AFA Policy Forum
Staff Director, Subcommittee on Benefits, House Veterans Affairs Committee
"VA, Today and Tomorrow"
Air & Space Conference 2004—Washington, DC
September 13, 2004
[Click here for printer-friendly version.]
Mr. Kehrer: I'm delighted to be with you and pleased to represent Chairman Christopher Smith of New
Jersey, and our Subcommittee Chairman Henry Brown from South Carolina.
I want to talk to you a little bit about my career. After leaving the Air Force in 1980, I have been in
veterans’ affairs for 33 years this October. It's incredible. I can't believe it myself. I have to tell you,
I do see a couple of people, not many, who might be at the level of maturity that I'm at. You know, I'm
approaching middle age. A young lady just yawned, I think.
You have two handouts. One is on the committee's coherent vision. We're into this, with Chairman Smith, for
the fourth year with respect to employment and job and business opportunities. There's many achievements there
and more that we're working on.
My associate, Devon Seibert, is here today. She has staff responsibility for many of these provisions in law.
I guess you all know who writes the law: Worker bee staffers and it's a labor of love, believe me, to be able
to serve those who have worn the military uniform.
You also have information on our websites. They're award-winning and I would encourage you to call them up at
your leisure. I think they are informative.
I want to talk for 10 minutes and then I want to go not to your questions so much, although we're delighted
to take questions, but your suggestions, your advice with respect to public policy. You are our customers and
not everyone has a job as neat as what we have, going in to work everyday, 33 years in my case, and serving those
who have worn the military uniform.
Let's talk about employment. Hiring veterans is fundamentally a good business decision because of their
character, commitment and resolve. Add these soft skills, ladies and gentlemen, to the hard skills that they
obtain at schools and colleges after separation and they represent, I suggest to you, the very best of human
capital in America. They are so good, in fact, that we should start a campaign that brands. Do you hear that
word? Brands the veteran as a world-class product, a true asset, a competitive business asset in the workplace.
Mr. Smith called a press conference just a couple of months ago. What a delight to hear fellow press
conference participants from Fortune 150 corporations like Paine Webber, Ford, Harley Davidson, Oracle, John
Deere, Home Depot and the list goes on and on, all of these CEOs, the leadership of the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the Building Trades from the AFL-CIO, all of these folks were talking about
why hiring former service members is such a good business decision. These people are competitive business assets.
I do not need to tell any of you that.
The Business Roundtable reports that the top 150 corporations in American employ 110 million people that
generate $3.7 trillion in annual revenue. The Building Trades at the AFL-CIO operate the innovative Helmets to
Hardhats program. Both of these organizations see today's military leaders as leaders of business and industry
Our military spends on the order of $17 billion per year training our service members. Chairman Smith wants
to do everything he can to ensure that policies that promote the use of this unique national resource in a private
economy are advanced. The committee has adopted his proposals, as a matter of fact, with respect to economic
empowerment, the one handout that you have, and those views are reflected in the committee's views and estimates
filed with the Budget Committee each year.
His proposals are right for veterans, right for the economy and I suggest to you right for communities.
I want to talk to you about education a little bit. On June 29, 2002, Mr. Smith convened a ceremony at the
Mayflower Hotel, believe it or not, right here in town, on the 58th anniversary of the World War II GI Bill.
Secretary Principi, former Senator Dole, former HVAC Chairman Sonny Montgomery, Congressmen Mike Simpson and Jim
Ryan and the American Legion National Adjutant, Bob Spinogle, were all there with Mr. Smith. This is the neatest
thing. They dedicated Room 570 of the Mayflower with a plaque. That's where during Christmas of 1943 Harry
Colmery of the American Legion, a World War I veteran, wrote in longhand on hotel stationery what would become
the first draft and the blueprint for the World War II GI Bill of Rights.
Secretary Principi, Congressman Ryan, Mr. Simpson, Mr. Evans and Mr. Smith since then have asked the President
to posthumously award the Medal of Freedom to Mr. Colmery. After all, economist John Kenneth Galbraith credits
Mr. Colmery's vision for the World War II GI Bill as making the United States the first overwhelmingly middle
class nation in the world.
The President gave the Medal of Freedom recently to Estee Lauder, Doris Day and others and that's fine, that
is really, really fine, but the House has since passed legislation under Jim Ryan and Chairman Smith's leadership
encouraging the President to give the Medal of Freedom also to Harry Colmery.
