Evan Aanerud is an engineering student with two quarters of classes left at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He is also an Iraq War veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves.
At a rally today on Capitol Hill, Aanerud told his story and shared his struggles to about 100 veterans gathering to support legislation that would update the Montgomery GI Bill. Aanerud told the crowd that when he started school he received just $282 per month. And one year ago, his benefits completely ran out.
"I was proud of my service, but after putting my life on the line, it would have been nice to get the benefits we expected," Aanerud said.
In the next month, Congress is expected to take on the GI legislation as part of a spending bill that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., sponsored the legislation along with Senator Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. It would reward veterans who've served on active duty at any time since September 11, 2001, with more money for college. And it would expand coverage for soldiers who've served in the National Guard and Reservists like Evan Aanerrud. The benefits would also normally last for a full 36 months and could be used within 15 years of active duty discharge.
Webb, a Vietnam veteran, called on his colleagues at today's rally to back the bill.
"It's time for those of us who've been calling on them to serve again and again, to assist them in providing the most tangible thanks our country can offer and that is a meaningful chance for a first-class future," Webb said.
The bill would also give the Department of Veterans' Affairs primary responsibility implementing the reforms. Currently, distribution of benefits is divided between that agency, the Department of Education and the Department of Defense.
Opponents, like Sen. Lindsey Graham. R-S.C., point to that change as unworkable and say the work would overwhelm the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Graham, along with presidential candidate John McCain, has introduced another bill that would allow veterans to transfer benefits to family members and keep the implementation spread between the three agencies.
Webb's GI bill looks likely to pass at this point. But President Bush reminded Congress in his press conference this morning that any military spending measure exceeding $108 billion will see the veto pen.