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A Pentagon initiative that would allow career service members to share GI Bill education benefits with a spouse or children was opposed Monday by the chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, a World War II veteran who used the GI Bill to go to college, said he does not believe giving veterans benefits to family members is a good idea.
"I believe that those who would rely on transferability as an incentive to longer service would be disappointed," Akaka said on the Senate floor at start of a week of debate that could end with a decision about whether to press ahead with immediate improvements in GI Bill benefits as part of a 2008 war funding bill.
Akaka said a limited test program in the Army resulted in fewer than 2 percent of soldiers showing interest in giving GI Bill benefits to their family, which indicates that further testing and review is needed "before anyone can positively say that this benefit would have the desired impact on retention," he said.
Akaka is one of the co-sponsors of the 21st Century GI Bill, a measure pushed by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., that includes dramatic increases in basic GI Bill benefits — but not transfer rights.
Webb's proposal would increase GI Bill benefits, now $1,101 a month for those with at least three years of active service, to cover the full cost of attending a four-year public college at the in-state rate, plus provide stipends for living expenses and books as well as money for tutors. The combination would result in benefits averaging more than $2,800 a month — so generous that Pentagon officials worry that the idea of leaving the military to attend college would look too attractive to career service members.
White House officials said last week that the ability to transfer education benefits to a spouse or children is an essential ingredient of any GI Bill program they might support. "Any legislation should reward those who have agreed to serve while strengthening our all-volunteer force," a May 15 statement of administration policy says.
The policy statement did not prevent the House of Representatives from passing Webb's bill last week as a package of programs aimed at getting lawmakers to vote for continued funding of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. But while the GI Bill package and other benefits changes passed the House by a 227-196 vote, the war funding bill failed on a 149-141 vote, leaving the potential for cash flow problems in the services if a compromise is not reached.
The House-passed version of the GI bill improvements includes a controversial plan that would pay for the better GI bill benefits by creating a 0.47 percent surtax on couples with adjusted gross income of $1 million or more and for single taxpayers with incomes of $500,000 or more. The surtax would cover the $52 billion cost over 10 years of Webb's plan, but it drew a veto threat from the White House.