50 percent of benefits to a spouse or child starting after 6 years of service, and after 12 years of service, 100 percent may be transferred to a spouse or dependent children. This is a key pro-retention provision. In addition, our bill would provide $500 annually for college books and supplies while our servicemembers are going to school.
The bill also would increase from $880 to $1200 per month the education benefits for Guard and Reserve members called to active duty since September 11, 2001. Further, it would gradually increase benefits to $1600 per month for those members of the Guard and Reserves who serve in the Selected Reserve for 12 years or more and who continue serving in the Selected Reserve.
Servicemembers who enlist after they have already received post-secondary education degrees should also be allowed to benefit under an improved GI Bill and be allowed to use their education benefits to repay Federal student loans. Under our bill, servicemembers could use up to $6,000 per year of Montgomery G.I. Bill education benefits to repay Federal student loans. And, it doubles from $317 to $634 the education benefits for other members of the Guard and Reserves.
Our bill also recognizes the sacrifice of all who have served in the Global War on Terror, including members of the Guard and Reserve who are serving on active duty and deploying at historic rates by doubling the educational assistance for members of the Selected Reserve and, again, making the educational benefits transferable to family members.
Finally, I do think it is important that the Administration's views on this important issue are taken into account. That is why earlier this month, Senator Levin and I wrote to the Department of Defense seeking views on proposals to modernize the GI Bill.
Again, it is my hope that the proponents of the pending veteran's education benefits measures can join together to ensure that Congress enacts meaningful legislation that the President will sign. Such legislation should address the entire spectrum of the All Volunteer Force. It must be easily understood and implemented and responsive to the needs not only of veterans, but also of those who are serving in the active duty forces, the Guard and Reserve, and their families. Their exemplary service to our nation, and the sacrifice of their families, deserves no less.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that a letter of support be printed in the RECORD.
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