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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

By Mr. HAGEL (for himself, Mr. Coleman, Mr. Kennedy, Mr. DeWine, and Mr. Obama):

S. 43. A bill to provide certain enhancements to the Montgomery GI Bill Program for certain individuals who serve as members of the Armed Forces after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Armed Services.

Mr. Hagel. Mr. President, I rise today to re-introduce the ``Military Death Benefit Improvement Act of 2005'' and the ``G.I. Bill Enhancement Act of 2005.'' These pieces of legislation recognize the service and sacrifice of the men and women of our armed forces who are proudly and bravely serving our country around the world. These bills also recognize the sacrifices borne by the families of our men and women in uniform.

The ``Military Death Benefit Improvement Act of 2005'' would raise the military death gratuity paid to the families of military personnel killed while on active duty from $12,000 to $100,000. This increase would also be applied retroactively to all service members on active duty who have died since September 11, 2001.

The military death gratuity is money provided within 72 hours to families of service members who are killed while on active duty. These funds assist next-of-kin with their immediate financial needs.

Though nothing can replace the hole left in a family by the loss of a son, daughter, mother or father, this bill will help alleviate some of the financial hardships faced by the families of our brave service men and women who give their lives in service to our country. It will send a message to our brave young men and women and their families that their Nation appreciates their service and sacrifice.

As we face the challenges of the 21st Century, service men and women sacrificing for their country in a time of war should be assured that their families will be taken care of. The loss of a loved one is a tremendous emotional hardship for families. Congress must do what it can to ensure that it does not cause devastating financial hardship as well.

I also rise today to re-introduce the ``G.I. Bill Enhancement Act of 2005.'' This legislation would waive the Montgomery G.I. Bill program's $1,200 enrollment fee for active duty members of our Nation's military.

The G.I. Bill Enhancement Act covers any member of the United States military, including Reserve and National Guard members, serving on active duty during the period after President Bush's November 2001 Executive Order that placed the military on a wartime footing. This legislation would: Waive the G.I. Bill enrollment fee until President Bush's November 2001 Executive Order is rescinded; allow all service men and women to opt into the G.I. Bill with no penalty or enrollment fee; and reimburse those service men and women covered by this bill who have already paid the $1,200 enrollment fee prior to the enactment of this legislation.

The current Montgomery G.I. Bill is tailored to serve members of our military in a time of peace. Upon enlistment, recruits are given the option of enrolling in the G.I. Bill. If they choose to participate, they are charged a $1,200 enrollment fee which is deducted from their monthly pay over 12 months. However, we are now in a time of war and the demands on our service members and their families have been transformed and increased. To that end, changes must be made to the G.I. Bill to ensure that it continues to provide realistic and relevant educational opportunities to those who are defending our country.

This is an issue of fundamental fairness. The men and women serving our country in wartime should not have to choose between the long-term benefits of the G.I. Bill and the short-term demands of their paycheck. The G.I. Bill is one of the great legacies of military service to our country. Men and women sacrificing for their country in a time of war need to be assured that access to higher education is in their future. Congress must do all it can to ensure that education options for our veterans are accessible and real.

The G.I. Bill has long been recognized as one of the most important Congressional acts of post World War II America. This legislation ensured that all who served their Nation would not be penalized as a result of their time away from their careers and communities in service to their country. The G.I. Bill helped members of our ``greatest generation'' upon their return home by providing them with the educational tools necessary to pursue the opportunities enjoyed by all Americans.

Over the last 60 years, the Federal Government has invested billions of dollars in education benefits for our Nation's veterans. Over 21 million men and women have benefitted from the G.I. Bill, resulting in a workforce that transformed American society. The bill's far-reaching impact can be seen here today, as Members of this body, including this Senator, have prospered as a result of the benefits of the G.I. Bill.

Every American should be proud of how we have responded to the challenges of terrorism following September 11, 2001. We owe much to the men and women who have fought bravely in Afghanistan and Iraq. The ``Military Death Benefit Improvement Act of 2005'' and the ``G.I. Bill Enhancement Act of 2005'' recognize these sacrifices. I hope that my Senate colleagues will give serious consideration to these important pieces of legislation, and that we will pass these bills and they will be signed into law by President Bush. I ask unanimous consent that the text of these two bills be printed in the RECORD.


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