The House on Tuesday will vote on a bill that cuts benefits for troops' college-age children, despite objections that the bill could affect current active-duty service members who were promised the benefit when they joined the military.
The Veterans Employment, Education and Healthcare Improvement Act, scheduled to be considered by the House on Tuesday, gives spouses of troops who died more time to use their education benefits and more flexibility in attending private universities.
It pays for these changes by slashing the housing allowance for college-age children of service members by 50 percent, a cut to which some members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee objected.
Troops are able to transfer their education benefits to their spouse or dependents, but not until they have served for six years. There may be troops who signed up two years ago, for example, and were promised the full benefit for their children upon joining the military, but by the time they reach the six-year mark, their children will receive only 50 percent of the housing benefit under the new law.
"A small handful of Democrats objected to the bill's offset, and the committee tried to address their concerns. But since the members in question offered no suggestions for replacing the offset, we are moving forward with the bill in its current form," a House staffer told the Washington Examiner.
In a September markup, Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., said he was concerned about a "donut hole" of service members who would be affected by the changes.
"While supportive of the overall goals of the legislation, Rep. Walz has objected to pay-for language in the bill. He is hopeful before the bill becomes law, that language can be improved in conference," Sara Severs, the deputy chief of staff to Walz, said in a statement.
"This is a benefit promised and then pulled back after you signed up. It may be a small number, but it's a pretty important red line," Walz said during the markup.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, said in the markup that he appreciated Walz and Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., raising the issue and that it "may be something we have to address."
A staff member from Wenstrup's office confirmed that that issue is in the final bill, but noted that the bill treats service members better than recommended by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, which wanted to cut the benefit entirely and not grandfather in those serving.
Advocates for troops say they don't like the cut to the basic housing allowance for children, but otherwise support the bill because it does some positive things they have been pushing for for spouses, reservists and guardsmen.
"We don't like it, but like everything else in legislation these days, there is no such thing as perfect legislation. Sadly and unfortunately, all of us are put in a situation where you give up something to get something," said Bob Norton, the deputy director of government relations at the Military Officers Association of America.
Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars also both support the legislation.
The stipend often exceeds actual housing costs. Norton said 18-year-old single dependents go to college and receive the housing allowance of an E-5 with a family of four in whatever zip code their school is located.
Despite this, some veterans groups still oppose the changes.
"These cuts will negatively impact our country's ability to attract and retain the military personnel required to maintain our national security," Matt Miller, the chief policy officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, wrote in a letter to lawmakers last week. "Such cuts will also be counter to the benefits communicated to the many who began their military service following the establishment of the Post-9/11 GI Bill."