That's where it began and you may know that the home loan part of the World War II GI Bill doesn't get quite
the play that the education part does. The word “suburbs,” we had CRS look at this, was not in the lexicon, was
not part of the parlance. It wasn't in our everyday vernacular until after what? The passage of the World War
II GI Bill. That's a fact. The World War II GI Bill is credited by Galbraith and others with creating the
suburbs in America. Pretty cool, huh? Arguably our most successful domestic program ever.
The Marshall Plan to rebuild war-ravaged Europe cost how much? $12.5 billion. The cost of the World War II
GI Bill was $14.5 billion. It paid for itself by 1960 in terms of increased taxes paid on the veterans'
increased earning power. Ordinary Americans who wore the military uniform, as you know, did some extraordinary
things, both during and after the war, hence The Greatest Generation.
In terms of education at this point in the subcommittee, Congress has tried to build on the wisdom and
foresight of former Chairman Sonny Montgomery, who served in congress for 30 years and adopted a very bipartisan
approach to legislating. I daresay that the Veterans Affairs Committee arguably is one of the most bipartisan
committees on the Hill. It's easy to be partisan, it really is, but being partisan and getting a deal, that's
hard work. It’s a different tone that Mr. Montgomery has taken and both Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Evans
have served on the committee for over 20 years and they were both there with Mr. Montgomery as original
co-sponsors of the legislation that became the Montgomery GI Bill.
I want to tell you a story about the late Senator Sparky Matsunaga of Hawaii. This goes back to 1987.
Tensions were high at the 1997 Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on Senate Bill 12, which was the Senate
version of what would become the Montgomery GI Bill. Senator John Glenn especially questioned whether the Bill
would actually entice high quality recruits into the military, into an all-volunteer military. We know it's an
all-recruited military, and he especially questioned whether the incentive would work, a permanent peacetime GI
Bill, the first in the history of the republic, with respect to the Air Force and the Navy. Those two service
branches, no surprise to you folks, were doing quite well in terms of getting persons into the enlisted force who
had prior college, which was not the case with the Marine Corps and the Army.
The affable senator Sparky Matsunaga of Hawaii, who graduated from Harvard Law School on the World War II GI
Bill, chaired this hearing on what became the Montgomery GI Bill in 1987. Sensing the need for some levity,
Senator Matsunaga noted the cross-country distances some witnesses traveled to testify at the hearing and then
Senator Matsunaga said, and I quote, "You know, I travel back to Hawaii a lot on the weekends. The air travel
isn't so bad, but with the time zone changes, it messes up my body clock something awful because I get hungry at
bedtime and sexy at mealtime." He said that on the record and he didn't strike it.
It worked well, though, in terms of the dynamic of the hearing because the service branches, this is
interesting, the three-star personnel chiefs were allowed to testify. I happened to be the staffer who was
shepherding this legislation on behalf of the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee at the time, and
wrote a letter to each service branch personnel chief and said kindly appear before the committee to respond to
questions and they loved it.
They loved it because the administration was not supporting the Montgomery GI Bill at the time because of
costs and putting a new entitlement into the Treasury, into the domestic policy of the United States and military
policy. Once that entitlement, that's what the Montgomery GI Bill is, as you know, is part of the landscape of
law, it's there and you can never get it out. We were trying to get it in.
So rather than having Chapman Cox testify for the Defense Department, the service branch three-stars, as I
say, were delighted just to appear and respond to questions.
Why? Because they didn't have to have a formal writ10statement that would have run through OMB that would
have been cleared. And it was a very, very neat dynamic in that regard.
I can tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that under Mr. Smith and former Chairman Bob Stump's leadership—Mr.
Stump before he passed away was also chairman of the Armed Services Committee for about two years. May I suggest
to you what an incredible individual this man was. At Iwo Jima, as a Navy corpsman at the ripe old age of 16, he
participated as a corpsman with the Marine Corps in the invasion of Saipan and the liberation of the Philippines.
He did all of that between ages 16 and 18 and a half. Is that cool or what? There aren't many people, men and
women, like that around any more and what a loss for the rest of us.
Under Smith and Stump's leadership Congress has increased the Montgomery GI Bill education benefits
dramatically. In fact, the largest ever. The largest ever. Benefits increased from $528 a month to $650 a
month on November 1, 2000 and from $670 to $800 a month on January 1, 2002. Benefits increased again to $900
October 1, 2002 and again to $985 on October 1, 2003.
