Clinton, Kaine at Odds Over Cuts to Post-9/11 GI Bill

Hillary criticizes efforts to ‘chip away’ at veterans bill despite VP pick’s legislative history

Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine
Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine / AP

Hillary Clinton and Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.), her vice presidential pick, are at odds over efforts to make cuts to the post-9/11 GI Bill that provides education benefits to U.S. military members, veterans, and their families.

Hillary Clinton accused Republican lawmakers of "chipping away" at the post-9/11 GI Bill in Monday remarks before the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. Kaine cosponsored legislation that would curb student veterans’ housing allowance to pay for other veterans’ programs.

"I will protect, preserve, and defend the post 9/11 GI Bill. It has opened doors of opportunity to more than 1 million veterans and family members. Unfortunately, there are some Republicans in Congress chipping away at it," Clinton said Monday, echoing the 2016 Democratic Party platform released last week. "We should protect and strengthen it, not let anyone erode it."

Kaine is one of 28 Democrats and 15 Republicans who cosponsored the Veterans First Act, legislation authored by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.) and unanimously approved by the committee in May. The bill would institute a number of reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs, such as giving the agency authority to swiftly hire and fire senior executives and strengthening a program allowing some veterans to seek care outside the VA.

The bill would implement approximately $3.4 billion in cuts to the post-9/11 GI Bill by reducing the growth of student veterans’ housing allowance. The cut would amount to a 5 percent reduction in housing payout growth, meaning student veterans would not see their housing payouts rise with inflation.

"We owe every veteran—including nearly 800,000 veterans who call Virginia home—timely access to quality health care. That starts by addressing their medical needs and correcting VA inefficiencies," Kaine said when the legislation was introduced in May. "The Veterans First Act builds on the reforms made in 2014 by giving the VA greater authority to make necessary staff changes to improve care and create a culture that protects those who speak out against wrong doing."

Clinton has made veterans issues a focal point of her campaign after claiming in October that failings at VA medical centers were not as "widespread" as Republicans made them out to be. Congress passed legislation to reform the VA in 2014 after hospital staffers were found keeping secret lists to conceal the long wait times that veterans endured for appointments. An independent assessment released last September found systemic problems at the VA.

Clinton named Kaine, a former governor of Virginia, as her running mate on Friday following the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. The senator was widely viewed as a safe choice for Clinton.

Clinton delivered remarks at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention on the same day as the start of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. The convention got off to a tumultuous start amid news that Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) would resign her position as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee following leaked emails that showed party officials favoring Clinton during the 2016 primary process.

The Clinton campaign did not respond to a request for comment.