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The American Legion takes strong stand against outsourcing administration of new GI Bill benefits

VA can do the job itself, says National Commander

WASHINGTON, DC (Sept. 11, 2008) – The National Commander of The American Legion says his organization strongly opposes a plan to hand over the administration of new GI Bill educational benefits to private contractors.

“We cheered loudly when the Post-9/11 GI Bill was passed earlier this summer,” said David K. Rehbein, who recently took office as the head of the country's largest veterans advocacy organization. “The new GI Bill brings the benefits package earned by America's young warriors up to date – and that's a good thing.  Naturally, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) now wants to bring the processing of benefits up to date, too.  That's also a good thing – but the way they want to do it is not.”

VA is moving quickly to hire an outside contractor to design, build, implement and operate, on a continuing basis, a computerized system to handle benefit claims requests and processing. In a recent interview, Dr. James Peake, Secretary of Veterans Affairs since late 2007, said, “You talk to young people. What they do is text message. That's how they communicate. I'm anxious to see if an industry comes back and says, ‘Yeah, as soon as we get a claim, here's your text message, here's our response, here's where you are. We're not talking about inherently governmental functions here.'”

“That's all well and good,” Commander Rehbein said. “We, too, want our veterans' applications to be processed as quickly as possible and communications to be efficient and timely in their delivery.  We have no quarrel with the idea, but we believe strongly that VA currently possesses the talents, skills, expertise and resources to implement such modernization. VA was created to fulfill obligations like this, not to hire someone else to do it.”

Commander Rehbein says The American Legion's opposition to VA's plan is based on practicality.  “The VA employs nearly a quarter of a million people. Those employees have intimate knowledge of veterans' often unique needs and how best to serve them. If outsiders were to build a system of automation, they would have to know just where a computer should stop in the process and where a human should intervene. That would not be something easily learned. We believe that VA's own information technology team is extremely capable and perfectly equipped to develop, launch and administer all the provisions of the new GI Bill. If help is needed, a great opportunity is present to hire young veterans with IT abilities to help VA develop this automated process internally.”

The American Legion's National Executive Committee passed a resolution during the organization's 90th National Convention in Phoenix, Arizona last month opposing efforts by VA to hire outside contractors to fulfill the requirements of the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act.

Commander Rehbein is in Washington this week to present The American Legion's legislative priorities to a joint session of congressional Veterans' Affairs Committees.

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