That's not a check in the mailbox, if you will, as a general matter. That is economic empowerment. That's
over $35,000 over four academic years for classroom training and I'll talk to you in just a minute before we go
to our questions about on-the-job training and apprenticeship earning and learning. What a fabulous opportunity
for former service members, but it's not a part of the GI Bill that gets the bright lights, you know, like the
classroom training does.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that current and former service members will use these increases
that I just cited over 10 years to the tune of $7.05 billion. Now, under pay-go rules, did we have the offsets
for that? No, we did not. We have to have offsets any time we increase an entitlement or we have to find new
revenues. We have to drop a current benefit or find new revenues to pay for it. Chairman Nussle of Iowa, of the
budget committee, gave us that money for nothing. Very unusual.
So where are we going? This year's top priority is HR 1716, the “Veterans Earn and Learn Act.” Let me tell
you a little bit about that and then I want to hear your suggestions because you are customers and I like to come
to events like this because every time I do I get to take back good stuff.
The “Veterans Earn and Learn Act” would modernize VA's OJT and apprenticeship program for American business
and industry today. The first rewrite, essentially, since World War II. It's Chairman Smith's top priority.
Let me offer a few brief comments. The late Michael Bennett, author of When Dreams Came True: The GI Bill and
the Making of Modern America, observed, "Our wartime military is America's most exclusive prep school for both
the campus and the workplace. In what other professions do we find 19 year-olds essentially maintaining and
operating million dollar airplanes?" Billion dollar airplanes, I guess, in some places, ships and missile
systems. Or being responsible for the safety and well being of a squad of riflemen?
You all heard, I'm sure, the embedded reporter during the liberation of Iraq, do you remember this, when the
one fellow said, “where in goodness name do you get people like this, selfless people like this?” I don't think
it was disingenuous on the part of the reporter, I don't think he was being intellectually dishonest, I think he
really meant to ask the question, “where do you find people like this?”
Well, we grow them. We grow them in the service branches. I think sometimes I should send a check to the Air
Force because as a 19 year-old kid, the Air Force was my first employer and I think what I learned in the Air
Force over four years, of course, this was back in the Dark Ages, '66 to '70, has served me, I think, pretty well
for the rest of my life because I was going nowhere.
You also know that our military is a married force. These numbers are astounding. J.B. Davis, Air Force
four-star fighter pilot, was chairman of the Veterans Task Force on Veterans Benefits, a task force on veterans
benefits on the Congressional Commission on Service Member and Veterans Transition Assistance chaired by Anthony
Principi, who is now Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and he laid this number on us—68 percent of enlisted personnel
are married, many with children, when they separate from the military. That's astounding. I mean, that is
really astounding. And that's why I'm suggesting to you that this earning and learning through a VA-approved
OJT or apprenticeship program for the private employer is really an excellent transition tool.
The Department of Defense reports that 438 of its military occupational specialties are transferable to
civilian life. At the press conference and the hearings that we've had on reemployment rights for mobilized
Reservists and this notion of former service members as a unique national resource, Ms. Seibert has staffed both
of those issues for the chairman. Employers, private employers, are just surprised honestly that such a large
number of military occupational specialties are transferable to the civilian workplace. There's lexicon, there
are issues of wording and semantics, and it's really quite an important initiative.
The President's National Hire Veterans Committee rolls out in about three weeks. Highest councils of
government. And they make no apology for what they're about—hiring former service members fundamentally is a
good business decision.
One of the areas they're focusing on is this issue of semantics, the kinds of words used in the military with
respect to occupational functions and then the usage of those words at Northrop Grumman or at Ford Motor Company
or any other company, especially small businesses, the bedrock of our economy. It's not a one-to-one transfer,
it's not easy to make that translation and you will see the link, the hyperlink, on how to make those
translations. It doesn't sound like a big thing until the wording of jobs becomes an obstacle.
The idea is to take that person who served in the combat arms and has a specialty that may not be transferable,
to take that person who wasn't in the combat arms and has a job that seems on its face to be transferable, to
translate those and to use those in civilian life.
Here are some of the main provisions of the Veterans Earn and Learn Act and then I want to take your comments.
First, it modifies OJT and apprenticeship benefit entitlement computation so that it's exactly the same for
Chapter 30, which is the Montgomery GI Bill, 32 for the VEAP folks, 34 for the Vietnam era folks like me who
are still around, Chapter 35, which is dependent widows and children.
Second, it establishes an incentive program for participants who finish their apprenticeships early.
