Vietnam Veteran George Beebe lost his long-held job as an ATM technician in 2010 after the company he worked for ran into legal trouble and closed up shop, he says. In order to find a new job in a difficult economy Beebe decided to pursue a career as a locksmith.
Becoming a certified locksmith requires a host of expensive classes, seminars, and other expenses that Beebe, who was raised in Meriden and now lives in Cheshire, figured the Montgomery GI Bill would help fund. But his alotted 36 months of educational benefits, built up from 11 years in the Marines and another 10 in the Army National Guard had expired 10 years after he was discharged – something he didn't know was possible.
Frustrated, Beebe wrote an e-mail to his local congressman, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT), last year, and to his surprise, Murphy not only answered him, but has decided to sponsor legislation in congress that would remove expiration dates from Montgomery GI Bill benefits.
The congressman announced the bill to a small crowd at the Meriden Senior Center Wednesday morning, with Beebe in the audience.
"It doesn't make any sense to deny GI benefits to veterans who served their country, no matter when they apply," Murphy said. "To me it's pretty simple - veterans serve us when they go and fight for us abroad, when they come back, it's our turn to serve them. The security that they provide this nation through their service never expires – so the benefits we owe them shouldn't expire either."
Murphy said he will introduce what he's calling the "Restore the Promise Act" when he returns to Washington, D.C. next week.
The Montgomery GI Bill is for veterans who served in the U.S. military from roughly the Vietnam-era through the Gulf War era. Other GI Bills exist for those who served in conflicts prior to Vietnam, and the Post 9/11 GI Bill is for those who were in the conflicts of the last decade.
Education benefits offered in all the bills have an expiration date – but Murphy said he is focusing on Vietnam and Gulf-era veterans because they're the group most impacted by the nation's economic downturn right now. At the height of the recession, Murphy said, 15 percent of Vietnam and Gulf Era Veterans were out of work in the state, and the education credits could help many vets obtain the education needed to get jobs.
"In an economy like this with tens of thousands of people out of work, that unemployment burden is falling disproportionately on veterans – and more disproportionately on Vietnam veterans," Murphy said.
Post 9/11 GI benefits don't expire for 15 years, Murphy said, which means there are a few years left before any servicemember would lose them. The Congressman hopes that passing the "Restore the Promise Act" would pave the way for dashing expiration dates for Post 9/11 GI benefits and others.
Murphy said he expects the act to be received well by both sides of the aisle. The only issue could be potential cost, which he said, will be calculated by the Congressional Budget Office after the bill is introduced. Right now, according to Murphy, no one knows how many people – hundreds, thousands – are out there who would use the benefits if they were restored.
"I expect that I'm going to draw a lot of Republican and Democratic support for this bill," Murphy said, "In part because I think there are a lot of members of congress who don't understand that your GI benefits expire."
For Beebe, passage of the bill couldn't come too soon. He has been apprenticing at a Southington lock company and just spent about $3,000 with travel for a week-long class offered only out of state for basic locksmith training. He said he still seeks "master locksmith" certification which will include costly training in specific locks, including electronic locks.
"Right now, I need to go to school if I want to become a locksmith. It's an honest trade, it's a good trade," Beebe told the crowd, and in an interview later said he'd be delighted if the bill helped out other veterans in the same position.
"George is representative of thousands of veterans who in a bad economy just hit hard times," Murphy said. "And it's crazy to me if you serve for 20 years between the Marine Corps and the National Guard and some arbitrary rule is going to deny you the ability to go back and get retrained."