Thursday, August 3, 2017

Forever GI Bill Headed to President

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday passed Legislation that is considered to be the largest expansion of Veterans Education Benefits in a decade.

Among other provisions, the “Forever GI Bill”, which now goes to President Trump to be Signed into Law, ends the 15-Year Limit Veterans had to use their Education Benefits, and corrects a Pentagon Deployment Authorization that has kept Thousands of National Guardsmen and Reservists from Accumulating Earned Education Benefits.

The American Legion joined other Veterans Service Organizations in urging Congress to Pass the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, which is named for The American Legion Past National Commander who created the Draft of the original GI Bill of Rights in 1944. The Legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives July 13th and quickly moved through both Chambers of Congress.

National Commander Charles Schmidt issued the following Statement after Passage of the Bill:

“On behalf of more than 2 million members of The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans organization, we thank the U.S. Senate for passing the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017. This bill, as currently written, will launch a new era for all who have honorably served in uniform, and for the nation as a whole. It will 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 will help today’s GI Bill live up to the world-changing accomplishments of the original, which transformed America after World War II. As the largest improvement of G.I. Bill benefits in a decade, we can think of no greater namesake for this bill than our past National Commander Harry Colmery; the architect of the original GI Bill. We especially thank Chairman Isakson, Ranking Member Tester, Chairman Roe, and Ranking Member Walz for their leadership, commitment to bipartisanship, and tireless effort in bringing this important legislation to fruition. We eagerly await the President’s signature on this legislation that will transform the lives of so many veterans.”

I entered the VA system in 1972. I used the GL Bill to take night college courses.

The Bill is actually the culmination of 18 Separate Bills:

A long-valued military benefit, the GI Bill can offer significant Tuition Assistance. Payments vary depending on how long a Veteran served on Active Duty, how many Credits he or she is taking, and the type of College attended, although at most Public Colleges, the GI Bill will cover the entire Tuition Bill. Since 2009, more than 350,000 Veterans have earned Postsecondary Certificates and Degrees through the GI Bill.

Lawmakers plan to Pay for the Expanded Benefits, which will cost $3 Billion over 10 years, by decreasing Living Stipends to GI Bill Recipients so that they fall in line with Active-Duty Service Members' Basic Housing Allowance.

Here are the Bill's biggest Changes for Student Veterans:

- It Eliminates the Time Limit to use the Benefits. In one of its most prominent Changes, the Bill does away with the Benefit Expiration Dates for any New Enlistees, hence its nickname, the "Forever GI Bill." Until now, Veterans had 15 years after they were Discharged to use the Money. This will help Adult Veterans return to School or Retrain for a Changing Job Market.

- It Expands Access to a Wider Group of Service Members. National Guard and Reserve Members will now be Eligible for Expanded Education Benefits. And any Member who Receives a Purple Heart, regardless of how long they have Served, will be eligible for the Full Benefits.

- It Restores Benefits for Veterans whose Colleges Shut Down in the Middle of the Semester. This Provision is specifically designed to help Veterans affected by the Abrupt Closures of massive For-Profit Chains in recent years, and to Shield Veterans from Future Closures. Any Veteran who Attends a College that Closes in the Middle of a Semester will have that Semester's Benefits Fully Restored.

- It gives an extra Boost to Students in STEM programs. The Expansion emphasizes Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Degrees by offering Additional Money to Veterans Enrolled in those Programs. Veterans would have to Apply for a specific STEM Scholarship, and could get either Nine Months of additional GI Bill Benefits or a lump sum of $30,000. The Scholarship is limited to $100 Million a year in Aggregate Benefits.

- It hopefully eases the Red Tape for Veterans trying to Access their Benefits. Among its other Provisions, the Bill also has one Critical, but less flashy, component: more Resources Dedicated to Technology and Training aimed at making the Program run more smoothly. Specifically, it Sets aside $30 Million to improve Information Technology for GI Bill Claims Processing at the Veterans Benefits Administration, part of the Department of Veterans Affairs. It also requires the Department to provide Training Requirements for School Certifying Officers, the College Staff Members who are responsible for completing all the Paperwork to Verify that an Enrolled Student is Eligible for Benefits.

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