Congress may address GI Bill
By Dennis Camire
Gannett News Service
By Dennis Camire
WASHINGTON — National Guard and Reserve troops face the same combat risks in Iraq and Afghanistan as active-duty soldiers, but when it comes to military benefits to pay for college, there are sharp, some say unfair, differences.
The GI Bill — a federal law that veterans have used to advance their education since the end of World War II — provides a top benefit of $1,075 a month for a veteran of active-duty service.
Under the latest version of the law, passed in 1985 and called the Montgomery GI Bill, National Guard and Reserve troops called to active duty for a war or national emergency can receive up to $860 per month, if they serve two consecutive years.
Without active-duty service, the basic National Guard and Reserve educational benefit is $309 a month.
Guardsmen and reservists must remain in the service while using their GI Bill benefits, but their active-duty counterparts have a decade after leaving the military to use their benefits.
"That's a humongous difference between the active-duty and National Guard benefits," said Jeremy Baughman, 19, of Seminary, Miss., a medic in the Mississippi National Guard. "I think (the military is) ... playing favorites."
"Whenever you go overseas, it doesn't matter whether you are National Guard or the Army, you're doing the same exact thing. You are over there risking your life," said Baughman, whose goal is to become a veterinarian.
Sgt. Ricky Tyler, another Mississippi guardsman who has spent two yearlong tours in Iraq, believes he should be able to take his educational benefit with him when he leaves the service.
"If I served my six years already and I still wanted to go to school after that, I think I should be entitled to have my benefits," said Tyler of Starkville, Miss., who is studying political science at East Mississippi Community College. "I paid the time for it that they required."
Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., who expects to become chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee with jurisdiction over the National Guard and Reserve benefit next year, and other lawmakers are sponsoring a proposal to change the GI Bill.
Snyder also dislikes the requirement that National Guard and Reserve members remain in the service to use their benefits.
The bill, which was discussed at several congressional hearings but has stalled in committee, would increase the benefit for National Guard and Reserve members and allow them to use it after leaving the service.
When the basic education benefit was first established for the National Guard and Reserve in 1985, it was 47 percent of the active-duty benefit; now it's about 29 percent, Snyder said.
"It's really a shameful thing we've done in our law," said Snyder, who plans to reintroduce the bill next year. "It's just blatantly, blatantly unfair and I think the Congress is interested in doing something."
Michael Dominguez, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said limiting GI bill benefits to only those National Guard and Reserve members who remain in the service helps retain troops after their enlistments lapse.
"We must preserve the retention aspect of these programs and therefore do not endorse making them a post-service or veterans' benefit," he said.
As of early November, National Guard and Reserve members have made up about 28 percent of the 1.4 million troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and about 23 percent of the almost 26,000 killed or wounded.
Reach Dennis Camire at email@example.com.