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Disclaimer: The author of this site maintained the campaign weblog of John Kline's opponent in the 2006 election, which made Congressman Kline a bit testy.

As with all blogs, review the facts carefully and draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Kline's HEROES Act: Long on Rhetoric, Short on Substance

On March 25, 2003 (coincidentally the day my daughter was born), John Kline introduced his first legislation to the House of Representatives: H.R. 1412 of the 108th Congress, better known as the HEROES act:

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce a resolution expressing the support and commitment of the U.S. House of Representatives for the troops who are serving to protect and defend the United States. More specifically, the resolution encourages actions to extend and protect the postsecondary student financial aid monies of these soldiers during this uncertain time.

This resolution is simple in its purpose. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Congress passed the HEROES Act of 2001, which allowed the Secretary of Education to work with affected borrowers, lenders and institutions of higher education to grant flexibility surrounding student financial aid matters. This resolution urges the Secretary of Education to maintain his commitment to our men and women in uniform by providing assistance and flexibility as they transfer in and out of postsecondary education during this uncertain time.

The resolution also urges all postsecondary institutions to provide a full refund of tuition, fees and other charges to students who are members of the Armed Forces or are serving on active duty, including the Reserves and National Guard. Many times, America's military are also students. They are called away from their class work and studies to serve our nation's national defense. These heroes deserve the flexibility and accommodations that institutions of higher education can provide as they are leaving for active duty and returning to the classroom.

Lastly, this resolution urges lending institutions that hold or service Federal student loans for borrowers who have been called to serve the nation's defense to provide all available benefits and flexibility to these servicemen and women. When these servicemen and women return to the United States, we don't want to put them in a worse position financially because of the time they were overseas serving our nation.

I hope my colleagues join me in expressing the Congress's commitment to our military and to our students and families.
This is a nice gesture for supporting the troops, but it's really not much more than a gesture. If you read Kline's description closely, you'll notice that this bill doesn't mandate anything. It empowers the Secretary of Education to cut through some red tape on the behalf of veterans, but it doesn't oblige the Secretary to do so. Apart from that, it simply urges colleges, universities and institutions to assist veterans financially.

That's nice, but not terribly significant. Which probably explains why it took nearly five months for this relatively minor bill to become law. Massachusetts Democrat Marty Meehan, on the other hand, introduced his version of the HEROES Act (H.R. 2411 of the 109th Congress --- Help Extend Respect Owed to Every Soldier) this May. Here's the Library of Congress summary of that legislation:

Matthew Voisbert Help Extend Respect Owed to Every Soldier (HEROES) Act - Requires: (1) the Secretary of Defense to establish minimum uniform standards for postdeployment medical examinations; (2) that such examinations include screening for mental health and substance abuse disorders; and (3) follow-up services in appropriate cases.

Directs the Secretary of Defense to foster the early identification and treatment of mental health and substance abuse disorders experienced by members of the Armed Forces, with special emphasis on members who have served in a theater of combat operations within the preceding 12 months.

Directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to employ at least one psychiatrist and a complementary medical team at each Department of Veterans Affairs (Department) medical center to conduct a specialized program for the diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, and to employ additional mental health services specialists at such center. Authorizes such Secretary to contract for mental health and substance abuse treatment services in non-Department facilities when such services are not available in Department facilities.

Requires the Secretary of Defense to transmit to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs: (1) within seven days the medical records of all military personnel being discharged, released from active duty, or retired; and (2) a roster of all personnel who have served in the theater of operations during Operations Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom.

Directs the Secretary of Defense to assist eligible persons in obtaining employment in stable and permanent positions. Requires individualized transitional services to be provided to separating military personnel. Includes additional elements within a program under which the Secretary of Labor provides services and information to separating military personnel and their spouses.

Requires the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security to: (1) ensure that transition programs are provided at each military installation, National Guard armory and military family support center, and inpatient medical care facility; (2) ensure that military and veterans' service organizations and representatives are permitted to participate in such transition programs; and (3) facilitate the access of such State organizations and representatives to provide preseparation counseling and services to separating members.

Directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to facilitate the access of such organizations and representatives to provide member information on the care and services available.

Requires the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs to facilitate the sharing between their respective departments of information concerning member duties and assignments, exposures to toxic or hazardous substances, and illnesses or injuries incurred or aggravated in the course of such duties and assignments. Rescinds a Department Memorandum entitled "Status of VHA Enrollment and Associated Issues."

Directs the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to provide mortgage assistance to members who are seriously injured during military service.

Repeals the $1,200 reduction in basic pay currently required for participation in the Montgomery GI Bill educational assistance program.
Notice the stronger verbs in this legislation: "directs" and "requires" instead of "urges". Also note the final provision, which expands eligibility for participation in the G.I. Bill. That one piece of Meehan's legislation probably does more to support GIs pursuit of higher education than anything in Kline's HEROES bill.

But Republicans famously despise government regulation, which explains why Kline's bill doesn't mandate anything. Unfortunately, it also likely explains why Meehan's HEROES act died in committee.

(Kline's bill had a sunset provision of September 30, 2005. This past May, around the time Meehan was introducing his bill, Kline introduced a one-line bill (H.R. 2132 of the 109th Congress) extending his HEROES act through September 30, 2007).

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