- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 7, 2005

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Recently, I introduced H.R. 269, the Montgomery GI Bill Enhancement Act. This bill allows a one-year open enrollment period for career military personnel who were not able to sign up for education benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB). This is identical to the bill I introduced in the 108th Congress, H.R. 879.

In 1976, Congress created the Veterans Education Assistance Program (VEAP) as a recruitment and retention tool for the post-Vietnam era. Congress greatly expanded education benefits in 1984 and allowed individuals with VEAP accounts to transfer their benefits to the new MGIB in 1996. The opportunity to convert to the MGIB was important because the benefits available were much greater than those under VEAP.

However, those individuals who were on active duty before 1985 and did not participate in VEAP were not eligible to sign up for MGIB, leaving a gap in available coverage for certain career military personnel.

Congress has voted several times in the past decade to allow VEAP participants opportunities to transfer to MGIB. However, there has never been an opportunity for those who did not have VEAP accounts to sign up for the new program, excluding them from taking advantage of greater educational benefits. My legislation will correct this inequity and allow individuals falling into this gap to attain the benefits that they deserve.

Organizations such as the Non-Commissioned Officers Association, the Association of the United States Army, the Fleet Reserve Association and the Military Coalition have issued strong support for this legislation. The Military Coalition, representing more than 5.5 million members, urges members of Congress to support H.R. 269, and extend this important open-enrollment period to America’s veterans.

Please contact your elected officials and urge them to co-sponsor and support H.R. 269.

Sincerely,

Rep. Dave Camp

Michigan Republican

Dear Congressman:

I join you and the members of the distinguished organizations that you mentioned in urging your colleagues to pass this legislation, which will repair the inequity to certain career military members.

Shaft notes

Hats off to Senate appropriators who recently approved a fiscal 2006 spending bill for military construction and veterans’ programs that would give the Bush administration $2 billion it requested to fill a veterans’ health care budget gap.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 28-0 in favor of the $83 billion measure (H.R. 2528). Of the total, $70.7 billion is for the Department of Veterans Affairs and $12.1 billion is for military construction programs. Discretionary funding would total $46.4 billion, including the $2 billion in emergency VA funding.

Under language in the committee report, the VA would have to conduct quarterly reviews of its expenditures, an attempt to avoid future budget shortfalls.

In June, the Bush administration told Congress it faced a shortfall in veterans’ health care funding and would need an extra $975 million for fiscal 2005, which ends Sept. 30. Some of that shortfall was blamed on a higher-than-anticipated number of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Later, the administration came back with a revised request for fiscal 2006 as well, saying it would need an extra $2 billion. In that request, $300 million would be for fiscal 2005 — on top of the earlier $975 million request for this year — because it would be used to replace funds the administration had expected would be available to carry over from fiscal 2005 into fiscal 2006.

The extra $2 billion in emergency funding in the bill may be reduced, however, depending on the amount of veterans’ funding provided in the fiscal 2006 Interior spending bill (H.R. 2361), which is currently in conference. The Senate-passed version of that bill contains $1.5 billion in veterans’ funding, which would cover the fiscal 2005 shortfall and carry over into fiscal 2006.

When all of the bill’s programs are combined, they would provide 9.2 percent more than in fiscal 2005 and 1.5 percent more than in the president’s budget request.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, PO Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaftss@bavf.org.

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