Veterans, lawmakers decry proposed cuts to GI Bill
By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 14, 2016
WASHINGTON — Veteran advocates and House lawmakers rallied Thursday on Capitol Hill to oppose cuts to the Post 9/11 GI Bill that they say would break a “sacred” trust.
The national groups, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and nine Democrats decried an effort to balance budgets by slashing housing payments to college students using their parents’ GI Bill benefits.
More than one million veterans who served on active duty since the 9/11 attacks and their family members have used the GI Bill benefits to get an education since it was created in 2009. Despite the popularity, the House cut a section of the benefits in February to pay for a massive veteran reform package and the Senate is now weighing whether to take up the measure.
“When we ask our troops to make a promise to us to run into battle, we don’t accept it when they turn around and say, ‘You know what, now that the bullets are flying the cost is a little bit high,” Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said. “So how dare we decide years later after we’ve made this promise, after people have enlisted or stayed in the military partly partially because of this benefit, to say, ‘You know what, we decide it’s too expensive, you cost us too much.’”
Duckworth, a combat vet who lost both legs in Iraq, said she used the GI Bill education benefits and her husband passed his benefits on to their child.
The 50-percent reduction in housing stipends proposed in the House bill would break what they consider a sacred trust with veterans, the veterans and lawmakers said.
Paul Rieckhoff, the founder and CEO of IAVA, said the proposal is a new low point for Congress and that the GI Bill has never faced any cuts up until now.
“We are drawing a line in the sand,” Rieckhoff said. “Do not use the GI Bill as a piggy bank.”
The reduction in housing money is one measure in a much larger omnibus bill aimed at improving veterans’ services. The larger bill was written by various lawmakers and sponsored by Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio.
To pay for the veterans bill, the Republican leadership in the House required lawmakers to cut spending within veterans programs and the GI Bill became the target, said Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., who rallied against the cuts Thursday.
“Don’t get me wrong, the omnibus has pieces of legislation that all of us up here actually authored, things that I want to see get through and I believe they still can,” Walz said. “The issue is, why does it have to be paid for by cutting the GI Bill?”
Walz suggested Congress instead cut bonuses to Department of Veterans Affairs employees, which have been mired in a scandal over wrongdoing for two years. But he said he will vote against the entire omnibus bill if the reduction in housing stipends remains.
The rally was an attempt to apply pressure to leaders in the Senate, such as Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., the chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, who are now considering the legislation.