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Roe stands by effort to increase veterans benefits, says criticism 'a little bothersome to me'

Hank Hayes • Apr 24, 2017 at 11:39 AM

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe is defending draft measures to expand veterans benefits, although those moves are drawing fire from veterans groups.

Roe, who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said the panel is considering draft legislation that came out of roundtable discussions with veterans service organizations.

“We need to relook at the G.I. Bill,” Roe, R-Tenn., said of the talks. “The G.I. Bill I got (Roe is an Army veteran) is a post World War II (bill). As we got into a volunteer Army, in 1985 they started a Montgomery G.I. Bill, a three-year pilot program of where you put in $100 a month when you went in the military and you could use that within 10 years. … Even today with a Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, active duty military still choose to use the Montgomery G.I. Bill instead of the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill. The reason is it is better for them.”

That Montgomery G.I. Bill, according to Roe, pays out about $1,800 a month.

One proposal would amend the G.I. Bill program to automatically deduct $100 a month from the basic pay of new recruits during their first two years of service. The deduction would be voluntary, Roe said. “You can choose to be in it or not be in it,” he explained.

Initial projections indicate the move could generate $3 billion over a 10-year period, according to Roe.

The plan, said Roe, would be to expand the G.I. Bill benefit to a lifetime.

“Both the Post 9/11 and Montgomery G.I. Bills are limited to 15 years,” Roe pointed out. “ … We also wanted to expand STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). … This bill would also really help those in the (National) Guard and Reserve. Many of them, when they are deployed, are not deployed long enough to get those benefits.”

Still, Roe said no bill has been filed and a Wednesday hearing scheduled to discuss the measure has been postponed.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars is calling the measures a “tax” on troops.

“We are still a nation at war. We have troops actively engaged in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and now in Syria,” VFW National Commander Brian Duffy said in a release.

“The war on terrorism is not over! Congress’ focus should be on defeating our enemies and ending the war, not cutting the benefits of those who are fighting it.”

Tri-Cities Military Affairs Council President Ernie Rumsby also opposes the draft proposal.

“When you go into the military, it’s a blank check,” Rumsby said. “You do whatever, you go wherever to defend the Constitution of the United States. … There’s a lot of young men and women going into the service to get benefits, educational benefits to progress in society. To start charging people, you know, a couple hundred dollars a month, I don’t think it’s right.”

Roe said of the criticism: “This is a little bothersome to me. We’ve gone out of our way.”

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