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President Obama signs nto law the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010. Photo by Chuck Kennedy, White House photographer President Obama signs nto law the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010. Photo by Chuck Kennedy, White House photographer

Welcoming gays to the military

Here it is—January 2011. The 112th Congress is now in session and soon we will start getting a clearer picture of what the new GOP numbers in the House and the Senate will produce that make it better for veterans and the rest of the American people. I am uncertain that anything good will come out for of the 112th for veterans but being the eternal optimist that I am I will wait and see.

 The 111th Congress—for all the flak they received—was one of the most productive sessions in many, many years. On items of interest to veterans we have much to thank them for. These range from the greatly improved and flexible GI Bill to an emphasis on VA Medical facilities and treatment of PTSD. Giving credit where credit is due, Idaho’s own Sen. James Risch—along with Sen. Blanche Lincoln—sponsored, and got passed, the “GI Benefits Modification” bill. This bill allows all honorably discharged veterans to use their GI Bill benefits for vocational training as well as traditional schools. See attached press release below.

December 14, 2010

Senate Approves Risch-Lincoln GI Benefits Modification

Expands Benefits to Non-Degree Vocational and Training Programs

Washington, DC—The United States Senate unanimously passed legislation last night to allow the use of education benefits under the GI bill for non-degree vocational and training programs. The modification, which was cosponsored by Senators Jim Risch and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), brings the Post-9/11 GI bill in line with prior versions of the law allowing veterans to use their benefits in a wider variety of education programs.

“This change is about flexibility. Non-degree vocational and training programs provide another option for our service men and women to develop the skills they need to make a living. They have earned these benefits and deserve the freedom to use them how they choose,” said Risch.

“The education benefits earned through the selfless service of our men and women in uniform should be structured in a manner that can best meet their specific needs,” Lincoln said. “Since World War II, GI Bill benefits have been essential to ensuring our service members and veterans can pursue an education or gain the additional skills they need; however, we should not limit the use of these benefits solely to pursuing degree programs at traditional universities. This bill will ensure that our service members and veterans can use their GI benefits more flexibly to develop skills that are critical to our workforce and our economy, in important trades like construction, aviation maintenance, certain medical programs, and other vocational and technical training.”

Several non-degree schools throughout Idaho will benefit from the legislation including the Pro-Weld Welding School in Nampa; the Idaho Real Estate School in Boise; Northwest Lineman Academy in Meridian; the School of Hairstyling in Chubbuck; Professional Truck Driving School in Twin Falls and Sage Technical Services Trucking Schools in Coeur d’Alene, Caldwell and Blackfoot.

The modification adds no additional costs to the GI bill.

To qualify for full-tuition benefits under the post-9/11 GI bill, individuals must have at least 3 years of active duty military service. Various percentages of benefits are provided for those serving anywhere from 90 days (excluding entry level and skill training) to 3 years of active duty military service. All recipients must have an honorable or other qualifying discharge from service. Those who suffer service-connected disabilities after more than 30 days of service are also eligible for full benefits.

I will be watching our Congressional delegation closely. Our newly elected replacement for Rep. Walt Minnick, Raul Labrador, has big shoes to fill when it comes to aiding veterans’ causes. Walt was in the forefront on every issue of interest to veterans. Congressman elect Labrador is—as is the entirety of Idaho’s Congressional delegation— not a veteran. None of our delegation has ever worn a uniform in defense of this country. All but one are lawyers— Rep. Simpson was a dentist prior to entering politics. I find it interesting that Idaho’s veterans would choose to elect people who have never served. But that’s politics in the second reddest state in the union (Wyoming now owns that distinction). Idaho is now Avis to Wyoming’s Hertz and therefore must try harder. 

I cannot close this article without mentioning the Senate passage of the “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” Repeal Act. Anyone who has ever worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces knows that gays have been in the military probably since Valley Forge or before. I served from October of 1959 until July 1980 and I am certain that there were gays on ships and stations that I served on. I’m reasonably certain that some of the sailors in my own departmental groups on those ships and stations were gay. Did that make a difference in the performance of our jobs? Did it affect ‘unit cohesion’? Were straight guys ‘recruited’ into the gay life-style? The answer to all these questions—in my experience—is a resounding ‘NO’. As long as the individual did their job, performed as expected in all circumstances and followed the rules that was okay. Were there occasional conflicts? Yes. But when you’re onboard a WWII Era destroyer with 250 of your ‘closest friends’ one didn’t have be gay to find conflicts. 

In ‘my Navy’—about 100 years ago—things were dealt with differently. People whose hygiene didn’t meet certain standards were given ‘showers’. Shipmates who felt they needed things that belonged to you, or another shipmate, sometimes ‘fell UP ladders’. I’ve been out so long I don’t recognize this Navy but I do know this. These young men and women, in all of our Armed Forces, are more professional—at every level—than we were in my day. And, as professionals, they will meet and handle any situation that may come up. I believe that our people in uniform are much better than they are often given credit for by their civilian leaders. A friend once told me that, “Our people in uniform are the best trained and most disciplined fighting force on the face of the Earth. They are also the bravest, until they put on their first star; then they become politicians.”

I hope that all had a wonderful holiday season and that you are looking forward to a better year in 2011. I know that at least the first quarter of this year will be good for me. As has become my habit by the time you read this I’ll be sipping a cold beer on the beach in Mexico. All the time I’m gone I’ll be following the North Idaho weather reports with a small but genuine smile on my face.

I will also be following with rapt attention those things that affect our active-duty and veteran communities—local, state and national. I will be spending hours ‘surfing’ the Internet, seeking out things that I feel may be of interest to the readers of The River Journal. If any reader learns of something happening in North Idaho that concerns or affects our veterans I’m only an email away. Thanks to the marvels of modern communications the world is today a much, much smaller place. Please feel free to contact me with news or opinions. Until next month­—Hasta la vista!

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Author info

Gil  Beyer Gil Beyer A 21 year Navy veteran, lived in Bonner County for over 30 years, Past Commander of the Priest River DAV Chapter and admitted news junkie.

Tagged as:

gay, homosexual, Senator James Risch, Senator Blanche Lincoln, GI Benefits Modification bill, Don't Ask Don't Tell

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