Bi-Partisan GI Bill Update Will Greatly Expand Education Benefits for Veterans

Lawmakers unveiled legislation last week that, if passed, will dramatically expand and improve higher education benefits for U.S. military veterans. The update to the Post-9/11 GI Bill proposes eliminating the 15-year time limit in which veterans must utilize education benefits, increasing aid for National Guard members, allowing veterans to transfer benefits to dependents, and expanding eligibility for Purple Heart recipients, among other changes.

Introduced by both House Republicans and Democrats as part of an effort to fill gaps for veterans in an ever-changing job market, the legislation would offer them increased flexibility to enroll in higher education later in life. It also incentivizes veterans to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields by offering additional payments to those pursuing STEM careers.

For members of the National Guard or Reserve who attend a private university, the bill would provide them an extra $2,300 per year to cover tuition, as well as an increased housing allowance. Additionally, under a new provision, Purple Heart recipients would no longer have to serve at least three years in the military to receive full access to GI Bill benefits; instead, they would automatically gain full eligibility.

Veterans groups have expressed broad support for the legislation — with Will Hubbard of Student Veterans of America calling it “the start of a new era for education for veterans” — yet, some believe it doesn’t go far enough. When it comes to restoring benefits for veterans who attended closed institutions such as Corinthian Colleges or ITT Tech, improvements could be made to the bill, some argue. As it is currently written, the bill would only reinstate one semester of benefits for individuals affected by closures since 2015 — a provision that also applies to future school closures.

Some advocates, such as Patrick Murray from the organization Veterans of Foreign Wars, believe benefits should be restored for each month a veteran attended a school that has since shuttered. Furthermore, because of the risk that many more for-profit institutions, which have large student-veteran populations, will close in the near future — due to the U.S. government no longer recognizing the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which accredits hundreds of for-profit institutions — veterans organizations are advocating for a legislative fix to school closures.

Lawmakers are expected to move forward on the GI Bill update this month, while a similar bill is anticipated from Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.