Today, Congressman Tim Walz announced that he voted to support an emergency spending bill to provide funding for on-going military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which includes a historic expansion of the GI Bill.
Walz said that the spending bill, which provides funding to meet the needs of soldiers serving in Iraq as well as Americans hit hardest by the recent economic downturn, incorporates what is commonly called the "21st Century GI Bill," which will offer the 1.7 million brave men and women who have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan educational benefits on par with those provided to veterans of the World War II era.
"The legislation will give our returning troops the tools they need to continue their success in their civilian lives, will make military service more attractive, and will pay future dividends as it strengthens our sagging economy," said Rep. Tim Walz. "I think it is fitting that this restoration of GI Bill benefits is included in a supplemental war spending bill because we often forget that caring for our soldiers and veterans after they return from the battlefield is a real, measurable cost of war."
Under the new GI Bill, qualified servicemembers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, who have served 3 years on active duty, would receive benefits to cover the costs of a four-year education up to the level of the most expensive in-state public school, along with a stipend for housing, books and other expenses. Education benefits would be available to troops who have served at least 3 months of active duty service since September 11, 2001, including members of the National Guard and Reserve. Right now, veterans' education benefits cover only about 60 percent of the cost of a public-school education.
The supplemental spending bill was considered as three separate amendments:
Amendment #1: Provides $162.5 billion for the Department of Defense, funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through the summer of 2009. Congressman Walz voted in favor of this amendment, which was not adopted.
Amendment #2: This amendment includes restrictions on the deployment of our Armed Forces in Iraq, by requiring that American troops begin to redeploy within 30 days, with the redeployment completed by December of 2009. It also requires that Iraqis match US reconstruction funding dollar for dollar and that the President reach an agreement with Iraq to subsidize fuel costs for the US Armed Forces so that our military pays what the Iraqis pay for their fuel. The amendment also prohibits torture and the construction of permanent military bases in Iraq. The House passed this amendment 227 - 196. Congressman Walz voted in favor.
Amendment #3: This amendment restores GI Bill benefits for veterans to WWII levels, extends unemployment benefits for workers who've exhausted their benefits and funds efforts to strengthen New Orleans levees. Amendment #3 passed with a vote of 256 - 166. Congressman Walz voted in favor.