Third, it increases by 10 percent the monthly educational assistance allowances. These individuals under
current law, never mind the 10 percent bump up, will get about $700 per month to augment the entry level salary,
the apprentice salary or the OJT salary. That's subsidized training, in effect, that goes to the service member.
Everyone in the room, I'm speculating, if you're going to separate from the military, whether you are
commissioned or enlisted or a warrant officer, you will be eligible for this program. It is the law.
It starts at about $700 and then it drops after six months to around $500, I don't have the exact numbers, and
then $400 and $300 over 24 months. But you can use avionics—and many of these other areas, electrical people,
systems engineering, any of the specialized technologies.
How long can you collect these OJT and apprenticeship benefits? Five years. It augments the salary and it's
not a part of the GI Bill that people know about.
Fourth, it codifies and strengthens VA authority to pay benefits for competency-based apprenticeships.
Apprenticeships that are time-based are still there, but they are not as common as they once were with the focus
on occupational licensing and credentialing.
Lastly, it requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to do something that should have been done decades ago,
put VA disability compensation claims adjudicators on a formalized, on-the-job training program with performance
outcomes. In other words, if a person goes to work for VA, the person could use her or his own GI Bill to train
to be a claims adjudicator.
Veterans who receive disability compensation the way the law reads and the way it's written, will file on
average for 17.9 different disabilities over their lifetime—17.9. The Veterans Claims Adjudication Commission
concluded that it's a lifetime driven system of perpetual claims dominated by zero and 10 percent disabilities.
VA gives a zero percent disability, for which there is never closure, until the veteran dies.
How many folks do you think VA has adjudicating claims on a daily basis? Mike Simpson from Idaho, former
speaker there, he was our subcommittee chairman last year, fabulous guy. 8,900. He said that's like the size of
a small city in Idaho. The point is when leaving the military with all the experience that you folks have in
being responsible for other people, you can use, if you're inclined, your OJT benefits to work for the VA and
learn claims adjudication. I'm not suggesting it's the kind of work for everybody, but the point is you can use
it in the federal government and with VA, not just with private sector employers.
Let me just close by saying that it seems, as Mr. Smith said, that we are at a watershed moment in our history
in that the connect between the American people and America's sons and daughters who wear the military uniform is
pretty linear right now, it's direct. And, frankly, under his leadership, what we are trying to do is seize on
that relationship that is emerging and the way the forces have coalesced that many Americans now at least are
attentive to what folks in the military are doing in a pretty selfless way and we want to exploit that opportunity
in the most professional way to write the kinds of policies that do not give people a handout. Those who serve
in the military, I'm preaching to the choir, are the most engaging and resourceful people in the world, but to
give them just a bit of a hand up to make sure that the transition benefits package is as good as it can be.
Do we have Reservists in the room? Thank you for what you do. Legislation that Ms. Seibert has crafted for
Chairman Brown while you folks are mobilized, the voluntary health care with a private employer, is only covered
with a government match for 18 months and the committee has passed legislation at DoD's request to move that up
to 24 months, an addition of six months. And the difference between 18 months of mobilization and 24 months is a
lot when you don't have health care. And DoD supported that proposal.
I can tell you that the projections also under the Uniform Services Reemployment Act, projections with respect
to financial, civil and legal matters, is better now than it's ever been. Mr. Smith rewrote it last year and
there are additional improvements this year, so in terms of the Total Force concept, we're doing the best that we
can to stay on top of that situation.
So let me take your suggestions and your recommendations. Ms. Seibert will write all those down because we
traveled a good two or three miles up here. I need to do a trip report when I get back, and so whatever you say,
I assure you there will be no attribution, but I bet you we write the words down exactly as you might make
recommendations in terms of policy, so talk to me, please.
Anybody interested in the Veterans Education Assistance Program (VEAP)? Nobody's interested in VEAP? Okay.
We've had two open windows for the post-Vietnam people and last time Chairman Smith, two years ago, reached
139,000 high tenured NCOs from the Vietnam era who didn't have a GI Bill because they didn't sign up for VEAP.
And we took testimony on legislation to have a third open window. There are still some combatants in Iraq,
including Air Force people, high tenured people, 25 or 30-year people, who don't have a GI Bill. The bill was
not part of what the committee marked up because we couldn't find the offsets.
This is the first group that I've talked to about that. At least no one is 'fessing up as being interested in
VEAP, but those are the facts in that regard.
