The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (VA) voted today to approve a bipartisan bill to expand the Post-9/11 GI Bill, primarily by redefining eligibility and removing the 15-year cap for benefits that had forced veterans to “use it or lose it.”
VA Committee Chair Phil Roe (R-TN) and Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-MN) introduced the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017—nicknamed #ForeverGIBill—on July 13 and held a hearing on it July 17. ACE and five other higher education associations sent a letter of support for the measure in advance of the July 19 vote; it also has wide support from student veterans groups.
“This critical measure recognizes the contributions of our veterans and provides the resources necessary for them to succeed in higher education,” wrote ACE. “It comes at an important time for student veterans, as over five million Post-9/11 service members are expected to transition out of the military by 2020.”
The bill, which incorporates several pieces of bipartisan legislation previously introduced, would:
- Restore educational benefits for student veterans forced to discontinue due to the temporary or permanent closure of a school or if they are unable to transfer those credits to a new institution. This protection was added when thousands of veterans were hurt by the collapse of ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges.
- Expand full GI Bill benefits to all Purple Heart recipients. Currently, a veteran must be medically retired from the military or have 36 months of active-duty service to qualify. Approximately 1,500 Purple Heart recipients aren’t currently eligible for full education benefits.
- Grant a potential fifth year of Post-9/11 Bill eligibility to student veterans pursuing science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) degrees.
- Remove the time limit on accessing education benefits for veterans who become eligible after Jan. 1, 2018. Previously, vets receiving Post-9/11 benefits have a 15-year time limit on accessing education benefits.
- Expand the Yellow Ribbon program to include surviving spouses and children of service members killed in the line of duty. It also allows veterans to attend schools or enroll in programs that cost more than the GI Bill tuition cap.
The bill also includes language that would require institutions to report to the Department of Veterans Affairs if they have a priority course enrollment policy for student veterans, an issue ACE weighed in on in May.
The committee hopes to pass the legislation through the House and Senate before the August recess. However, given the multiple priorities of the Republican-led Congress over the next few weeks, it is unclear if this will happen.