By Debbie Gregory.
Veteran advocates and House lawmakers rallied on Capitol Hill to oppose cuts to the Post 9/11 GI Bill Veterans Housing benefit for dependents that they say would break a “sacred” trust.
While the move would result in a savings of approximately $773 million over the next 10 years, Rep. Tim Walz, (D-Minn.) said, “This goes back on a promise that all of us here are unwilling to break. In the entire federal budget, there is nowhere else to fund [veterans] programs? That cannot stand.”
Officials from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) said the move goes back on a promise made to those families that the full benefit would be available when they need it, and for the first time pulls money out of the GI Bill to fund outside programs.
Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of IAVA, said, “This is about keeping a promise, investing in the future, about retention and recruiting and morale. Find the money somewhere else. Either you’re with us or against us.”
“When we ask our troops to make a promise to us to run into battle, we don’t accept it when they turn around and say, ‘You know what, now that the bullets are flying the cost is a little bit high,” Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said. “So how dare we decide years later after we’ve made this promise, after people have enlisted or stayed in the military partly partially because of this benefit, to say, ‘You know what, we decide it’s too expensive, you cost us too much.’”
But officials from Student Veterans of America (SVA) said that the issue isn’t that black and white. Derek Fronabarger, SVA’s director of policy, challenged the idea that the legislative proposal amounts to “cuts” in veterans housing benefits, saying that the cuts will impact dependents, not servicemembers.
And the savings from the change would go to pay for a host of other programs, resulting in a difficult choice, pro or con.
Walz suggested Congress instead cut bonuses to VA employees, which have been deep in scandal over wrongdoing for the past two years. But Walz said he will vote against the entire omnibus bill if the reduction in housing stipends remains.