On the sheets of paper, the economic empowerment package, the vision that I spoke to of the chairman, I think
it's a coherent vision. Some three or four years ago. There's still some good stuff that we need to do.
Franchising, I'll tell you, one out of 16 jobs in America in terms of the domestic economy is filled with a
person who works for a franchise. And we're going to legislate in that area so that for the first time -- the
GI Bill now can be used to pay licensing, credentialing fees for the first time. That is now law. Chairman
Brown took testimony on allowing people to use their educational entitlement to help pay the training costs
associated with starting a business.
Q: Will you ever take that 10 years of GI Bill coverage and extend it so that it's longer? Because 10
years goes by really fast.
Mr. Kehrer: There is a proposal now to allow the dependent widows and orphans 20 years to use the
benefits. That's a Senate proposal and the House will likely support that legislation. The 10 years goes by
very quickly, lifelong learning is a reality. There was a recommendation in the report on the Commission on
Service Members and Veterans Transition Assistance to modify it.
We haven't done so, we do not have any legislation in that regard. Devon is making note of it. We get more
mail on the VEAP issue, frankly than we get on the issue of expanding the delimiting date. I will take that
back, Colonel. I thank you for the suggestion.
The issue is out there. It's not that Congress wrings its hands and says, “no, we're not going to extend this
for deserving people.” The 10 years goes by quickly, particularly for those of us raising families. But in
terms of using the offsets, the pay-go dollars, which is a wrenching process when you've got to find money, it
doesn't compete very well, but I would say that the paradigm is shifting, starting with the Chapter 35 group and
it certainly makes sense that for many of those widows who are raising small families, you know, the 10 years
goes by even more quickly. But I hear you, ma'am, and if we could get your business card before we leave, we can
keep you informed on that.
Question: What about the 24 months continuous service for Guard and Reserve in terms of qualifying for
active duty MGIB benefits? Are you looking at that?
Mr. Kehrer: Please forgive my wording, this is not Chairman Smith talking, this is a worker bee
staffer. We think that proposal is a little hollow, a little shallow, in the sense that the President's proposal
that he unveiled about three weeks ago says that any person serving in the selected reserve who was mobilized for
90 days or more is going to be eligible and we talked to the White House for what will probably be a doubling of
the 1606 benefit, which is now—I don't know, what is it, $230 a month or something? And the proposal that's in
the Senate would, as the gentleman said, change it from two years of continuous active duty service to an
aggregate of 24 months over five years.
Our reading, Chairman Smith's reading, of the President's proposal says that all of those persons who are
mobilized for 90 days or more would automatically be covered for a doubling of the benefits.
Q: Chapter 1606, what about Chapter 30?
Mr. Kehrer: Well, the Senate Bill in fact would make it a Chapter 30 opportunity for, as you said,
aggregate versus consecutive, which means that the VA committee has to find the offsets. The President's
proposal is to add money to 1606, which is part of the landscape and which our good friend Mike Higgins over in
the Armed Services Committee would be required to find the offsets. The administration says they're sending the
offsets. I hope so.
I would say to you, sir, that if we could get your card so we can keep you informed, it will be one or the
other. You won't get nothing out of that.
Q: What about having the funds for individuals that after 10 years have not automatically claimed them
through the GI Bill (and essentially those funds that will be the savings, never used) put towards a fund to help
supplement and start up a brand new fund that members can contribute so that they can provide a college education
Mr. Kehrer: Point taken. First, I've heard that. First I've heard that option. We spoke briefly by
the way, on the GI Bill for my Bachelor's and Master's. For my Bachelor's degree, I was on the nine-year plan,
going part-time. I was speaking to the gentleman earlier and former Senator Cleland, as you know, in the DoD
Authorization Act some years ago, did get language in there that would allow each service branch Secretary on a
discretionary basis to use the transferability to fill critical MOS’s. I think the Secretary of the Air Force,
to my knowledge, is the only one that has bought into that authority. Devon is saying yes. And he in this case
has bought in. I don't know about the extent of usage.
Our chairman said on the record as an outside conferee, the Armed Services has these outside conferee
conferences on the DoD Authorization Act in which other committees can come in—we don't have joint jurisdiction
on the DoD Authorization Act, that's for sure, but the chairmen of authorizing committees who have an interest in
manpower policy can come in and our chairman said on the record, to Senator Warner and the others, “if we're
going to give the service branch secretaries the authority to pass on this, to use this transferability, I'm
interested in the person who is working under the airplane, I'm interested in the person who is working on the
hydraulics and the person who is getting his or her hands dirty every day.” Do we have any JAG officers in the
group? Not one? That's a bit unusual. He actually said, “I don't see this as a program in terms of
congressional intent to fill the JAG officer ranks. I'm looking forward to using this for the people who are on
the business end of maintaining airplanes every day.”
