Tuesday, July 11, 2006

War veterans denied GI Bill benefits

The Oxford Press

An Army reservist since high school, Rowe, 27, planned to serve out the remaining four months of his military obligation in the inactive Reserve, get his honorable discharge and then use his GI Bill education benefits to go to college, just as his father did more than 30 years ago.

But Rowe soon realized that, despite his time in a combat zone, he didn't qualify for those education benefits unless he remained in the Reserves or Guard.

It's the same for tens of thousands of National Guard and Army Reserve troops mobilized since 9/11 - the largest deployment of reservists since World War II.

When military benefits were updated in 1984 through a law called the Montgomery GI Bill, members of Congress and even the military did not envision reservists being called into active duty as frequently as they are today. The law did not extend full college benefits to citizen soldiers and terminated them once they left the Guard or Reserve.

But since 2001, more than 500,000 reservists and Guard troops have been deployed for homeland security duties or sent to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet when they get home, they don't get the same benefits as those who were active-duty service members.

"Under the law, [reservists and Guard troops] are veterans for every single benefit except the education benefits," Norton said.

Primary opposition to changing the education benefit for reservists and Guard troops - those on duty one weekend a month and two weeks in summer unless they are called to active duty - is coming from the Pentagon's Office of Reserve Affairs. Pentagon officials fear changes could hurt attracting and keeping men and women who sign up for the Guard or Reserve.

"It has proven to be a very attractive recruiting tool, and its effectiveness as a retention tool is certainly equally important to the Reserve components," Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs Thomas Hall testified in March before the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

This is unconscionable, despicable, and unfair. If a troop's ass gets put in a combat zone it's got the same chance of getting blown off as anyone else's. The benefits should be - must be - the same for all of 'em. Period.

Why does Congress hate Reservists and Guardsmen? They better even up this benefits discrepancy right fuckin' quick.

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