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Group to Lawmakers: Let Vets Transfer Full GI Bill Housing Benefit

NYC VA Center
VA Center in New York City (Photo: Scott Chow)

Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will rally on Capitol Hill Thursday to urge lawmakers to oppose legislation that would reduce the monthly housing allowance for children attending college on a parent's education benefit.

Jonathan Schleifer, interim policy chief for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the group wants Congress to preserve all portions of the current Post-9/11 GI Bill and not allow funding to be diverted to pay for other programs -- even if the other programs are for veterans.

"It's patently unfair to pit one program against another, one veteran against another or one family against another," Schleifer said.

IAVA officials and members will rally outside the House side of the Capitol building to voice their opposition to a bill proposed in the chamber that they say would hurt students who are attending college using the GI Bill benefits of a parent.

The veterans will be joined by several lawmakers, including Democrat Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, Tim Walz of Minnesota, Brad Ashford of Nebraska, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii; and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.

The bill targets the benefit's Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rates, which are based on an E-5 with dependents for the ZIP code of the school being attended. The monthly allowance is adjusted every January to keep pace with inflation and varies by region. For example, an E-5 with family in San Francisco gets $4,116 a month, a similar family in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pennsylvania, receives $1,374 a month, and a similar family at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi receives $819 a month.

The post-9/11 GI Bill authorized the transfer of unused benefits – funding for tuition and fees, housing, books and supplies -- from a parent to a child. The perk was designed in part to encourage troops to remain in the military beyond certain points in their careers.

The IAVA and other groups that support the expanded benefit say it's tailored to meet the needs of veterans of the current conflicts -- men and women who are older than traditional students and who have already started families.

Others who want to curb the benefit point to a Congressional Budget Office report that concludes the housing allowance change would save the Department of Veterans Affairs nearly $775 million over the next 10 years -- money that could go to other veterans programs.

Citing these projected savings, lawmakers included into the House bill provisions that would expand and improve benefits for veterans and their families, according to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which has been monitoring the legislation.

These include improvements to postnatal care for female veterans, expanded K-9 therapy for veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder, the reauthorization of the VA work-study program, removal of the cap on VA home loan guarantees and more, according to the organization.

"While the VFW would never actively support any standalone provision that reduces benefits for veterans or service members, we felt that H.R. 3016, taken in its entirety, contained enough good provisions to support its passage," VFW national spokesman Joe Davis said.

The provision would grandfather any veteran who already has transferred his or her benefit to a child, he said.

But IAVA maintains that cutting back the housing allowance for children of veterans attending college would only be the start.

"It's an incredibly dangerous principal to turn the new GI Bill into an ATM machine," Schleifer said. IAVA supports funding many of the programs in the House bill, he said: "Just don't do it at the expense of [Post-9/11] veterans."

Note: This article was updated to include examples of current BAH rates in the sixth paragraph.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at Bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.

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