Veterans' benefits should be upgraded, report says

ksaldarini@govexec.com

Health care, education and employment transition benefits for retired veterans need to be changed to reflect the needs of 21st century service members, a congressionally chartered commission reported Thursday.

Many of the benefits veterans receive today are based on programs or organizations established during World War II, said the report, published by the Commission on Service Members and Veterans Transition Assistance. Congress created the panel as part of the Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 1996.

Among its education proposals, the commission suggested enhancing the Montgomery GI Bill so that four years of active duty would qualify service members for full tuition and a monthly allowance to any college at which they are accepted. The proposal also includes an option to transfer this education entitlement to a family member.

The commission also proposed providing eight hours of transition assistance for newly retired service members and suggested that federal contractors be given incentives to hire veterans.

The commission recommended providing health care to recently retired vets and their families for 18 months after they retire and allowing service members to participate in the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan.

Overall, the report included more than 100 suggestions for improving veterans' benefits.

"America will do the service members and veterans of the century to come no service by providing them with the finest of benefits if those benefits are tailored to the needs of a century gone by," the report said.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs and the Labor Department will review the report over the next 90 days and send comments to Congress.

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