Monday, October 08, 2007

Nothing says "We are working on it" like red tape...

Three lawmakers work to clarify Guard benefits

WASHINGTON - Members of Minnesota's congressional delegation are trying several legislative approaches to fix a bureaucratic glitch that prevented more than 1,100 Minnesota National Guard members from receiving increased education benefits under the Montgomery G.I. Bill.

Although all 2,600 Soldiers from the "Red Bull" 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division served the same amount of time, about half received orders for 729 days or fewer while the rest of their colleagues received orders for 730 days.

Under Chapter 30 of the Montgomery Bill, Soldiers must serve 730 days or more in active duty deployment to qualify to receive $894 per month in education assistance, which they can use for up to 10 years after leaving the service.

Otherwise they can only qualify for $660 per month through the Reserved Education Assistance Program (REAP), which expires when they deactivate.

Reps. John Kline and Tim Walz and Sen. Amy Klobuchar are attempting to rectify the situation through legislation, announcing bills this week that would ensure that the Red Bulls get their benefits in time to enroll for spring semester classes.

"I think of it as irons in the fire," said Kline, a Republican. "We've got two or three irons in the fire right now, and we just want one of them to come through and take care of these members of the Guard."

Kline's bill, introduced Wednesday, would establish that any member of the Red Bull unit who served at least 20 consecutive months of active duty had satisfied the Montgomery Bill's requirements. He's also working with Walz, a Democrat, on a bill that would give the secretary of Veterans Affairs the ability to fix problems like these on his own.

Klobuchar's bill, filed Thursday, would have the benefits decided based on actual time served, not on the dates printed on their orders. "The promise to our Soldiers shouldn't be wrapped in red --tape," said Klobuchar, a Democrat. "This should not have happened in the first place."

Rep. Colin Peterson, also a Democrat, first approached Army Secretary Pete Gehren about the issue in August, a month after the unit had returned from 22 continuous months in service -- the longest for any American unit during the Iraq war.

Geren told the delegation this week that he had recommended the Army Board of Corrections review the Soldiers' cases as a group rather than making them file separate appeals. The various bills, Kline said, will act as a guarantee the issue will be resolved.

By Nina Petersen-Perlman, Star Tribune, 202.408.2723

No comments: