21ST CENTURY' MONTGOMERY GI BILL

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IMMEDIATE RELEASE  
March 27, 2001

VA COMMITTEE LEADERS SMITH, EVANS  UNVEIL '21ST CENTURY' MONTGOMERY GI BILL

Proposal would hike monthly education benefit From $650 to $1,100 in three
years

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Backed by a partnership of lawmakers and spokesmen for
veterans groups, House VA Committee Chairman Chris Smith (R-NJ) took the
first step Tuesday in making "an historic funding increase in the Montgomery
GI Bill education benefit a reality" and closing the gap between current
benefit levels and college costs.

"This week, I, along with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including VA
Committee Ranking Democrat Member Lane Evans (D-IL) will introduce
legislation to boost the education benefit from its current level of $650
per month for 36 months to $1,100 - the largest hike ever," Smith said in
introducing the 21st Century Montgomery GI Bill Enhancement Act at Capitol
Hill press conference.

"When fully phased in, the new education benefit will bring the total to
$39,600," Smith said, "an amount roughly equal to the estimated tab for a
commuter student at a four-year public college. By way of contrast, the
benefit today totals $23,400, an amount that only 'buys' about 2 1/2 years
of college."

Smith said his bill would raise the current $650 per month to $800 the first
year, the second year to $950, and finally to $1,100 per month the third
year.

"The bottom line," Smith said, " is that veterans will get $16,200 more than
he or she gets today, making college doable - an opportunity come true - for
more veterans."

VA Subcommittee on Benefits Chairman J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) said: "This is not
just about the GI Bill's limited purchasing power.  It's about the value and
respect we have for America's sons and daughters who make up our
all-volunteer force."

"As a beneficiary of the Montgomery GI Bill and a strong supporter of
legislation to improve education benefits for veterans, I applaud the step
we take today," said Subcommittee Ranking Member Silvestre Reyes (D-TX).

"More than 21 million veterans have been able to pursue the dream of a
college education with the help of the government since the original GI Bill
in 1944," Smith said. "An updated Montgomery GI Bill is needed to help
veterans catch up on careers and education they set aside to serve their
country, and it's needed to help military recruitment."

Smith said that he and Evans began "laying the necessary groundwork" three
weeks ago when the VA Committee included funding for the Montgomery GI Bill
increase in its recommendations to the House Budget Committee.

"Last week," Smith said, "Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, backed by
Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader Dick Armey, approved in committee a
resolution that accommodates our request, as well as other vital
enhancements in health care and benefits totaling a whopping $5.6 billion
over last year in veterans spending - a 12 percent increase."

"The GI Bill was perhaps the greatest social program ever passed by
Congress," Evans said in support of the bill. "Its impact on post World War
II America was profound.   Millions of America's veterans who otherwise
might not have been able to afford a college education received a college
degree from some of our country's greatest institutions of higher learning.
That investment in our veterans has been repaid in taxes on higher incomes
many times over."

"These needed changes to the program will increase program usage and will
enable the military services to recruit the high ability young people they
need," Evans said.

"In recent years the GI Bill has lost much of its value due mainly to
inadequate funding and the constantly escalating cost of attending college,"
said Paul Hayden, Associate Director for Legislative Service of the Veterans
of Foreign Wars, a Persian Gulf War veteran who used the Montgomery GI Bill.

Former VA Committee Chairman G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery and author of the
current program, spoke in support of the Smith-Evans bill.   Also speaking
were Senators Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Max Cleland (D-GA), Congressman Charles
"Chip" Pickering (R-MS), and James Fischl of the American Legion.

_______________________________________________________________________________

Please visit http://veterans.house.gov, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs web site, named 'One of the Best Web Sites in Congress' by the Congressional Management Foundation, May 3, 1999.

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