U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said today in Clarksville that the Senate should pass his legislation to amend the new GI Bill to ensure equal treatment for Tennessee military servicemen and women.
“We did the right thing by updating the GI Bill in June, but Congress needs to finish the job and ensure that all servicemen and women are treated fairly,” Alexander said. “The new GI bill is a big improvement, but I’m still unhappy that it treats Tennesseans differently than those in other states when it comes to the amount of tuition payments. The new GI Bill gives Tennesseans $5,932 annually in educational benefits while giving veterans and military personnel in other states twice as much. I have introduced legislation to improve the new GI Bill by correcting that inequity, so that veterans and servicemen and women in every state are treated equally.”
Alexander noted that under the current GI Bill, “a Pennsylvania veteran would be eligible for almost $13,000 in tuition benefits, which is more than double the $5,932 a Tennessean would receive. This is simply unfair.”
In June, Alexander voted in favor of a supplemental appropriations bill for Fiscal Years 2008 and 2009 that updated educational benefits for servicemen and women on active duty, those in the National Guard and reservists who have served since September 11, 2001, including a measure allowing a servicemember to transfer all of his or her education benefits (36 months) to a spouse, children, or both after serving for 12 years or more – this could provide more than $50,000 toward a dependent’s education. That legislation to update the GI Bill became law on June 30, 2008.
In July, Alexander introduced the GI Bill Fairness Act to improve on the updated GI Bill by providing a uniform amount to all veterans and servicemen and women that attend a private institution of higher education based on the highest in-state tuition of any public institution in the country. The Alexander bill also would give a housing allowance to veterans who pursue their degrees though distance learning based on the zip code where the veteran lives.
Alexander also outlined funding he has helped secure for Clarksville and Fort Campbell, adding up to nearly $350 million over the past 6 years. The projects include:
• $630,000 for a Chapel Center at Fort Campbell.
o Currently, Fort Campbell only has one-third the number of chapels they require and three of the current chapels are 65-year-old temporary wooden buildings.
o The new chapel facility would help support the 72 chaplains who perform 17 religious services weekly in conjunction with other regular weekly programs.
• $10 million for the School-Aged Services Center at Fort Campbell.
o This facility will provide before and after school care for children of our military families during the duty day.
o It supports troop readiness by reducing lost duty time due to conflict between parent responsibilities and unit mission requirements.
o At present, Fort Campbell’s requirement is being met by sharing space in a Youth Center and using gyms and cafeterias of five elementary schools after school has been dismissed.
• $2.2 million at Fort Campbell for the development and research of zero energy homes.
o This project will apply energy production and conservation technologies to the construction of a new development at Fort Campbell. (FY08)
• $28 million for privatized base housing
o Will improve the quality of life for the military personnel and families at Fort Campbell.
o Will increase the efficiency of base housing construction and maintenance which will result in cost savings for the Department of Defense. (FY06)
• $8.3 million for Fort Campbell’s main gate access point
o Will provide greater force protection and meet the Defense Department’s new anti-terrorism force protection standards.
o Funding will be used to replace the existing main gate access control point, and improve access for soldiers and civilians arriving or exiting the installation. (FY06)
• $203 million for Fort Campbell to complete eight military construction projects.
o $30 million will be used to build new group operations complex for the 5th Special Forces Group.
o $117 million to construct new barracks facilities.
o $10.3 million to continue construction on a combined arms collective training facility.
• $4 million for Clarksville & Montgomery County Schools to absorb the children of new soldiers attached to Fort Campbell.
o This funding was secured in the FY05 Defense Authorization bill.
• $10 million to construct the Wings of Liberty Military Museum at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
o The new 80,000 square foot facility will allow for the display of artifacts ranging from World War II D-Day invasion of Normandy to more recent operation in Bosnia, Kuwait and Iraq.
• $70.6 million for Fort Campbell to fund the construction of an airfield vehicle support facility, a standard design barracks and operations complex (phase I), a command and control facility, a shoot house, and aquatic training facility.
o The barracks will hold all of the soldiers in the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell.
o The command and control facility will house the Division staff and include administrative space, a conference room, intelligence centers, and an emergency operations center.
In addition, Alexander outlined Tennessee provisions that he secured in the 2005 Highway Bill, including:
• $4 million to construct a wall along Highway 41A
o Serves as a protection barrier for Fort Campbell, Montgomery County.
• $2.2 million to develop intelligent transportation signs at Fort Campbell access points in Montgomery County.
o These signs provide up to date information, including base gate closures and direction in the event of an evacuation.
• $2.72 million to construct a westbound bypass from Zinc Plant Road to Dotonsville Road in Montgomery County.
Alexander is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, as well as the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works that has jurisdiction over the highway bill.