But I like your suggestion. I had not heard that before and we'll take that back. If we could get your card,
you are the customer and we'll keep Patrick informed. We'll send him a report electronically on all of these
suggestions and not what Darrell and Devon are thinking, but what Chairman Brown says in regard to each of these.
Q: I've got a question regarding the MGIB. Are there funds that actually are banked, anticipating that
everyone that's eligible will take advantage of the benefits? Or do you really know what the history is as far
as the number who don't and kind of base it on having enough money for that?
Mr. Kehrer: It's banked. As I said, sir, for the Montgomery GI Bill, a 10-year projection by CBO:
$7.05 billion over 10 years. That's real money. That is bought and paid for under the pay-go rules.
Now, regarding the $1,200, the pay reduction that you make to enroll in the program. Chairman Smith in a bill,
appropriately HR 1212, that Ms. Seibert just worked on, he sees that payroll reduction, the $1200 to put in, that
was $100 a month for 12 months, that was never contemplated by the House, that was a provision by our friends
over at Mount Olympus—I mean the United States Senate, I'm so sorry. Mr. Smith sees that as nothing but a tax.
He's said that on the record. I mean, that's not meant to be some kind of a populous plea for votes, it just
never was part of the proceedings and the legislative history, it’s bicameral legislation, of the House of
The idea was never there to put the $1,200 in, but John Glenn and Sam Nunn—the Unholy Troika—who was the other
one? Oh, the late John Tower. They said, “Sonny, buddy, you want this first permanent peacetime GI Bill.” And
at that time, it was called the All Volunteer Force Educational Assistance Act. It didn't get the Montgomery
name, and he treats the thing with such reverence, he's so proud of it, until later. “Sonny, $2400, $200 a month
for 12 months, and you've got a deal.” And Mr. Montgomery turned to Senator Tower and said, “Senator, $100 a
month for 12 months and you're on.” And Tower—Anthony Principi was there—was so surprised that Sonny took it.
But these are entitlements, so it's not a situation, sir—it's only about 65% participation right now, for the
Montgomery GI Bill—that if you hit a certain threshold in terms of the entitlement costs that people lose
eligibility. That's not the case at all. It's open-ended.
Q: Several schools, you know, like DeVry and ITT, run one-, two- and four-year degrees or diplomas.
Unfortunately, their costs are excessive and the money you receive from the GI Bill per month doesn't come
anywhere near it. Is there a possibility of having the amount of the actual tuition plus books, even though it
would go over your monthly stipend—say it was $20,000 in one year—paid in a lump sum up front?
Mr. Kehrer: Great question. For example, certified network engineer, for that profession only, for
these high intensity, short-term, high-cost courses, one can accelerate the benefit. Only for that occupation.
That's all we could pay for. This was about three years ago. Mr. Smith has views and estimates filed with the
budget committee. He said, “I make no apology, if the World War II GI Bill arguably was our most successful
domestic program ever, well, how about the here and the now?” So that's his proposal, to return to a World War
II GI Bill. And these aren't my words, these are his words. There's always going to be a recruiting cost. I
mean, that's a given. Why are we offering the person who is a volunteer demonstrably less than the person who
was a conscript, as many of my uncles and our parents were, during World War II? And he makes no apology.
But finding the offsets is a monster. I mean, we have rounded down the COLAs for education programs and now
we're contemplating for disability compensation for 10 years out to pay for some of this stuff.
By the way, the home loan program…one of the gentlemen, I think it was you, sir, well, he's going to buy a
house, but the home loan guarantee is going up dramatically so that the maximum purchase price is going from
$240,000 to $330,000, the House has already passed that. That's a pretty good jump, don't you think? It's the
largest since the 1970s.
So we don't have the offsets to return to the World War II GI Bill, which would fix your situation or the
situation you cite. The other way is to keep doing it on an occupation-by-occupation basis. We started with
the certified network engineer because that's the one in which the courses are so robust and so short-term and
so marketable, but the cost was so high, so we did that one first. But if we could get your card…
Q: It seems like with longer and more frequent deployments requiring the Guard to serve that we're
particularly getting into trouble with the five-year limit on service with civilian companies. And the only way
to bail that out is to declare a state of national emergency so it doesn't apply to five years. Is there any
move to improve what's allowed the Guardsmen and Reservists?
