By: Former U.S. Senator Mark Begich and Paul Rieckhoff
As cities and towns across America prepare to celebrate Memorial Day, we are once again reminded of the sacrifice of the small minority of men and women who volunteer to put themselves into harm’s way for our nation. But, after the streets get swept and the flags are returned to storage, some of our elected leaders will return to Washington and fail to honor the promise we have made to our service members.
In February, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 3016, which called for a 50 percent cut to the housing allowance that children receive if their military or veteran parent transfers the benefit to them. Those who voted for the cut said it amounts to chump change for the average student, and that the savings will be used to fund other veteran programs. However, this cut has real-world consequences. For example, in the state of Alaska, the housing cut would cost a student as much as $1,260 every single month.
After outcry from Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families, a similar provision was removed from the Senate version of the bill (S.425). That progress was welcome, but it came at a cost when the bill’s sponsors announced the inclusion of a new cost-saving measure: a $3.4 billion cut over the next five years to all veterans’ Post-9/11 GI Bill housing allowances.
As a former member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the leader of the largest post-9/11 veterans group in America, we have come together numerous times to expand the GI Bill benefits that these men and women have earned.
In 2010, we worked to pass an upgrade to the Post-9/11 GI Bill that helped simplify and improve tuition benefits, expand eligibility to the National Guard, include vocational programs and make nationwide in-state tuition rates a possibility for new veterans. After that, we fought to increase veterans’ access to the tools necessary to make the right educational decisions for their future.
More than one million veterans and family members have used their Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits, making it one of the most successful government programs in recent history.
Today, we are coming together again to tell Congress that our veterans – who have already sacrificed so much – should not be asked to sacrifice even more.
Congress needs to do its job, without taking from one veteran to give to another. It is unacceptable that instead of finding ways to make veterans’ educational goals easier to achieve, Congress seems intent at throwing obstacles in their way. The Pentagon depends on a strong New GI Bill for recruiting, retention and morale. Our troops overseas in combat can read the news, and they shouldn’t have to see headlines about their benefits being cut back home.
The education benefits in the New GI Bill have been critical in enabling the members of America’s New Greatest Generation and their families to maximize the contributions they make to our country after they leave the service.
The GI Bill is not a piggy bank for Congress to use when they fail to properly manage government spending elsewhere. It is a sacred commitment between our country and our service members that we have a duty to uphold.
Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have drawn a line in the sand and are calling on members of Congress and our current president to commit to uphold our country’s promise to our veterans. It is a breach of trust to tell veterans you have their backs on the campaign trail, and then deny them their earned benefits when in office.
The men and women who wore the uniform abroad — and their families who sacrificed so much at home — kept their promises. Now it is time for Congress to keep theirs.
We look forward to seeing the many staunch supporters of our veterans on Capitol Hill step forward and protect GI Bill benefits.
Former Sen. Begich represented Alaska in the Senate from 2009-2015 where he served on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He is now the President and CEO of Northern Compass Group located in Anchorage, Alaska. Rieckhoff is Founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He was an Army Infantry Officer who served in Iraq from 2003-2004.