Military veterans and their families would see a significant expansion of education benefits through a bill that is being considered by a committee in the House.
The legislation, introduced by Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Rep. Tim Walz (Minn.), the panel’s ranking Democrat, would bolster the GI Bill, which offers tuition assistance, by allowing a longer time frame for using that assistance.
“We have a duty to care for every man and woman who has served their country honorably as they begin their transition from active duty to civilian life,” Roe said in a statement. “One essential way we can empower service members is to give them the tools they need to succeed in whatever career they pursue.”
In particular, the new legislation would remove the 15-year cap for benefits that had forced veterans to “use it or lose it.” Eligible veterans would be allowed to go back to school at any time for life. Proponents of the legislation are calling it the “Forever GI Bill,” because the benefits would not expire for troops who become eligible after Jan. 1, 2018.
The bill also addresses several technicalities that limit the total number of recipients of GI Bill benefits.
The legislation would open eligibility for future generations of veterans, including to reservists who deploy on active duty, recipients of the Purple Heart regardless of the amount of time they serve, and surviving spouses and dependents of veterans who die during their service.
Will Hubbard, the vice president of government relations for Student Veterans of America, said that the goal of the new bill is to make education “a right of service and not a cost of war.”
“If you serve in the military, you should be able to go to school,” said Hubbard, a Marine Corps reservist.
The bill also would restore benefits to veterans affected by school closures, including a retroactive provision to offer relief for those who lost benefits because of the recent shutdown of the for-profit ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian College.
Ashlynne Haycock, the senior coordinator for education services at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, said the bill is focused on “things that should have been fixed a long time ago.”
Officially titled the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, the bill is receiving widespread support among veterans groups, including Student Veterans of America, Got Your 6 and the Travis Manion Foundation.
“The Forever GI Bill is a perfect example of how Washington can come together to support our nation’s veterans and their families,” said Lauren Augustine, an Army veteran who deployed to Iraq and serves as director of government relations for Got Your 6.
“This bipartisan bill was crafted in the spirit of compromise to not only ensure overwhelming political support but to show how our country should take care of future generations of veterans,” Augustine said. “There is no better way to empower our veterans when they return home than by providing all those who served a runway to a great education, no matter when they want to pursue their schooling.”