The Daily News editorial, "New GI bill marches on," distorted and mischaracterized my position on legislation to expand GI Bill education benefits for veterans. I want to set the record straight.
I fully support enhancing the ability of our service members to attend college and believe that the GI Bill benefits have not kept pace with the increasing costs of higher education.
Last year, Sen. Jim Webb introduced the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act. This legislation was recently included in an amendment to the supplemental appropriations war spending bill. I voted in favor of the Webb GI Bill legislation on two occasions, both as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and during the full Senate's consideration of the measure. Unfortunately, your editorial never mentioned that fact.
Not only did I vote in support of Senator Webb's GI Bill, I worked to improve the legislation for Alaska veterans, a fact that your editorial overlooked. I authored an amendment that would allow veterans in "highly rural" areas to receive a $500 relocation benefit.
Hopefully, this provision will help many veterans around our state who must travel long distance or fly to universities in Alaska or out of state. Too often, the VA offers outstanding services, but places the burden on rural veterans to travel and take advantage of them. My amendment was the only one to the GI Bill legislation approved by the Senate.
While I voted for the Webb bill, it does raise some concerns.
First, the measure does not include transferability of education benefits to a service member's family. Portability is essential because some veterans have already attended college or will decide to use the specialty skills they acquired in military to work in the private sector. Without transferability, enhanced GI benefits cannot be enjoyed by these service members. In addition, transferability supports military families, thereby enhancing retention. The Webb bill does not include this benefit, but I am working to see that it will.
Also, significant benefit increases need to be focused on those willing to commit to longer periods of service. The current bill does not encourage military service beyond three years. For the last 35 years, our nation has been fortunate to have a military composed entirely of volunteers.
Re-enlistments and longer service are critical to the success of this all-volunteer force. Any expansion of education benefits should promote continued service to our nation, particularly for those service members with specialized training and skills.
I am particularly dismayed by your assertion that I was "on the wrong side of this issue." How could I be on the wrong side of this issue when I was one of the 75 senators that voted for the measure and authored an amendment to improve benefits for many Alaska veterans?
The bill is not perfect, but I hope we continue to work across party lines to strengthen our national defense and ensure our veterans receive the support they deserve and protect our ability to defend our nation. I am committed to improving and enhancing GI Bill benefits and securing this legislation's final passage.
Ted Stevens is Alaska's senior U.S. senator.
By SEN. TED STEVENS