The House Veterans' Affairs Committee last week voted to advance several measures that would expand benefits for veteran military personnel and reservists.
The Reserve Component Vocational Rehabilitation Parity Act (H.R. 5538), introduced by Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., would expand eligibility for vocational rehabilitation and employment programs to reservists called into active service under involuntary deployment orders to the site of a national emergency or for pre-planned combat support missions.
Currently, such deployments, which occur under 12404(a) or 12304(b) orders, do not count toward reservists' and guardsmen’s time of service. Last year, Congress approved a broad expansion of the GI Bill that included closing a similar loophole for other educational benefits.
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“Our guardsmen and reservists serve honorably in support of combat missions,” Peters said in a statement. “They have earned the same employment and education benefits as any other reservist through their service, regardless of the authority under which they were deployed.”
The committee also approved the Gold Star Spouses Leasing Relief Act (H.R. 5882), introduced by Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., and Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, which would allow military spouses to break long-term rental agreements without penalty in the event of a service member’s death.
The bill would expand to Gold Star spouses existing protections allowing active duty military personnel to break home or apartment rental agreements, car leases and cell phone contracts, which often are paired with expensive cancellation fees, when they are deployed or relocated.
“The families of our fallen heroes have already sacrificed far too much, and we should do everything in our power to ensure grieving spouses are able to do what they need to do to support their families,” Bustos said in a statement.
The Defense Department last week also announced changes to how the Pentagon will handle GI Bill eligibility transfers from military personnel to family members. Effective July 2019, only service members with at least six years of service, but less than 16 years of total service will be eligible to transfer their GI Bill benefits to family members. Currently, service members are only required to have at least six years of service to transfer their GI Bill eligibility to their kin.
Department officials said in a statement that the change is intended to improve retention of service members.
“After a thorough review of the policy, we saw a need to focus on retention in a time of increased growth of the Armed Forces,” said Stephanie Miller, director of accessions policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “This change continues to allow career service members that earned this benefit to share it with their family members while they continue to serve . . . This change is an important step to preserve the distinction of transferability as a retention incentive.”
The Pentagon said the changes will not apply to service members who fail to fulfill a service obligation because of a “force shaping” event, and benefits transfers still will require a four-year commitment in the Armed Services. A service member must be eligible to be retained for four years from the date of the transfer.