Protections for veterans attending colleges that close. An end to the “15-year” rule for using VA benefits. Added incentives for pursuing tech or science-related degrees. These are just a few of the GI Bill® changes that were approved by both the House and Senate and signed by President Trump as the Forever GI Bill.
President Trump signed the Forever GI Bill, formally known as the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, on Wednesday, August 16, that brought about many changes to education benefits for service members, veterans, and their families.
At the time of initial passage of the bill, Nevada Senator Dean Heller posted an announcement on his official site, stating, “The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act makes much-needed updates for reservists, Purple Heart recipients, and veterans who face school closures while enrolled and surviving family members.”
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) August 16, 2017
Senator Heller had a hand in some of the provisions. Here are some of the “Heller Provisions”:
● S. 1362, Heller’s Guard and Reservists Education Improvement Act: which “adjusts the G.I.
bill tier structure to increase the benefit payable percentage for Guardsmen and Reservists who served less than 12 months. In many cases, time spent on initial training does not count toward active-duty time.” This section went into effect on August 1, 2018, and made retroactive to National Guard or Reservists whose service commenced on or after September 11, 2001.
● S.1277, VET TEC Act of 2017: This provision requires the Department of Veterans Affairs “to conduct a pilot program allowing veterans to access non-traditional technology education programs, including in the areas of computer programming, computer software, media application, and information sciences.” The VET TEC program was launched in April of 2019.
● S. 1489, Veterans Education Relief and Reinstatement Act (VERRA) of 2017: This provision expands the VA’s authority “to restore the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits of veterans who are affected by the permanent closure of ITT Tech or other institutions. Currently, VA cannot fully restore a veteran’s benefits if a school they attend permanently closes.”
The school closure issue gained traction after schools such as ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian College closed, leaving veterans without options to complete their degree. Previously, the VA could not restore benefits to those who attended a participating institution that closed before the student could finish a degree. The Forever GI Bill gave the VA authority to return some GI Bill benefits in such circumstances. The extent of that authority is outlined on the Department of Veteran Affairs website:
“If you attended an Institution of Higher Learning (e.g. college or university) program from January 1, 2015, to August 16, 2017, using your GI Bill benefits, and you have not transferred any of your credits to another college, you may qualify for restoration of the entitlement charged for the term you attended during the program or school closure.
VA will not charge you for the term, quarter, or semester you were attending when the school closed or your program was disapproved if:
- your college or program closed permanently, or
- a change to VA regulations or a new law caused your program to end, and
- you did not receive credit or lost training time for your program.”
Some 18 bills were initially combined or consolidated into the Forever GI Bill. Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, one of the legislators responsible for introducing the ambitious GI Bill expansion in the Senate, went on record saying, “The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill was one of the most significant achievements Congress passed in a generation. It has helped service members, veterans and their family members attend college and get an education that helps them get good-paying jobs. I myself received a degree through the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.”
When President Trump signed the bill into law in 2017, many GI Bill rules and regulations applied until the changes were put into effect. Currently, there are still a few sections pending.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News