Mr. Kehrer: Ms. Seibert, do you want to respond to that?
Ms. Seibert: The five years is a continuum, so if you have a break in service and go back to your job
within that time period, you're okay. We haven't really heard of anything where people were having difficulty
with that, people being called up for that long a period of time.
Q: Continuous service is not -
Ms. Seibert: No, it's not. So if you go on active duty for 24 months, you go back another 36, that's
five years, but it's not continuous and your job will be guaranteed when you get back.
Mr. Kehrer: The percentage—what is it? Isn't it something like 40% of our mobilized forces in Iraq
and Afghanistan are made up of the Total Force, Reserve and National Guard people? It's quite high, isn't it?
Who knows that number? Isn't it about 40%?
That's what we hear from—are you familiar with this group called The Military Coalition? Really an effective
group of people. Bob Norton from the Retired Officers Association is one of the principal legislative people.
They testified. Chairman Stump and Chairman Smith have brought them before our committee often, rather than the
usual suspects, and we love them. You know, the normal groups, the VFW and the American Legion. And The
Military Coalition is made up of—does anybody know? It's 35 groups, NCOA, the Air Force Association, they even
let the Marine Corps League in. I mean, I don't know how that happened [Laughter].
Patrick Reidy (AFA Staff): The Military Coalition represents five and a half million service members,
retirees and veterans.
Mr. Kehrer: Wow. Thank you, Patrick.
Anyway, they are becoming a force. And I'll spare you, I don't want to take you down in the weeds on this,
but The Military Coalition is now testifying before the joint legislature—making joint legislative presentations
with the veterans groups. I say ‘joint’ because the House and the Senate do this together in February and March
of each year as a joint hearing with respect to the legislative proposals, and part of the reason for that is
what Guard and Reserve people—and active duty of course—are giving of themselves is really quite significant.
It's not something our members are familiar with.
I think our members are in tune now, but just the notion of the so-called “weekend warrior,” I've never liked
that representation. I mean, that's not the case. I mean, that's certainly not the case. I have three members
of my family, two Army and one Air Force, who served in the liberation and one of them was a Reservist and the
other two were active duty and two of the three are going back.
The numbers that I've seen, especially—what is it, civil affairs and functions like that, yes, just an
incredible need for those kinds of people.
Q: Do you see any problems with the VA hospitals being able to take care of the veterans that are
going to be out there five years from now?
Mr. Kehrer: We do not have jurisdiction. That's the Health Subcommittee, but I'm not going to lay a
bureaucratic answer on you like that. You know, I'm Vietnam era, I say to my kids, I mean, we have one who's
going Air Force and one is going Marine Corps and I say to them, “you know, I served in '66.” They look at me
and I have to say, “that was 1966, by the way.” But we don't have the money now on the health care side. I have
no expertise there, to take care of what we have.
Now, that said, Secretary Principi proposed that persons who are not disabled, persons who didn't have
service-connected disabilities, older persons like me, who are category 7s and 8s, pay $125 a year to improve
the liquidity situation of that part of the VA health care system. And no member of our committee was willing
to approve $125 a year.
Former Chairman Simpson, had he been the subcommittee chairman from Idaho, he said he would have, but that
would have been a proposal that where can one find health care for $125 a year?
In terms of a person who is a student of public policy, my personal view was that was a responsible policy.
That was a deal. That was just a great deal. To take those millions that have non-service-connected disabilities
and to use the VA system, it would have increased their liquidity situation dramatically in terms of the people
needed to staff it.
But the veterans groups, and I'm a member of some of them, they were adamantly against it. Adamantly against
it. And part of the backlog, for those who don't have service-connected disabilities and are getting treatment,
is also right at the doorstep of who? The United States Congress. Because a few years ago, against the advice
of the Congressional Budget Office and the General Accounting Office, Congress expanded and liberalized that
eligibility for those who are not service-connected. And it just seems to me that we have individuals who are
not just disabled with the ailing knee and the ailing back and the bad hearing. I have all three of them because
I'm old. We have people that left parts of their body in foreign lands and we have an obligation to those kids,
those men and women. And what is happening, though, is the Disabled American Veterans and the Paralyzed Veterans
of America, in my personal opinion, cannot compete with the big organizations who have as part of their membership
persons who are not disabled who want to use the VA system. Well, I beat that to death, didn't I?
