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House passes GI Bill fixes, but will the Senate act?

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers on Monday passed fixes to the GI Bill designed to help about 30,000 student veterans who could see their tuition bills soar this fall. But whether Senate lawmakers will follow their lead in coming weeks remains to be seen.

The problem stems from changes passed by Congress in December which will cap private college and out-of-state university tuition payouts at $17,500 per year. The House measure, supported by a host veterans groups, would grandfather in students already receiving more than that amount for the duration of their degree program, preventing them from having to take out unexpected student loans.

Before passing the bill, House members changed how the $50 million tuition fix will be paid for. Previously, the measure called for a freeze in living stipends for two years to offset the cost. After an amendment, the $50 million will now be raised through changes in fees on VA home loans.

In a statement Monday, bill sponsor Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said he hoped the Senate would act swiftly on the measure.

“The clock is ticking for 30,000 of our veterans attending universities across the country,” he said.

So far the Senate hasn’t taken up the issue. The new $17,500 cap is scheduled to start on Aug. 1.

Earlier this month, VA officials warned that another round of changes to the GI Bill benefits, even well intentioned, could jeopardize payouts for the entire system. Keith Wilson, director of education service for the Veterans Benefits Administration, said that the changes would force claims workers to go back to manual processing of GI Bill payouts, a situation which caused massive delays back in 2009.

Lawmakers on the House Veterans Affairs Committee said they understood the changes will likely complicate work for the department, but have publicly pledged to find ways to solve those problems.

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