Legion testifies on pending veteran legislation

American Legion National Veterans Employment and Education Division Assistant Director John Kamin testified before the U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on June 15 to give the Legion’s positions on several pieces of pending legislation.

GI Bill Fairness Act (S.844). According to Kamin, this bill would amend Title 38 to consider time spent by members of reserve components receiving military medical care as active duty for the purposes of eligibility for the GI Bill.

“To understand the need for this bill, I’d refer you to the story of Captain Bryan Lowman of the North Carolina National Guard,” said Kamin. “On the third month of his deployment to Afghanistan in 2010, he became severely ill with typhoid fever. (He then) lapsed into a coma and underwent multiple emergency surgeries (in Afghanistan, Germany and at Walter Reed) over the course of a year. After his long recovery, Captain Lowman aimed to pursue a college degree. However, since his activation status was changed to 12301(h) orders, his eligibility was cut down to the time he served before he got sick.”

Kamin said the Legion supports S.844 as it will correct this oversight and rewards retroactive benefits to all servicemembers affected. “Captain Lowman began to earn his GI Bill fighting for our country, but when he was fighting for his life, our country pulled the benefit,” he said. “I wish I could report to you that this was an isolated issue, but over 20,000 servicemembers have been issued these medical orders since 2007. This is a simple issue that you can fix and The American Legion stands ready to assist you in doing so.”

Educational Development for Troops and Veterans Act of 2017 (S.473). The Post-9/11 GI Bill is as close to a perfect benefit that has yet existed for active duty personnel. For reservists, on the other hand, eligibility is only gained if you are called to active duty service, Kamin said.

“This is a roll of the dice,” said Kamin. “And the odds just got worse for these servicemembers with the implementation of 12304b orders.”

Kamin said S.473 not only corrects this oversight by granting 12304b orders GI Bill eligibility, but also corrects even more technical issues affecting reservists, such as:

• Prorating the monthly housing allowance for student reservists; and

• Affording loan deferments to servicemembers pre-deployment.

“We respectfully request, however, that the bill be amended to apply to those who served before the date of enactment,” Kamin said. “The American Legion does not believe that servicemembers who have already been activated under 12304b orders are any less deserving of GI Bill benefits. Again, The American Legion stands ready to assist you in correcting this.”

Discussion draft on changes to the GI Bill.

Section 10: Restoration of entitlement to Post-9/11 educational assistance. When a school closes, non-veteran students have federal protections to support them. Federal loans can be discharged and Pell Grants can have their eligibility periods reset, according to Kamin.

“The American Legion strongly believes that a veteran's GI Bill benefits should be afforded the same protection,” he said. “This section provides that and we are encouraged with the bipartisanship that we’ve seen to address this issue. But Congress should not forget about the student veterans affected by the Corinthian College closures of 2015. We believe these student veterans deserve equal protection and calls for the eligibility date to be amended to the fiscal year of 2015.”

Section 17: Modifications relating to reimbursement of expenses of State Approving Agencies (SAAs). In addition, Kamin said the Legion believes that more effective oversight is needed to proactively abate school closures. While student veteran protection addresses the symptoms, the root cause is financially-unstable schools that were not properly identified until it was too late.

“While compliance oversight is never simple, the VA has partners that are uniquely suited to address this — they are the State Approving Agencies,” said Kamin. “Positioned at every state, they are the first line of defense for identifying bad actors. However, their funding has not increased since 2005, even as the educational ecosystem has compounded in size and complexity.”

Kamin said The American Legion believes the $3 million increase is not adequate to cover the SAAs’ overall scope and encourages Congress to allocate $5 million annually for the agencies. “Our positions are guided by nearly 100 years of experience and resolutions that originate at the grassroots level,” he said. “These issues cannot be put off any longer.”