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Military Veterans May Have Lost Out On Educational Benefits Due To Defense Department Error

PRESS ADVISORY

Military Veterans May Have Lost Out On Educational Benefits Due To Defense Department Error

May 24, 2007

Attorney General Baker Calls On Defense Department To Honor Commitment To Members Of Reserves and National Guard

Attorney General Thurbert Baker has asked Robert Gates, United States Secretary of Defense, to quickly remedy a situation that has seen members of the Armed Forces Reserves and the National Guard denied benefits to which they were entitled by federal law. In a letter to Gates, Baker, President of the National Association of Attorneys General, joined with 42 other Attorneys General in calling on the Defense Department to honor the commitments made to the men and women of the Reserves and National Guard.

Despite federal law that allows veterans who have served on active duty to receive financial assistance after their departure from the Reserves or National Guard, the Defense Department has refused to certify qualified veterans as eligible for the benefits and has advised reservists contemplating leaving the military that their ability to receive educational benefits would terminate as soon as they left service. This position is directly contradicted by federal law, which extends the eligibility period for reservists to receive educational benefits by the amount of time that they were on active duty plus an additional four months.

The benefits - in particular Chapter 1606 educational benefits - provide financial assistance of approximately $300 per month to any eligible veteran who is a full time student. The Defense Department, in recent Congressional testimony, appears to have conceded that the Department improperly denied benefits to many reservists and National Guard called to active duty.

"On the eve of Memorial Day, when we remember the sacrifices of those who have served in our nation’s military, it is extraordinarily unjust that individuals who have put their own lives on hold to serve on active duty should be denied benefits guaranteed to them by federal law. In breaking its promises to our nation’s veterans, the federal government has shortchanged the sacrifices that these men and women have made in defending our nation,” Baker said. "Ensuring that these veterans receive the educational benefits that they were promised for their service is essential. Their service and sacrifice - risking their lives, serving the call of our nation, and leaving their families behind – demands no less.”

A reservist normally must use his 1606 benefits within a 14-year period while still actively enrolled in the reserves. Until very recently, the Defense Department failed to recognize that federal law extends that time period for members of the reserves called to active duty by the amount of time that they were on active duty plus an additional four months.

As a result of misinformation by the Defense Department, many former reservists were erroneously informed that they could not utilize their remaining benefits after they had resigned from the reserves. Baker and the 42 Attorneys General who signed on to the letter also called for federal legislation that would restore any benefits that may have expired due to the Defense Department's failure to certify former reservists as well as for any reservists who may have missed out on the educational opportunities available to them because they were erroneously informed by Defense Department employees that they were ineligible to apply for benefits.