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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


By Ms. CANTWELL (for herself, Mr. HARKIN, and Mr. BROWN):

S. 1261. A bill to amend title 10 and 38, United States Code, to repeal the 10-year limit on use of Montgomery GI Bill educational assistance benefits, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

Ms. CANTWELL. Mr. President, I rise today to speak about an investment program in lifelong education for our service members and veterans. The Montgomery GI Bill is consistently cited as an important reason people join the military and continues to be one of the most important benefits provided for military service today. There is no reason why 100 percent of our active duty, selected reserve, and veteran servicemembers should not have the
opportunity to take advantage of their earned education benefits.

That is why I'm reintroducing the Montgomery GI Bill for Life Act of 2007, which would allow Montgomery GI Bill participants an unlimited amount of time to use their earned benefits.

I am pleased that my colleague, Senator TOM HARKIN, is again joining me in sponsoring this legislation and that Senator SHERROD BROWN has also signed on to further extend MGIB benefits.

The MGIB is a program that provides up to 36 months of education benefits for educational opportunities ranging from college to apprenticeship and job training, and even flight training. Upon enlistment, the GI Bill also requires service members to contribute $100 per month for their first 12 months of services.

Basically, the MGIB is divided into two programs. One program targets active duty and veteran members, paying over $1,000 per month to qualified students. That's more than $36,000 for school. The other is directed at the Selected Reserve. This program provides educational benefits of $288 per month, for a total of $10,368.

If recruits are overwhelmingly declaring that education opportunity under the GI Bill is the key incentive for them to join the military, then it makes sense that most--if not all--of our troops, who signed up for the program, would also be cashing in on their benefits. But reports show that the majority, 40 to 60 percent, do not actually use the benefits they have earned.

Currently, MGIB participants have up to 10 years from their release date from the military to use their earned education benefits. Members of the Selected Reserve are able to use their MGIB benefit for 14 years. However, that means your earned education benefits expire if you don't use the within the required timeframe, closing your window of opportunity to go to school or finish your college education. Plus, you lose the $1,200 dedicated for your GI Bill during your first year of enlistment.

Originally, the intent of 1944 GI Bill of Rights was to help veterans successfully transition back into civilian life as education is the key to employment opportunities. Looking back now, we know that the GI Bill opened the door to higher education, helping millions of service members and veterans who wouldn't otherwise have had the chance to pay for college. That is, servicemembers benefited from the GI Bill because they used the payments within the 10 and 14 year limitation.

But there are many others who did not use their earned education benefits within that timeframe. For example, after leaving the military, some servicemembers postponed going to school because they had to go straight to work in order to support their family. Others unfortunately, were either homeless or incarcerated for long periods of time due to disability associated with military service, but are now ready to move forward in their lives, and going back to school is their first step. In some cases, due to random life circumstances, some people just lost track of time. Additionally, because of misinformation and bureaucratic language, the GI Bill is known as a complicated program to navigate.

A constituent of mine, Ruben Ruelas--who is a Local Veterans Employment Representative, LVER, for the WorkSource in Wenatchee, Washington, wrote to me saying, ``It's been my experience that most people don't know what they want to do in life or are placed in situations where, due to changing economic times, they are displaced and need further education and training to compete for jobs. But most don't have access to training resources to do so.''

In terms of Vietnam Era veterans, Mr. Ruelas goes on to say, ``many 50 year olds are unemployed, untrained and uneducated and could use their educational benefits to improve their skills to compete for better jobs. Many have come to realize, too late, that they need college or retraining and don't have the resources to do so.''

While times have changed remarkably, one thing remains constant: education is critical to employment opportunity. In the 21st Century global labor market, enhancing skills through education and job training is now more important than ever. The need for retraining is even more underscored for our military service members and veterans.

My legislation, the Montgomery GI Bill for Life, would ensure that educational opportunities are lifelong, allowing service members and veterans the flexibility to seek education and job training opportunities when it is the right time for them to do so.

Higher education not only serves as an individual benefit, but positive externalities have transpired: the GI Bill was instrumental in building our country's middle class and continues to help close the college education gap.

Today, employers are requiring higher qualifications from the workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that six of the ten fastest-growing occupations require an associate's degree or bachelor's degree. By 2010, 40 percent of all job growth will require some form of postsecondary education. While a highly skilled workforce is one characteristic of the new economy, working for one employer throughout a lifetime is no longer routine, but rather an evanescent feature. According to findings by Brigham Young University, the average person changes jobs or careers eight times in his or her lifetime. To keep up with these trends, expanding access to education and training is a must do in the 21st Century global marketplace.

A 1999 report by the Congressional Commission on Service members and Veterans Transition Assistance stated that the GI Bill of the future must include the following: Provide veterans with access to post-secondary education that they use; assist the Armed forces in recruiting the high quality high school graduates needed; enhance the Nation's competitiveness by further educating American veterans, a population that is already self-disciplined, goal oriented, and steadfast; and attract the kind of service members who will go on to occupy leadership positions in government and the private sector.

Eliminating the GI Bill 10 and 14 year limitation for service members, veterans, and Selected Reserve moves one step toward improving the MGIB. The Montgomery GI Bill for Life would allow MGIB members, including qualified Vietnam Era Veterans, the flexibility to access their earned education benefits at any time.

As the nation's economy continues to recover and grow stronger, the GI Bill will continue to be the primary vehicle keeping our active duty service members and veterans of military service on track, helping to ensure our country's prosperity.

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