New GI Bill

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New GI Bill in Recently Passed HR 2642

Senate Amendment 4803 to HR 2642 created a new GI Bill for veterans.  As amended, the new legislation designates differing amounts of payments to be made to fund the higher education of men and women who have served on active duty in the Armed Forces beginning on or after September 11, 2001, based on factors such as length of active duty service and disabilities accrued, and specifies that these payments shall not exceed the cost of in-state tuition at the most expensive public university in the state in which the individual is enrolled (Sec. 4003).  The legislation also establishes a program through which assistance voluntarily provided by an educational institution for a member of the Armed Forces that covers a portion of the amount by which tuition exceeds the cost of in-state tuition would be matched by the Secretary of Defense (Sec. 4003).  http://www.votesmart.org/issue_keyvote_detail.php?cs_id=19358

Unlike the previous GI Bill, National Guard veterans will be eligible to receive the same benefits as regular Armed Forces veterans for the same active duty service, and are not required to remain in the National Guard.  Senate Amendment 4802 is an unaltered version of legislation written by Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) and also sponsored by Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE)

Some of the benefit specifics are as follows:  Some limited educational assistance will be available to any service member with more than three months of active duty service after 9/11/2001.  A service member with three years of active duty service after 9/11/2001 will be eligible for up to 36 months of in-state public college tuition plus $1000 per year for books.  That is four years of full-time academic pursuit.  Under certain circumstances, the education benefits can be transferred to the spouse or children of the veteran.  These 36 months can be transferred at the six-year mark for a four-year re-enlistment in the force. After ten years of military service, a service member may transfer 36 months or any remaining months up to 36 to a dependent for another four-year enlistment.  Full benefits of the bill will begin in August 2009, and eligibility will expire 15 years after the individual leaves the service.

The legislation also will pay a monthly stipend to cover living expenses. The stipend would reflect local housing costs near school and would be set to equal military Basic Allowance for Housing for married enlisted in grade E-5, which by long-standing DoD policy is a two-bedroom townhouse.

Veterans who have already used all their benefits under the previous GI Bill would not be eligible for additional benefits.  Veterans who have used part of their GI Bill benefits will be eligible for the increased benefits over the education time they have not yet used.

Under the new plan, the national average estimated tuition and housing benefit next year will be $16,676. According to numbers compiled by the Stars and Stripes military publication, a veteran living in Wyoming would get the lowest estimated tuition and housing benefit under the new plan, at $12,554, while one living in Michigan would get the highest, at $22,094. http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1590428/20080703/id_0.jhtml

Senator Jim Webb (D, VA), a Vietnam War Marine Corps veteran and former Secretary of the Navy, submitted this new GI Bill (S.22) on his first day in the Senate in January 2007. The Bush Administration resisted this bi-partisan legislation for a long time.  The lead cosponsors were Senators Chuck Hagel (R, NE), Frank Lautenberg (D, NJ), and John Warner (R, VA).

To win Senator John Warner’s support, Senator Webb added the feature to encourage private colleges to make their schools affordable to veterans. Schools that agree to pay half of their tuition in excess of the most costly state schools would see the government cover the remaining half. Thus academically qualified veterans could attend some of the best schools in the country. Warner said it’s the kind of opportunity he got after World War II using the GI Bill.

The cost of the program is estimated to be $62 billion over 10 years. While Senator Webb is right that taking care of veterans must be considered a cost of war, it is irresponsible that Republicans in Congress and the White House refused to come up with money to pay for it. To get Republican support for the measure, House leaders agreed to drop what would have been a perfectly reasonable tax on affluent Americans. So the country is left with yet another unfunded entitlement program.

Senator John McCain opposed the new GI Bill, explaining that it would be an incentive for military personnel to leave the service at a time when retention and recruitment problems were already straining the U.S. military services.  (It was a little strange that at the signing ceremony on June 30, President George W. Bush credited Senator McCain along with Senators Webb, Burr, Graham, and Warner for sponsoring the new GI Bill. Senator McCain was not among the 62 Senators who finally joined the list of cosponsors, and he did not even show up to vote on the amendment adding it to HR 2642.  Senators Burr and Graham had sought to weaken the new GI Bill, and then voted against it.) http://www.thecarpetbaggerreport.com/archives/16047.html, http://www.votesmart.org/issue_keyvote_member.php?cs_id=19358

The position taken by Senator Webb and many veterans groups was that, rather than continuing to spend billions in bonuses for lower-standard enlistees, increasing GI Bill benefits would encourage high-aptitude young people to join the military. The GI Bill is the military’s single most effective recruitment tool: the number-one reason civilians join the military is to get money for college.

Congratulations to Senator Jim Webb for writing this fine piece of legislation, and then assembling a bi-partisan coalition of legislators and veterans groups to create the mandate for its passage.

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