NAICU Washington Update

Expanded GI Bill Benefits About to Become Law

Congress is on the verge of completing action on legislation substantially increasing the educational benefits available to veterans (see WIR, 4/28/08, 5/12/08, 5/28/08). The provisions of the "Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act" are included in the Iraq-Afghanistan supplemental appropriations bill approved by the House on June 19. The Senate will consider the measure the week of June 23, and President Bush has indicated he will sign it.

The expanded GI Bill benefits are identical to those provided in S. 22 - legislation introduced by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) The final measure also includes provisions sought by the administration permitting service members to transfer education benefits to family members. The cost of the benefits is expected to be about $62 billion over ten years.

Among other provisions, veterans with three years of service since September 11, 2001, would be eligible for a tuition benefit up to the cost of in-state tuition at the most expensive public college in a state. The in-state tuition figure is simply a cap on the tuition benefit; the same amount would be available to a veteran who chooses to attend a private institution.

The measure also creates the "Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program," under which the federal government would match, dollar-for-dollar, contributions that colleges and universities make to help veterans cover tuition costs above the maximum in-state public college tuition amount. These provisions, which will assist private college participation, were added at the behest of Sen. John Warner (R-Va.). Private institutions participating in the program would enter into an agreement with the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs. The agreement would spell out how the institutional match will be provided, the maximum amount of the institution's contribution, and the number of eligible veterans it will serve. (See detailed provisions of this section of the bill.)

These expanded educational benefits for veterans have broad bipartisan support - offering not only an appropriate acknowledge of the service that members of the military have provided but also a powerful affirmation of the value of a college education.

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