Congress asked to delay GI Bill changes
The following clarification to this story was posted March 29: A story in the Spring 2010 Education Guide about the new GI Bill should have said the bill covers tuition based on the cost of the most expensive state school in a veteran’s home state, but the money can be used at any university nationwide. The story also incorrectly said that the bill provides $1,000 per month for housing and living expenses. In fact, it provides a housing stipend equal to the Basic Allowance for Housing that an E-5 with dependents would get for the school’s ZIP code.
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Department of Veterans Affairs has asked Congress to wait until next year to change the Post 9/11 GI Bill, but veterans groups still plan to press Congress to expand and improve the program.
The new GI Bill covers tuition based on the cost of the most expensive state school in a veteran's home state, and it provides a housing stipend equal to the Basic Allowance for Housing that an E-5 with dependents would get for the school’s zip code.
But the program has had startup glitches, prompting the Department of Veterans Affairs to issue $3,000 cash advances in September to veterans still waiting for their living stipends. Later, the VA announced it would ask veterans to repay the money.
The director of the VA’s education service recently asked Congress to hold off changing the new GI Bill until after a new payment system is put into place in December, according to Army Times.
But Ryan Gallucci, a spokesman for AMVETS, said “the legislative wheels need to start spinning now” on ways to add benefits to the new GI Bill.
“We need to have a clear definition of where the Post 9/11 GI Bill is going to go by the end of the year, even if legislation is passed with the caveat that this doesn’t take effect until late December,” Gallucci said.
One of AMVETS’ priorities for 2010 is to expand the living stipend to include veterans taking courses online, he said.
“If you’re a full-time student, you’re a full-time student, whether or not you report to a building or take all your classes online,” Gallucci said.
AMVETS and other veterans groups want to expand the new GI Bill to provide more benefits for vocational training.
While the new GI Bill has more benefits than its predecessor, it only covers tuition for vocational training that is affiliated with a major college, said Steve Robertson, legislative director for the American Legion.
“We really think it would be an injustice to force [veterans] to go to college when they may not need the higher education to do whatever it is they want to vocationally,” Robertson said.
But the legion is wary about pressing for too many changes to the new GI Bill, he said.
“Major changes are going to cause delays. … I would hate to jeopardize the overall program by trying to add a whole bunch of things all at once,” Robertson said.
Any changes to the Post 9/11 GI Bill might have to wait, said Brian Hawthorne, legislative director for Student Veterans of America.
Ultimately, the group would like Congress to simplify how veterans get money for tuition, which varies widely from state to state, he said. It also wants the time National Guardsmen are mobilized by their states to count toward their GI Bill benefits.
But Hawthorne said he did not expect any changes to the new GI Bill until 2012.
“This is an election year and nobody is going to just make major changes this year anyway because of the VA, and then next year we have to find the money, so this is kind of a taboo hands-off topic right now.
“And so once the [veterans groups] can come to an agreement on what we want, then we can all start lobbying together for the same issues and the same solutions and we can get one comprehensive bill that can cover everything,” he said.