by Tom Tarantino
Specialist Jeffrey Weaver, a Bronze Star recipient and severely injured combat veteran, breathed a sigh of relief when he learned that Congress finally passed a much-needed upgrade to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. SPC Weaver is currently at home recovering from a fractured spine he sustained after being ejected from a moving vehicle. As he recovers, he is struggling to finish his college education on the old and inadequate Montgomery GI Bill. He suffers from vertigo, hearing problems and loss of mobility, and online courses are his only option for higher education. Since online courses were excluded from the New GI Bill’s generous living allowance, however, he had to pay out of pocket for his food and rent.
Sadly, SPC Weaver was just one of the tens of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who were left behind when the historic Post-9/11 GI Bill passed two years ago. But that was version 1.0. Today, the President signed into law the New GI Bill 2.0, which ensures that no veteran is left behind. The legislation, which was supported by all the major veterans service organizations including the VFW, American Legion, DAV, AMVETS, SVA and MOAA, will improve benefits for nearly 400,000 student veterans and their families next year alone. That’s enough to populate the entire city of Colorado Springs.
New GI Bill 2.0 will help SPC Weaver and other Iraq and Afghanistan veterans by:
- Disabled Veterans: Raising monthly vocational rehabilitation benefits by nearly $800/month. This will help 21,000 disabled veterans, the size of the annual field of runners at the Boston Marathon, be able to afford to live and go to school.
- Improved Tuition Benefits: Simplifying the confusing tuition cap system and increasing the benefit rate in 45 states. SPC Weaver’s tuition benefit in California will increase by $8,000/year. Over 58,000 students will now receive higher tuition benefits, equal to the combined student population of Princeton, Harvard, Yale, MIT and William and Mary.
- Distance Learners: Granting over 25,000 full-time distance learners, a monthly living –allowance, including disabled veterans, single parents who provide at-home childcare, and rural veterans.
- Vocational Training: Authorizing generous New GI Bill benefits for apprenticeship and on-the-job training. This will help over 6,000 veterans participate in vocational training; the same number of workers that were needed to build the Hoover Dam.
- Trade Schools: Approving benefits for students studying at trade schools like a fire academy, truck driving school or a barber college. Approximately 6,000 students will now be able to attend a trade school next year, enough to staff the entire Los Angeles Fire Department.
- Full Time National Guard: Including full-time service in the National Guard as qualifying service toward New GI Bill eligibility. This will help over 85,000 previously excluded National Guardsmen, enough to fill the entire football stadium at the University of Texas.
- Active Duty: Granting over 19,000 active duty servicemembers using their GI Bill benefits an annual book stipend of $1,000/year, enough to fill an entire military division.
- New Recruits: Saving new enlistees to the military $1,200 by not requiring them to sign-up for the old and inadequate GI Bill. This will help 180,000 new service members per year, equivalent to the entire fighting force of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Not only will the New GI Bill 2.0 extend benefits to 400,000 additional veterans and families, it includes a provision that will protect student veterans from predatory for-profit schools. Currently, there is no way for the VA to decertify the bad-apple schools that are taking advantage of student veterans. The New GI Bill changes that and gives the VA the authority to protect veterans from those schools. This provision will not entirely solve the problem, but it will go along way to discard the bad-apples and protect veteran students. IAVA will continue to fight to protect veterans from predatory for-profit schools.
Still, some recent media coverage has attempted to cast New GI Bill 2.0 in a negative light, failing to highlight the tremendous impact this legislation will have on many new veterans and even making some false claims. For example, a recent NextGov blog claimed that New GI Bill 2.0 will cut private school tuition benefits in Massachusetts, when in fact a student veteran attending Boston University, Harvard or MIT will have their tuition benefits doubled. This claim resulted in part from the confusing tuition and fee caps in the New GI Bill 1.0, which sparked the effort to pass New GI Bill 2.0 upgrades in the first place.
No bill is perfect and although New GI Bill 2.0 accomplishes 99% of IAVA’s recommended upgrades to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, IAVA’s work on the New GI Bill is still not done. For example, some students enrolled in private schools in five states will see their tuition rates drop under New GI Bill 2.0. In response, IAVA is leading the charge to secure a grandfather clause that would allow these students to keep their higher tuition rates until they graduate. We were able to get this provision included in the House version of New GI Bill 2.0, but unfortunately it was not included in the final package that moved through Congress. While we continue to push for passage of that provision, IAVA will also be fighting to remove the “payer of last resort” provision that punishes student veterans for receiving academic scholarships. Additionally, we are also working to restore summer and winter break living stipends.
Just as we did in the 110th and 111th Congresses, IAVA will be leading the charge in the 112th Congress to put these final few finishing touches on this historic new benefit for veterans. Even while we hammer out these last few issues, we are proud that the well-earned New GI Bill benefits are going to be available to 400,000 new Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families in the coming school year. We’re confident its comprehensive reforms will ensure that the historic and generous New GI Bill will be around for generations of veterans to come.