By Frederic J. Frommer
Sen. Amy Klobuchar has introduced legislation aimed at ensuring that soldiers aren't deprived of educational benefits they have earned, responding to a case involving the Minnesota National Guard.
"Promises we made to soldiers shouldn't be wrapped in red tape," the Minnesota Democrat told reporters on a conference call Thursday.
The Army Board for Correction of Military Records is reviewing the cases of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division. All 2,600 of the soldiers, who returned this year from Iraq, are eligible for money for school under the GI Bill. But nearly half discovered they weren't eligible for a more generous package of benefits available to other soldiers. For some, just one day of service would prevent them from being eligible for the larger package.
Under the GI bill, for soldiers to qualify for full educational benefits, they must have served 20 consecutive months on active duty, with orders reflecting a call up to active duty of 730 days. The Minnesota soldiers met the 20-month requirement, but not all had orders for 730 days of duty.
Klobuchar's bill would drop the 730-day order requirement, so that eligibility for full educational benefits would be based solely on length of service.
On Wednesday, Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., introduced a bill that would deem the Minnesota soldiers as having met the enrollment requirements for the more generous GI benefits.
Klobuchar called her bill a broader approach.
"It says we need to fix this for the entire country," she said.
The state's other senator, Republican Norm Coleman, signed on a co-sponsor. He said he was confident, after discussions with Army Secretary Pete Geren, that the Army Board for Correction of Military Records would resolve the issue to the benefit of the Minnesota soldiers.
"The bottom line is our folks are going to be taken care of," he said.
The Army Board for Correction of Military Records says its mission is "to correct errors in or remove injustices from Army military records."
Also Thursday, Rep. Tim Walz, a Minnesota Democrat and National Guard veteran, said that Geren had made a commitment to Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., to personally resolve the situation. Murtha is the chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.
But Army spokesman Paul Boyce said that Geren had stressed in the call that the board is independent, and so Geren could not make such a personal assurance. Boyce said it was accurate to say that that Army had made a commitment to review each member of the Minnesota unit.
"Chairman Murtha and I are confident that this review will result in full GI Bill benefits being provided to the soldiers who earned them," Walz said in a statement.
Murtha spokesman Matt Mazonkey said that the lawmakers "were assured by the secretary that the problem has been taken care."