Sparks fly at hearing for Reserve GI Bill

Proponents for strengthening Montgomery GI Bill benefits for the National Guard and Reserve say the critical issue is fairness. Reserve rates, frozen for years, need to be raised. Reserve benefits need to be made as portable as MGIB for active forces, their wartime deployment partners.

Not so, said a senior Defense official. The critical issue is how best to manage finite resources. There is no reason to raise Reserve GI Bill benefits as long as enough personnel join and re-enlist with reserve components.

The arguments were as blunt as that during an unusual Sept. 27 joint hearing of the House armed services subcommittee on military personnel and the veterans’ affairs subcommittee on economic opportunity. The two panels share oversight responsibility for MGIB programs.

The Republican chairman and ranking Democrat on the personnel subcommittee – John McHugh, R-N.Y., and Vic Snyder, D-Ark., – were in sync laying out their a case for raising reserve MGIB benefits perhaps next year. Snyder in particular sees two major inequities that need correction.

The first, he said, is that MGIB for reservists ends when they separate after a typical six-to-eight-year service obligation. That’s true even now, in wartime, with Reserve and National Guard members being mobilized routinely for 16 to 18 months and spending a year in Iraq or Afghanistan. When active-duty members leave service, they take along MGIB benefits. Reserve benefits can be used only while they remain in drill status.

“How is it fair when two members serve side by side in combat, they return home together, both leave the service, but one will have education benefits [and] the other will not have any?” asked Snyder. “This seems to me to be unconscionable.”

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