The Veterans of Foreign Wars ripped the House Veterans Affairs Committee Tuesday for considering a proposal to slap troops with a so-called "enrollment fee" for access to GI Bill education benefits.
"This new tax on troops is absurd," Brian Duffy, National Commander of the 1.7 million-member vets group, said in a release. "Ensuring veterans are able to successfully transition back to civilian life after military service is a cost of war, and not a fee that Congress can just pass along to our troops."
In a statement, the committee didn't directly respond to the VFW charges but said that changes to the GI Bill and to benefits for survivors and spouses would be among a number of proposals considered next week at a hearing. The proposal on a fee for access to the GI Bill was first reported by Task & Purpose.
Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), the committee's chairman, and other members welcomed feedback from witnesses and veterans service organizations "on whether all, some or none of the proposals under consideration advance through the Committee," the statement said.
Prior to 2008, service members had the option of paying into the Montgomery GI Bill, an educational benefit created during peacetime that came with a $1,200 non-reimbursable enrollment fee.
The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, or GI Bill, signed into law by President George W. Bush included funding to pay 100 percent of a public four-year undergraduate education to a veteran who had served three years on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001. The act also provided the ability for the veteran to transfer benefits to a spouse or children after serving (or agreeing to serve) ten years.
The VFW charged that the proposal under consideration by the House committee would impose out-of-pocket fees on troops that could amount to $2,400 for access to GI Bill benefits.
"We are still a nation at war. We have troops actively engaged in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and now in Syria," Duffy said. "Congress' focus should be on defeating our enemies and ending the war, not cutting the benefits of those who are fighting it. Congress must stop nickeling and diming America's service members and veterans."
Carlos Fuentes, legislative director of the VFW, said the proposal for a fee on GI Bill benefits didn't have the name of a panel member attached to it. He said that the proposal appeared to be a method to pay for other benefits that the VFW supported but "this is not the right approach. We don't think it's appropriate."
The committee's statement said that the proposals to be considered at the April 26 hearing "include things like giving veterans flexibility to use their GI benefits at an institution that works best with their individual needs and career goals, increasing educational benefits for survivors and dependents, allowing lifetime use of earned GI Bill benefits and more."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.