WASHINGTON – Lawmakers are urging President Bush to ensure that education benefits are provided to the Minnesota National Guard, calling on him to issue an executive order if necessary to help members of one of the longest serving U.S. military units in Iraq.
Upon returning from Iraq this year, nearly half of the soldiers of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division — known as the "Red Bulls" — discovered they weren't eligible for full education benefits under the GI Bill. For some, just one day of service prevented them from being eligible for the full package, although all were eligible for some money.
The Army sent the case to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records for review. But according to the lawmakers, the board won't take up the soldiers as a group. That will jeopardize prospects for resolving the issue in time for enrollment for spring semester next year, they wrote in a letter to Bush on Tuesday.
"Because of their extended service and the extreme circumstances involved in their particular case, we ask that you take action, including the issuance of an executive order if necessary, to grant the members of the 1/34th Chapter 30 Active Duty GI Bill education benefits immediately," wrote the lawmakers. "These troops and their families deserve nothing less."
The letter, spearheaded by the Minnesota congressional delegation, was signed by 17 senators, including Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and by 14 House members, including all eight from Minnesota.
In a statement, Bush spokesman Alex Conant said the White House has been working with Coleman and Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., on the issue.
"We will continue to work with members of Congress to enhance the educational benefits for National Guard members and reservists in a way that recognizes their sacrifices but also keeps active duty retention levels strong," he said. "The National Guard has put into place an expedited process to review impacted guard member applications."
Army spokesman Paul Boyce said the Army sent a personnel team to Minnesota last weekend to help with the correction of records and to answer questions about benefits.
"The Army will continue helping these soldiers receive the benefits they are entitled," he said.