There is a famous quote attributed to John Lennon that is, “life is what happens to us when we are busy making other plans”. Often when talking with veterans of our armed forces, this sentiment enters the conversation when discussing unexpected life paths after active duty – especially when it comes to their educational pursuits.
Since it was first enacted in 1944, the GI Bill Department of Veterans Affairs education benefit has helped cover a significant portion of the costs associated with getting an education or training for service members, family members, and eligible veterans.
While the GI Bill has changed over the years, it is not meeting the evolving educational and training needs and methods required by our service members and veterans in 2017.
A case in point – under the current program, GI Bill benefits can be used for 15 years after leaving active duty. I often hear from veterans who never fully accessed their benefits because, as John Lennon indicated, other life events happened. I spoke with one veteran at one of the Veterans Care Fairs I hold every year. He explained to me that he never considered immediately using his GI Bill benefits because he was offered a great high paying job right after he left active service with the Marine Corps. Fifteen years later, the company he worked for went out of business and he was suddenly unemployed and unable to access his now expired GI Bill benefits to get training or go to school, to help prepare himself for his next professional chapter in life.
Veterans have also contacted me with frustrations of lost GI Bill benefits when their colleges or training schools closed unexpectedly in the middle of a school year leaving them with expired benefits and additional personal educational costs when they relocate and start over at a new college or training institution.
I would often ask the leadership of Congress why we couldn’t make changes to these benefits programs to reflect the changing times. After all, these benefits were rightfully earned by the men and women, and their families, who made tremendous sacrifices when fulfilling their duties in service to our country. In fact, why would we ever let that benefit expire because of outdated perceptions of educational and training needs?
I am happy to report the U.S. House of Representatives will soon be considering legislation I have cosponsored to provide the biggest reform and expansion of the GI Bill benefits in over a decade.
The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, H.R. 3218, named for the principal architect of the original 1944 GI Bill, would improve and extend GI Bill benefits granted to veterans, their surviving spouses, and dependents. This bipartisan, bicameral package is budget neutral and includes provisions proposed and prioritized by Veterans Service Organizations.
Key reforms in this legislation include:
- Removing the 15-year time limit to tap into benefits going forward and retroactively for those whose benefits may have already expired;
- Significantly increases GI Bill funding for Reservists and Guardsmen, dependents, surviving spouses and surviving dependents;
- Provides 100% GI Bill eligibility to Post 9/11 Purple Heart recipients;
- Restores eligibility for service members whose school closes in the middle of a semester;
- Creates a pilot program that would pay for veterans to take certain high technology courses not covered under the current GI Bill;
- And, it simplifies the benefit for future service members by consolidating the GI Bill into a single program which will reduce VA’s administrative costs.
I am proud to have cosponsored this important legislation which honors those who served by recognizing the changing and evolving educational and training needs as “life happens”.