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Increased benefits sought for Reservists Sen. Schumer says soldiers deserve more

Members of the Reserve and National Guard constitute nearly half of the fighting forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, but their benefits lag far behind those of active military forces, Sen. Charles E. Schumer said in a stop in Buffalo Wednesday.

Now Schumer wants to change that, promising to introduce in the new Congress legislation to double education benefits and increase access to medical care.

"The same bullets are fired at enlisted men and women as are at the Reserves," he said, "and they deserve the same benefits when they come home."

The senator gathered eight Reservists and veterans officials for an afternoon news conference in Prospect Park opposite the Connecticut Street Armory. He pointed out that a Reserve soldier who is attending school and participating in full-time training receives only a $297 per month stipend, while active duty soldiers receive $1,097 per month.

He also said Reserve soldiers wounded overseas could be sent anywhere in the United States to recuperate, while active soldiers are sent to their home bases where families often live. Refusing an assignment to a faraway base means giving up all other benefits, he said.

"To make somebody risk their life for us and then have to choose between family and benefits is just not fair," he said.

Schumer pointed to other inequities as well. He said only 8 percent of active duty requests for benefits are refused by the military, while 18 percent of Reservists are turned down.

"What we have to do is try and bring these things to equality," he said.

He said he will propose that education benefits for members of the Reserve and National Guard be doubled to $600 per month and that Reservists be treated at facilities near their homes without losing military benefits. The legislation also will require the Veterans Affairs inspector general to investigate all discrepancies in benefits between active duty and Reserve and National Guard personnel.

"This will not create complete equality, but this is a large first step," Schumer said.

The senator said he does not fear that increasing Reserve and Guard benefits will hinder regular military enlistment, since all military branches need more personnel. He said the Guard and Reserve are in more need.

"When you ask people to make these sacrifices, cost should not matter. I think this legislation will pass rather quickly," he said.

On the war, Schumer said the mission of American forces has changed substantially and he is troubled it has "devolved" into policing a civil war.

"I believe our goal should not be policing a civil war, but should be counter-terrorism," he said.

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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