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New GI Bill Would Make College Education a Lifetime Benefit

Marine walking with college books.

A bipartisan bill was introduced in the House of Representatives on Thursday to make the GI Bill for post 9/11 veterans a lifetime education benefit for new recruits who go on to serve three years of active duty.

Current post 9/11 veterans who qualify for the GI Bill would still be subject to the use-it-or-lose-it time limit of 15 years for the education benefit under the proposed "Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017," named for the late American Legion national commander who wrote the original GI Bill in 1944.

The proposed bill also included reforms and changes to the qualifications for the GI Bill for Purple Heart recipients, National Guard and reservists, the dependents of veterans, and victims of for-profit school closures.

At a news conference, Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he expected to hold a hearing Monday on the GI Bill proposal ahead of quick passage by the full Committee.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told the Associated Press that he also expected quick passage by the full House. "We'll move it out this month," he said.

On the Senate side, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said he was preparing to introduce a companion bill to the House version.

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn,, the ranking member on HVAC, said the bill would "enhance one of the best programs ever to come out of Congress," a reference to the original GI Bill that gave a college education to many returning World War II vets.

Proponents of the bill stressed the "forever" provision that would allow new recruits to use the GI Bill whenever they choose and not be bound by the 15-year limit. "This takes off that 15-year window," said Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Mich., a member of HVAC and a retired Marine lieutenant general.

If passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump, the new bill would take effect recruits who enlist after Jan. 1, 2018.

Veterans service organizations enthusiastically backed the bill. "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.

The new bill would address what were seen as shortcomings in the GI Bill of 2008 which guaranteed full-ride payment to any in-state public university -- or the cash amount for private college students similar to the value of a scholarship at a state college.

The old bill left out Purple Heart recipients who had not completed three years of active duty. The new bill would make Purple Heart recipients eligible for the education benefits no matter how long they served on active duty.

"This is going to mean a lot for a lot of wounded vets," said Aleks Morosky, legislative director of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. He estimated that 1,500-2,000 Purple Heart recipients had been ineligible for the education benefits because of the three-year active duty qualification.

The new bill would also restore educational benefits for vets who were enrolled in for-profit schools that shut down. Under the new provisions, those vets would be able to recover their educational assistance for future use.

In addition, National Guard members and Reservists who were involuntarily activated would become eligible for the full benefit received by their active duty counterparts.

In cases where a veteran transfers the education benefits to a dependent child, the new bill would eliminate the current prohibition against transferring the benefit to a second child should the first child die.

"This beefed-up Post-9/11 GI Bill recognizes the long service and sacrifice of the one percent of Americans who have voluntarily put their personal lives on hold to fight an unimaginable multi-front war for 16-plus years," Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander Brian Duffy said.

"The strong congressional support also proves that taking care of veterans and their families is the most bipartisan issue there is in Washington," Duffy said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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