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 have been approved by both the House and Senate.
President Trump signed the new Forever GI Bill on Wednesday, August 16 2017 that brings about many changes to education benefits for service members, veterans and their families.
Known as both the “Forever GI Bill” and more formally as the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, the changes have, at the time of this writing, now must to be signed into law, and not vetoed, by the President before they can take effect.
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) August 16, 2017
Nevada Senator Dean Heller posted an announcement about the passage of the bill 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.”
Senator Heller had a hand in some of the provisions now awaiting the President’s signature. Among those “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”
● 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”.
● 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 veterans’ benefits if a school they attend permanently closes”.
The school closure issue is an important one that has gained additional traction in recent times due to school closings such as ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian College. Under current rules, the VA cannot restore benefits to those who attend a participating institution that closes before the student can finish a degree. The “Forever” GI Bill would give the VA authority to give back some GI Bill benefits in such circumstances. The extent of that authority and the specifics aren’t officially available from the VA at the time of this writing.
Some 18 bills were combined or consolidated into the Forever GI Bill now waiting to be signed into law. Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, one of the legislators responsible for introducing this 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 Servicemembers, 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…”
Until the President signs the bill into law, current GI Bill rules and regulations will apply, but a number of the changes described here are anticipated to become effective starting in 2018, assuming the bill gets signed into law.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News