Forever GI Bill One Step Closer to Reality

July 21, 2017

The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, affectionately known as the “Forever GI Bill,” is making its way quickly through the halls of Congress, gaining a great deal of bipartisan, bicameral support along the way.  

This week the House held a number of meetings and hearings on the bill, H.R. 3218, introduced by House Veterans Affairs Committee chair Tim Roe (R-Tenn.), ultimately passing it through the committee on Wednesday.  

The massive bill, incorporating 17 separate bills and 28 provisions, is complex and far-reaching if implemented.   

In a letter to Chairman Roe and ranking member Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret), thanked committee members for addressing a number of long-overlooked inequities and needs of servicemembers falling through the cracks of a benefit intended to recognize and reward the sacrifices they and their families have voluntarily shouldered over many years at war.  

Four key elements of the bill address long-standing goals of MOAA and The Military Coalition:

  • Equity for Guard and Reserve servicemembers currently ineligible for or with limited ability to accrue Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits due to order status, convalescent leave, or medical leave
  • Correction of limitations on Yellow Ribbon Program eligibility for survivors using the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship
  • Restoration of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to veterans affected by closure of their educational institution
  • Extension of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to recipients of the Purple Heart  

MOAA believes this educational benefit plays a pivotal role in our current national security landscape supported by an all-volunteer force.  

“As such, in recognition of the authority granted to the Department of Defense (DoD) in offering this benefit, eventually delivered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), we want to amplify the importance of a comprehensive evaluation of the second-and third-order effects of changes to its structure,” Atkins wrote.  

“Those necessary to complete such an evaluation will include, at a minimum, DoD, VA, and the Department of Education,” he added. “Changes to the benefit without full exploration by all stakeholders could put the viability of the benefit and its utility at risk.”  

So is this really a forever GI bill, and what's in the bill for you?  

Perhaps most significantly, the bill would eliminate the current time limit to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill for new servicemembers entering the military beginning Jan. 1, 2018.  Currently veterans have 15 years from their time of separation or retirement from the military to use the benefit.  

Other educational enhancements include: aligning the living stipend payments for the GI Bill to the same basic allowance for housing rates (E-5 with dependent rate) used for active duty members; changing payments for certain licensure and certifications and national tests; increasing tuition for veterans pursuing science, technology, engineering, or mathematics degrees; and increasing monthly payments by $200 for those under the Survivors' and Dependent Educational Assistance Program.  

“We can anticipate this very complex bill will have some bumps along the way during implementation,” said Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret), MOAA's director of government relations for veterans health and wounded, ill and injured matters, at a meeting this week with House members.  “It will require Congress and stakeholders all working together through the process to ensure VA has the resources and funding required to make these necessary improvements.”  

Some members and veterans' groups have indicated this is just the beginning of a number of other changes to the bill they'd like to see.  Time will tell if the Forever GI Bill will become a reality - but we do know, for the time being, the full House and Senate are poised to take up the bill and expected to move it quickly through the legislative process.   

Stay tuned for more information on the final outcome.

 

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