USA — Post‑9/11 GI Bill Benefits Key to Recruiting and Retention

WASHINGTON — Pro­posed changes to the Post‑9/11 GI Bill would improve mil­i­tary readi­ness, a senior Pen­ta­gon offi­cial said today at a Capi­tol Hill hear­ing.

Robert E. Clark, assis­tant direc­tor for acces­sions pol­i­cy in the office of the defense under­sec­re­tary for per­son­nel and readi­ness, also said edu­ca­tion ben­e­fits are cru­cial to mil­i­tary recruit­ing and reten­tion efforts dur­ing his tes­ti­mo­ny before the Sen­ate Com­mit­tee on Vet­er­ans’ Affairs. Clark dis­cussed the Post‑9/11 Vet­er­ans Edu­ca­tion Assis­tance Improve­ment Act of 2010 and how it would affect the Depart­ment of Defense.

One of the more notable options in the bill is trans­fer­abil­i­ty. It gives career ser­vice­mem­bers who’ve served on active duty or in the select­ed reserve on or after Aug. 1, 2009, the option to trans­fer their edu­ca­tion ben­e­fits to fam­i­ly mem­bers, Clark said. Trans­fer­abil­i­ty was approved in the Post‑9/11 Vet­er­ans Edu­ca­tion Assis­tance Improve­ment Act of 2008, which became law in June 2008.

Pan­el mem­bers are debat­ing that option for the 2010 bill. Some say trans­fer­abil­i­ty should­n’t be avail­able for every ser­vice­mem­ber, because of bud­get con­straints. Rather, the option should be reserved for spe­cif­ic mil­i­tary spe­cial­ties that are dif­fi­cult to fill, they said.

“We had con­cerns about the gen­er­ous ben­e­fit being more of a draw for first-term mem­bers to leave [the mil­i­tary] in order to use this ben­e­fit,” Clark said. “[But] we were very pleased to see the trans­fer­abil­i­ty … to share this ben­e­fit that [ser­vice­mem­bers] have earned with their fam­i­ly mem­bers.

“We did not believe this ben­e­fit for fam­i­ly mem­bers was to be lim­it­ed to any spe­cif­ic tar­get­ing,” he con­tin­ued. “We believe that every sol­dier, sailor, air­men and Marine who choos­es to stay should have the same oppor­tu­ni­ty to share their earned ben­e­fits with their fam­i­ly mem­bers.”

Mon­ey for edu­ca­tion remains a top rea­son for young Amer­i­cans to join and stay in the mil­i­tary, Clark said. Trans­fer­abil­i­ty and the 9/11 GI Bill will help the Pen­ta­gon meet its recruit­ing and reten­tion goals, he added.

“There is no doubt that the Post‑9/11 GI Bill will con­tin­ue to have this impact, and we are see­ing that hap­pen with unprece­dent­ed recruit­ing suc­cess,” he said in his writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ny.

Oth­er pro­posed changes include new rules for enti­tle­ment, mod­i­fi­ca­tions of the amount and types of assis­tant cov­ered, meth­ods of edu­ca­tion pay­ment and trans­fer­ring unused ben­e­fits. The pro­posed bill would enhance pro­vi­sions of the Post‑9/11 GI Bill, as well as make improve­ments in oth­er Vet­er­ans Affairs Depart­ment edu­ca­tion pro­grams, Kei­th M. Wil­son, direc­tor of edu­ca­tion ser­vice for VA, said at the hear­ing.

The pro­posed bill also clar­i­fies eli­gi­bil­i­ty for reserve com­po­nent troops. Troops acti­vat­ed for train­ing and oth­er pur­pos­es in sup­port of reserve com­po­nent forces or in sup­port of con­tin­gency oper­a­tions qual­i­fy for the bill ben­e­fits, Wil­son said. Also full-time cit­i­zen-ser­vice­mem­bers and mem­bers acti­vat­ed for nation­al emer­gency respons­es are eli­gi­ble, he added.

Indi­vid­u­als released from active duty for med­ical or hard­ship con­di­tions must be released under hon­or­able con­di­tions, Wil­son con­tin­ued.

“The amend­ments regard­ing qual­i­fy­ing Title 10 ser­vice and extend­ing cov­er­age to Guard mem­bers … would be con­sis­tent with qual­i­fy­ing active ser­vice under the Mont­gomery GI Bill and the Reserve Edu­ca­tion­al Assis­tance Pro­gram,” he explained in his writ­ten tes­ti­mo­ny. “The pro­posed amend­ment clar­i­fy­ing that cer­tain ser­vice must result in an hon­or­able dis­charge is sim­i­lar to the hon­or­able dis­charge require­ments applic­a­ble to oth­er cov­ered indi­vid­u­als.”

Regard­ing tuition pay­ment under the pro­posed bill, VA would pay fees based on charges report­ed by the insti­tu­tion. That would include out-of-state tuition, as well, Wil­son said.

For for­eign or pri­vate insti­tu­tions, VA would pay fees accord­ing to sta­tis­tics obtained from the Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion. The fig­ures used would be of the “aver­age of estab­lished charges at all insti­tu­tions in the U.S. for a bac­calau­re­ate degree for the most recent year,” Wil­son explained.

Mean­while, he said, the hous­ing stipend will be cal­cu­lat­ed based on atten­dance in school. This means, for exam­ple, stu­dents enrolled in 50 per­cent of a full course load will receive 50 per­cent of the stipend.

Also, hous­ing stipends under the pro­posed 2010 bill will expand to voca­tion­al schools, cor­re­spon­dence train­ing, on-the-job train­ing and appren­tice­ships and flight schools. Stipends are based on the area’s hous­ing allowance rates for an E‑5 with depen­dents, Wil­son said.

VA sup­ports stream­lin­ing the tuition-and-fee ben­e­fits for stu­dents attend­ing pub­lic insti­tu­tions and estab­lish­ing a max­i­mum pay­ment cap pri­vate school stu­dents, he said.

“The man­ner in which insti­tu­tions assess charges varies wide­ly from state to state and from school to school,” Wil­son said. “VA also does not object to expan­sion of the pro­gram to per­mit pay­ment for voca­tion­al, flight, cor­re­spon­dence …, sub­ject to Con­gress iden­ti­fy­ing appro­pri­ate [cost sav­ings].”

Addi­tion­al amend­ments in the pro­posed bill include the types of meth­ods VA uses to pay var­i­ous insti­tu­tions and train­ing facil­i­ties. Although VA sup­ports the intent to improve the Post‑9/11 GI Bill, the depart­ment does not sup­port some of these pro­vi­sions, Wil­son said.

These pro­vi­sions would “severe­ly ham­per” pay­ment meth­ods, Wil­son said, as the bill’s amend­ments would take effect as if the 2008 bill nev­er exist­ed. VA pro­pos­es to post­pone “sig­nif­i­cant changes” to the law until Aug. 2011 to ensure the improve­ments don’t have neg­a­tive impact on ser­vice deliv­ery, he explained.

Since the incep­tion of the 2008 leg­is­la­tion, VA has award­ed near­ly $4 bil­lion to more than 295,000 vet­er­ans and their edu­ca­tion insti­tu­tions, Wil­son said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)