If you’re a recent veteran, Congress is working on improvements to the Post-9/11 GI Bill that might just make you want to reenlist.
Dubbed the “Forever GI Bill” because it would erase the 15-year use-it-or-lose-it time limit on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 would give Purple Heart recipients full eligibility and expand benefits for Guardsmen and Reservists, as well as for surviving spouses and dependents of fallen service members. The bill also would provide extra benefits for those pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), which typically take five years to complete.
These changes would apply only to those who enlist after Jan. 1, 2018. There is one notable exception: The bill would retroactively restore GI Bill benefits lost when Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech closed.
The bill was introduced last week by Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and ranking member Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.). It enjoys bipartisan support and is backed by numerous Veterans Service Organizations (VSO) – including the American Legion, the largest VSO with more than 2 million members.
“This bill, as currently written, would launch a new era for all who have honorably served in uniform, and for the nation as a whole,” said Charles Schmidt, national commander of the American Legion. “It would close current gaps in the existing Post 9/11 GI Bill and guarantee that veterans have access to their hard-earned GI Bill benefits beyond the current 15-year time limit. In essence, it would help today’s GI Bill live up to the world-changing accomplishments of the original, which transformed America after World War II.”
The American Legion was instrumental in the creation of the original GI Bill, which opened the doors of higher education to millions of World War II veterans. Harry Colmery, who was the national commander at the time, is considered the principal architect.
John Kamin, an Iraq veteran who now serves as the American Legion’s assistant director of the Veterans Employment & Education Division, testified Monday night at a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing.
“This bill makes it possible for veterans to utilize this benefit at the right time in the right place, and more importantly, it takes the benefit out of the government’s hand and gives it to the veteran,” he said.
If passed by Congress as written, HR 3218 would make 28 changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Here are six of the most significant changes:
- Time Limit. The current 15-year cap on using the Post-9/11 GI Bill would be removed, allowing future recipients to use the benefit at any time during their life.
- Purple Heart Equity. Any Purple Heart recipient would automatically receive 100 percent eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Currently, only those who serve 36 consecutive months on active duty are eligible for full benefits – even if they are wounded.
- Reservist Equity: Guardsmen and Reservists would receive additional GI Bill funding. The bill also would allow Guardsmen and Reservists serving under 12304, 12304(a) and 12304(b) orders to accrue GI Bill benefits while activated.
- Yellow Ribbon for Survivors: Spouses and dependents of service members killed in action would be eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program, which provides funding for private colleges and universities.
- Lost Benefits: Students affected by school closures since 2015 would have some of their GI Bill benefits restored.
- STEM: Military and student veterans pursuing degrees in STEM would earn extra benefits since most STEM degrees require five years of education. At full eligibility, the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers only 36 months – four academic years.
Considered budget neutral, the bill would be paid for by reducing monthly housing allowances to match reductions in the Basic Housing Allowance for active duty troops.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which administers the GI Bill, has paid out nearly $74 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits since it went into effect in August 2009.
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