America owes a great debt of gratitude to the men and women serving in our armed forces. A whole generation of military personnel is paying a huge price in service to our country. The federal government must honor that service with an updated benefits package suited to the needs of the 21st Century.
Many of our warriors are now on their second or third tours of duty, including National Guard members and reserve troops who also play such important roles back home in our communities. Yet the current G.I. Bill that administers veterans’ educational benefits is designed primarily for peacetime service, not wartime service. It does not recognize the enormous contribution that National Guard and Reserve members are making through their service in these conflicts – even as more than 300 Air Guardsmen from Great Falls and the RED HORSE squadron at Malmstrom are presently deployed.
As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I am working with senators from both political parties to pass legislation to reform the VA benefits system. Specifically, I have signed on as a supporter of legislation by Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, a decorated Vietnam War combat Marine, to enhance the benefits our veterans receive. The bill, called the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, will provide returning veterans who want to go to college the costs of tuition, room and board and a monthly stipend of $1,000.
This bipartisan legislation is designed to modernize the current G.I. Bill consistent with the original G.I. Bill enacted after World War II, which empowered an entire generation of returning soldiers through college aid and sparked America’s 20th century economic boom. The new bill will invest in America, expand our economy and provide opportunities for those who have given so much already in military service.
Since first taking office a little over a year ago, I have toured veterans’ facilities across Montana and have traveled extensively to reach out to Montana veterans to hear about their needs firsthand. I was honored to host the VA Secretary on his first official trip to our state to give him a personal reference point about the unique needs of Montana’s veterans. I was very pleased he followed up that trip with the announcement of a Montana pilot program for a VA medical services teleconferencing system that will bring some rural veterans closer to their health care.
Boosting veterans’ educational benefits will enhance military recruitment and retention and begin to address the readiness crisis now facing our military. And more importantly, it’s the right thing to do for all our warriors who put their lives on the line in service to our great country. You can be sure that I will continue to work to pass this needed reform, and I hope you will keep in touch.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., is a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.