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Confusion over education benefits bedevils military reservists.

WASHINGTON -- Military reservists who are called to active duty and put in years of service are often frustrated by a lack of understanding of their educational benefit system, a congressional committee has been told.

Unlike members of the regular armed forces, many reservists lose their educational benefits when they leave the service - a fact some reservists and members of the National Guard don't fully grasp.

"In some parts of the country, (the Reserve Educational Assistance Program) is either not widely known and/or not widely understood by the selected reservists themselves," said Charles Rowe, president of the National Association of State Approving Agencies.

Testifying at a House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity hearing on revamping the Montgomery GI Bill, Rowe said that longtime members of the National Guard and reservists who have served for years, and who may have recently been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, are shocked to learn they are not entitled to educational benefits under REAP after they retire.

They often find out they are not entitled to education benefits when they approach the Department of Veterans Affairs to apply.

Established in 2005, REAP is a program designed to provide educational assistance to reservists who are called to active duty during a time of war or national emergency. Reservists who served at least 90 days of active duty after Sept. 11,2001 are entitled to benefits on a sliding scale based on length of service.

It is separate from the GI Bill, under which reservists can earn benefits by serving at least six years.

Rowe said that state officials are finding the reservists "generally have a poor understanding of the ... benefits that they actually have, and most of the time they thought the educational benefits were significantly more than they turned out to be, and a large portion of them were completely unaware of the reality that their educational benefits were entirely lost when they finished their obligation."

Rowe added that reservists who have been deployed twice are dismayed to learn that their REAP benefits are based on the longer of the two "and is not based on the cumulative sum of months deployed, which effectively guarantees that for educational benefit purposes, one of the deployments doesn't count."

As of March 2007, 40,180 reservists or National Guard members have used REAP benefits, said Thomas Bush, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs. Some 42 percent of all reservists and National Guard members have applied for GI Bill educational benefits since 1986, he said.

"This indicates that educational assistance plays an important role in the decision to join the National Guard or reserve," he testified.

Bush said the Defense Department supports legislation that would allow some reservists to retain eligibility for up to 10 years after leaving the service.
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Author:Pekow, Charles
Publication:Community College Week
Date:Nov 5, 2007
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