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U.S. Army secretary works to fix GI Bill for Minnesotans

  • Article by: Nina Petersen-Perlman
  • Star Tribune
  • November 1, 2007 - 4:09 PM

WASHINGTON - Almost half of the 2,600 Minnesota National Guard soldiers who deployed with the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division are getting shortchanged on their education benefits.

The 1,162 affected troops served just as long as their colleagues -- 22 consecutive months, the longest of any U.S. unit in Iraq -- but they are not eligible to enroll in the Chapter 30 Montgomery GI Bill because they were demobilized before serving the 730 days of active duty deployment required by the bill.

How long before? From one to 12 days.

Members of the Minnesota congressional delegation have been working with the Minnesota National Guard to correct what they consider an inequity.

The state's U.S. senators, Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar, announced Monday they had received word from Army Secretary Pete Geren that he was attempting to fix the problem.

"Many of these soldiers have put their education on hold in order to serve our nation, and awarding these benefits is the least we can do for them when they return," Coleman said.

Streamlining appeals process

Geren told the senators he was recommending that the Army Board of Corrections, which has the authority to award the benefits, expedite the review process so the soldiers could get their benefits in time to enroll for spring semester. Usually, each soldier would each have to file a personal appeal, but Geren requested the Army review them as one group.

Those who qualify for Chapter 30 Montgomery GI Benefits can receive $894 per month to be used for education, after making a $1,200 down payment. The benefits are available up to 10 years after the soldiers leave the service.

Those who don't qualify, like the 1,162 from Minnesota who are recorded as serving 729 days or less, can receive $660 per month as full-time students through the Reserved Education Assistance Program (REAP). The benefits expire once the soldier leaves the service.

"The Minnesota National Guard believes all soldiers who served 20 consecutive months on duty as part of the First Brigade Combat Team's extended mobilization should be entitled to the same set of benefits for their dedicated service to the nation," said Lt. Col. Kevin Olson, a spokesman for the Minnesota Guard.

Olson said they discovered the discrepancy in July when the soldiers were preparing to return to civilian life at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin.

The U.S. House unanimously approved a resolution Monday authored by Rep. Tim Walz commending Minnesota's National Guard soldiers for having the longest continuous deployment in Iraq of any U.S. military unit.

The troops mobilized in September 2005 for training and deployed to Iraq in March 2006. They were set to return home in January, but their tours were extended another 125 days as part of President Bush's troop surge.

The unit completed 137 reconstruction projects and captured about 400 detainees, according to a release from Walz's office. They also helped start Iraqi newspapers and produced documentaries on the U.S. military's work in Iraq.

Nina Petersen-Perlman • 202-408-2723

Nina Petersen-perlman • nperlman@startribune.com

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