Earlier this week, the president signed the FY 2003 National Defense Authorization Act into law, providing approximately $393 billion for the nation’s defense programs. While concerned over the failure to deliver on the nation’s promises to veterans with this bill, Congressman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) has praised the Act’s inclusion of an extension of the time limit for use of Montgomery G.I. Bill (MGIB) benefits – increasing access to education for the U.S. military.  

The Defense Authorization bill greatly improves the quality of life for the men and women in uniform – providing a 4.1 percent military pay raise, with larger pay increases for mid-grade and senior non-commissioned officers and mid-grade officers, reducing out-of-pocket housing costs for military personnel by increasing housing allowances to cover 92.5 percent of all housing costs, establishing more than $10 billion to build new military housing and working facilities for military personnel and their families and raising the number of years members of the Reserves have to use their MGIB  benefits from 10 to 14. 

“I am pleased that my colleagues on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees agreed with me in recognizing the value of providing better and more competitive education benefits to our Armed Forces.  Obviously this is a step in the right direction – making the Montgomery G.I. Bill more valuable and useful to more men and women in service,” Smith said.  “But we can, and must, do more.  My original proposal would have extended this benefit to both active duty servicemembers and reservists – expanding the pool even more.”

“At a time when recruitment and retention are more important than ever, we must work to make military service an attractive career option,” continued Smith. “We have to do a better job of providing better and more competitive educational benefits for all enlisted military members and this extension is a good first step.  I am committed to making sure that we maintain the most intelligent and highly-skilled fighting force in the world and will continue to work with my colleagues to reach that goal.”

In April of this year, Smith introduced two bills to improve the quality of life for the U.S. military through increased access to education.  The first bill, H.R.4213 “Expanding Education for Military Families Act,” would allow for full portability of MGIB benefits to the family members of enrollees in the MGIB program.  His second bill, H.R.4214 “Military Education Extension Act,” proposed extending the time limit for use of MGIB benefits to 15 years for both active duty servicemembers and reservists.  The time limit extension included in the Defense Authorization Act was limited to 14 years for reservists.

Details of Smith’s legislation to improve the quality of life for the U.S. military through increased access to education:

H.R.4213 – The Expanding Education for Military Families Act
Currently, the Montgomery G.I. Bill contains a portability provision for those with “critical military skills.”  In exchange for the transfer of some of their MGIB benefits to a spouse, a child or some combination of the two, MGIB enrollees, who have served at least six years in the Armed Forces, agree to serve an additional four years.  While this is an improvement from the original bill, the recent modification adversely affected morale among those not included under the provision.  In many cases, this portability option makes the difference in whether or not a servicemember can pay for a child’s college education. Smith’s “Expanding Education for Military Families Act” would offer this portability option to all members of the Armed Forces.

H.R. 4214 – The Military Education Extension Act 
Under current law, when Montgomery G.I. Bill active duty enrollees separate from the service or retire, they have ten years to use their benefits – after that time, any unused portions are lost.  For reservists, the ten-year clock starts ticking down from the date of their enrollment in the program, which is usually when they are processed at their first duty station.  With the “Military Education Extension Act,” Smith proposed lengthening the clock to 15 years for both active duty enlistees and reservists.  

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Adam Smith has been a strong advocate of modernizing our military and investing in tomorrow's technology, as well ensuring that Department of Defense resources are used efficiently and that America's fighting men and women have the tools and equipment they need to fulfill their missions. Improving the treatment of personnel, retirees and veterans is not only the right thing to do, but is critical to our national security.  If we want to continue leading the world in military power, we must invest in the best Armed Services.