Q: I have a grandfather who is retired military and he waits anywhere from 20 days to three months for
his health care services.
Mr. Kehrer: That's right. That's a fact. Is he disabled, sir? Excuse me.
Q: He is 100% disabled.
Mr. Kehrer: Case in point for what I'm talking about.
Q: There are rumors that they want to allow individuals who have not retired but have served a minimum
of four years in the service to be able to use VA health care. Is that true?
Mr. Kehrer: That rumor is fact. Those people are being turned away. Secretary Principi said I do not
have the staff to serve these people. Some of them have to wait six or eight months for a specialty clinic who
are disabled. Therefore, it was an unfunded mandate. Congress expanded the eligibility at a time when the
numbers were lower and now the numbers of those seeking health care, particularly non-service-connected for
pharmaceutical things, are off the charts. So Secretary Principi said, “it's an unfunded mandate, I would like
to serve all of these people,” Anthony Principi is one heck of a leader, in my view, “but I can't do it. I can't
make this commitment because you gave me an unfunded mandate in terms of those who are not service-connected.”
It’s examples like you just gave. We're waiting for people who are 100% service-connected and they're waiting
three or four months.
So he said, “the responsible thing to do, I don't like it, but the responsible thing to do is to not serve
those whose medical issues are not service-connected.” But that still hasn't fixed the problem, as evidenced by
what you just said.
Q: What are your thoughts on sending patients “downtown”—utilizing private providers in the VA health
Mr. Kehrer: In the theory of government, you have rowing versus steering. And when Vice President
Gore rolled out the President's National Performance Review, “Reinventing Government,” remember that? “Works
better, less expensive” was a take-off on the beer commercial. He cited the World War II GI Bill as an example
of using the free enterprise system, give somebody a benefit and let them take it to the marketplace to use it,
which is what the education program did.
Conversely, what did they do on the medical side? We didn't send veterans to colleges after World War II that
we planned, staffed, managed and evaluated. We sent them into the free enterprise system. Conversely, what do
we do on the medical side? We planned, staffed and built hospitals. And the two systems, according to the Vice
President at the time, I mean, he begged the questions. I mean, do you want a theory of government in which it's
rowing or steering? The GI Bill educational program and the home loan program were facilitating, steering people
to an opportunity. And the other one, if you will, rowing, was the medical system.
So Congress made a public policy decision after World War II that said we're going to provide the care rather
than facilitate access to the care. I have my own opinions on that.
Q: Well, it's not really too late to change that, do you think?
Mr. Kehrer: I think on the merits, sir, it wouldn't be, but I think that there is so much ownership by the
veterans groups in the current system that to give a person—to empower that person for health care, like we do on
education and home loans and entrepreneurship and all the others—a voucher, in essence to take to a private
health care provider…I'm not speaking for the veterans groups, but I think they have too much ownership in the
current system. I think it would be really, really hard. I mean, the veterans groups opposed, on the record,
the $125 a year. And, of course, Mike Simpson said, “$125 a year, that's a pretty good deal.”
Q: I'm from Orlando and it's one of the few locations, as you may know, where they're going to expand
to a full hospital category. Most of the veterans’ organizations in the local area are very happy with that.
Mr. Kehrer: You know what, ladies and gentlemen? The gentleman said the local veterans’ organizations.
What a difference in the view on policy issues of the locals as compared to the national. That's my observation
after 33 years in veterans’ affairs. The local folks are much, in my opinion, more resourceful, much more
flexible. That's not a criticism of the national groups, it's just that they tend to be, in my personal view,
quite a bit more paternalistic, if you will.
Well, I really like seeing the blue uniform. You know, I'm not sure I could get into mine any more. I still
have it. I would close by saying without it sounding patronizing to you good folks, I am really quite grateful.
It could have been another service branch—by the way, I was drafted into the Marine Corps on February 27th of '66
and I had my enlistment papers for the Air Force for the next day and I got lucky at the accession point and the
guy said, because the Air Force had its quota for February of '66, you know, for enlisted people, “I'll hold you
over to the next day,.” Otherwise, my situation could have been different. But what a great way to start one's
I would close by saying on behalf of Ms. Seibert and all the members of the Benefits Subcommittee and Chairman
Brown and Chairman Smith, we really appreciate what you do.
Return to AFA Air & Space Conference