Hearing of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on GI Bill for Life
"Good Morning. I would like to begin by thanking Chairman Akaka and Ranking Member Craig for allowing me the opportunity to come before the Committee to testify on behalf of my legislation, the Montgomery GI Bill for Life Act of 2007 (S.1261).
"I would also like to thank Senators Murray and Brown, both members of the Veteran's Affairs Committee, for cosponsoring the GI Bill for Life Act, which would allow veterans to access the education benefits that they paid for.
"For more than 60 years, the GI Bill has opened the door to higher education for millions of service members and veterans who wouldn't otherwise have had the chance to pay for college.
"The GI Bill has provided our country with over 450,000 engineers, 238,000 teachers, and 91,000 scientists. The GI Bill has had a tremendous impact, not only helping veterans go back to school but transforming America's middle class.
"Now, in the 21st Century - an environment in which enhanced skills, education, and job training are critical to employment - we must ensure that veterans always have this door open to them.
"It is clear that it is time to modernize the GI Bill to better fit the needs of today's soldiers.
"More and more service members, Active and Reserve, are serving in multiple deployments on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2010, 40 percent of all job growth will require some form of post-secondary education.
"Keeping America's workforce highly skilled and competitive in today's global economy means increasing education opportunities and guaranteeing our troops receive the education benefits they have earned and deserve.
"The GI bill has been an important tool in a soldier's transition from military service to civilian life and continues to serve that purpose.
"In addition, the promise of free or reduced cost education and training programs are often cited as one of the leading factors in an individual's decision to enter the military.
"The GI Bill provides up to 36 months of benefits for college, technical or vocational courses, and a host of other training and apprenticeship opportunities.
"To enroll, service members agree to a $100/month reduction in pay during their first 12 months of active service. That's a total of $1200 Active Duty service members must contribute to the program.
"Even though their $1200 buy-in is nonrefundable, active duty participants only have 10 years from the day they leave the military to use this ticket to advanced education and training. And for Guard and Reserve members, these benefits expire after 14 years.
"The Government Accountability Office reported in 1999 that 96 percent of all Active Duty eligible enlistees enrolled in the GI Bill program. However, only 57 percent of these enlistees took advantage of its benefits.
"The 2003 Montgomery GI Bill Biennial Report to Congress cites that since the program began, 80 percent of those eligible have enrolled in the program but only 59 percent had used some or all of their benefit by the end of FY 2002.
"Our veterans have already made contributions, both to this country and toward their education benefits.
"We must do more to ensure that our veterans have the opportunities to take full advantage of continuing their education.
"When our service members leave the military, family obligations, work commitments, and economic difficulties often get in the way of furthering their education or training.
"Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs only has a limited amount of discretion in granting time extensions to those who are unable to use their benefits due to mental or physical handicaps.
"This is why GI Bill benefits should not come with an expiration date.
"My legislation, the Montgomery GI Bill for Life Act, would give our service members and veterans who are eligible for the GI Bill an unlimited amount of time to use their earned education benefits by repealing the 10 year and 14 year time limit.
"Brent Painter, one of my constituents who retired from the U.S. Navy, is the perfect example of a service member that has not been able to use the full GI Bill benefits due to family commitments.
"Mr. Painter wrote: 'While attending college, I had a full time job that required travel so college was set aside until I could have the time to be at home. By the time I could return, the benefits had expired and so I never did complete my education. Of course, now you could say I'm too old to teach new tricks to, but I really would have liked to [have] finished and received my degree.'
"Another veteran from Washington state, Dan Mullen, wrote to me explaining: 'I still have 25 months remaining on education benefits from the GI Bill; however, since it has been over 10 years since discharge from the military, I cannot collect the remaining benefits. This will create a hardship for me since I will be required to pay off student loans upon my scheduled graduation later this year.'
"By removing the arbitrary time limits, my bill will make sure that Brent and Dan can get the valuable skills training and education they need to succeed in life outside the military when it is the right time for them to do so.
"As the first in my family to graduate from college, with the help of Federal Pell Grants, I understand the importance of making education affordable.
"The Montgomery GI Bill for Life Act will provide greater access to education and training courses and will increase participation in the GI Bill.
"The American Legion, Military Officers Association of America, and VFW support the GI Bill for Life Act because it will provide our veterans greater flexibility in accessing their earned benefits.
"Frosty Hulsey, a Washington state veteran and former state VFW commander, emphasizes that 'this legislation will allow veterans that have earned their GI Bill entitlements to use those entitlements to keep up with changes due to technology over the course of their lifetime, thus keeping them more employable.'
"As a Nation, we have a distinct and important responsibility to honor our service members who fought in war and support our returning troops by increasing access to their earned GI Bill education benefits.
"I look forward to working with Chairman Akaka and the Committee to ensure that our service members and veterans will be able to get their education and job training when it is the right time for them.