By Alex Horton, Stars and Stripes
Nearly 4,700 reservists and guardsmen have been unfairly barred from earning post-9/11 GI Bill benefits available to active-duty servicemembers, veterans advocates say, triggering delays that will likely defer their education for years.
The issue lies with the Pentagon’s use of Title 10, Section 12304b, a specific deployment authorization used by the Defense Department to increase operational use of reservists and cut the cost of their benefits. Any reservist who deploys under the authorization is restricted in the ability to accrue GI Bill benefits, pre- and post-deployment health care and other resources during that duty.
Other deployment orders, such as those used for combat tours, allow part-time troops to rack up some benefits at the same rate as active-duty troops. VA pays out higher percentages of tuition and housing costs under the GI Bill the longer someone serves on active duty.
“The politicians don’t look at reservists the same way as active duty,” Sgt. Ross Dewberry, a Marine reservist said May 1 from Myrtle Creek, Ore. After a seven-month deployment last year to Honduras as a water support technician, he said he was told his active-duty time would not count toward accumulating GI Bill benefits, a reversal of previous guidance.
“When we do the time, we should be treated the same way,” he said.
There have been unsuccessful stand-alone proposals to match education benefits for reservists under 12304b orders to those of active-duty troops.
A solution to 12304b issues was included in a pre-bill draft set for discussion before a subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs at the end of April. But it was postponed after public disagreements by veterans groups over a proposal to require new recruits to pay $100 into the Post-9/11 GI Bill every month for two years to help fund 18 new components.
The Reserve Officers Association “would have liked to have a public discussion. Now we don’t have a venue to discuss the bills at all. We lost the opportunity,” said Susan Lukas, director of legislative and military policy at ROA, a leading advocate group taking on efforts to change 12304b.