Senators voted unanimously Wednesday to send the largest expansion of GI Bill educational benefits in nearly a decade to President Trump’s desk for enactment.
The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act (H.R.3218), known as the Forever GI Bill, eliminates the rule that veterans have a benefits deadline of 15 years from their last active duty discharge date for all new service members.
It also closes a loophole where reservists who were deployed for disasters and overseas military support under Title 10, Section 12304 of the U.S. Code did not accrue GI Bill benefits. Military and veterans’ groups testified before a Senate panel earlier this summer in support of reservists who did not find out that they were ineligible for GI Bill benefits until they had returned home from a deployment.
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The House passed the bill unanimously last week. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin applauded Congress for its swift action on the issue of veterans’ education.
“Congress has spoken with a strong voice in support of our veterans this afternoon,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “The Forever GI Bill expands the success our veterans have had with the GI Bill providing opportunities that otherwise would not be possible.”
John Rowan, president of Vietnam Veterans of America, said he was glad to see lawmakers prioritize the issue of improving veterans’ access to education.
“We were guided by our founding principle to improve the GI Bill so that it works for future generations,” he said in a statement. “We called for a GI Bill that wouldn’t arbitrarily be taken away 15 years after a veteran leaves the service—and because everyone from the traditional organizations to the newest stood with us—Congress answered the call by quickly passing the Forever GI Bill.”
The bill also ensures reservists will continue to accrue GI Bill benefits while undergoing medical care or recovering from injuries sustained while on active duty, and it increases the eligibility ratio for reservists on active duty. For members who serve from 90 days to six months, the ratio increases from 40 percent to 50 percent of benefits payable, and for six months to one year of service the ratio increases from 50 percent to 60 percent.
All Purple Heart recipients would receive full GI Bill eligibility, and the bill would restore eligibility to service members whose college or institution closes mid-semester.
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and ranking member Jon Tester, D-Mont., praised their colleagues for their swift and broad support.
“This bipartisan bill will help Montana's service members transition back to civilian life by opening doors for their future success," Tester said. "It also does right by guardsmen and reservists by getting them the education, housing and health care that they have earned. I look forward to working with President Trump to quickly sign our bill into law."
“This bill invests in the proven success of our veterans,” said Isakson. “When our veterans return home, they should have every opportunity available to them to pursue their desired profession and career. I thank Congress for quickly approving this bipartisan, bicameral legislative package. This is a great victory for our veterans and their futures.”