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Legislation would ensure GI Bill changes don't land vets in debt

By LEO SHANE III | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 8, 2011

WASHINGTON — Legislation introduced in Congress this week would ensure that students attending college under the new post-9/11 GI Bill will have their full tuition covered, even if the cost exceeds the $17,500 cap put in place under recent changes to the program.

The measures, overshadowed by the looming government shutdown, are sponsored by House Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. In statements released Thursday, both said they hope to act on the legislation before the new changes go into effect, potentially costing some student veterans thousands of dollars.

In December, Congress passed changes to the new GI Bill rules, including a flat rate of $17,500 per year for tuition and fees for private and out-of-state public universities. That move will give most students thousands more in tuition funding, but for students whose current tuition costs exceed $17,500, the move could leave them deep in debt.

Veterans groups have urged lawmakers to pass a quick fix to grandfather those students in at current tuition rates, making sure they can complete their college classes. Both Schumer’s and Miller’s bills would do that, promising all veterans currently enrolled in classes tuition assistance totaling either $17,500 or the money they received for the fall 2010 semester, whichever is greater.

In a statement, Schumer said the move will “ensure that our veterans receive the full benefits they were promised and rightly deserve.”

Miller told Stars and Stripes that he’s optimistic his bill can be passed before the changes go into effect this August, saying the move will “allows [a student veteran] to finish the education they started.”

Miller’s bill would pay for the grandfather clause by holding GI Bill housing stipends flat for two years, a move that could cost all student veterans several hundred dollars in coming months. Miller said that move was needed to make sure the fix did not add to the national deficit. Schumer’s measure does not include a cost offset.

No hearings have been scheduled on either bill. If legislation is not passed, the new GI Bill tuition rates will go into effect for the fall 2011 semester.

shanel@stripes.osd.mil

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