Veterans and servicemembers eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill already have an outstanding education benefit. But it soon could become even more valuable and easier to use.

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Tuesday released details of the GI Bill reform package it approved two weeks ago. It includes almost every change sought by veterans’ service organizations, institutes of higher learning, trade unions, vocational schools and VA administrators.

The only two key elements missing are a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office and a plan to pay for the program.

The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 (S. 3447) would expand education options beyond the pursuit of a college degree and into almost any type of training a veteran might want.

At the same time, the bill would enhance and simplify the payment formula, and ease confusion for students. The new GI Bill also would be opened to at least 80,000 National Guard members who were previously denied coverage. And its monthly living allowance would be used in a way to support enrollment in apprenticeships and on-the-job training programs.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, is leading the reform effort and drawing bipartisan support. The CBO cost estimate should be known before Congress returns in September, when attention will shift to finding ways to pay for the bill.

Rep. Walter Minnick, D-Idaho, has introduced a similar bill in the House (H.R. 5933). Among its early co-sponsors is Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. His committee plans its own hearing on GI Bill reform Sept. 16, a move that raises hope among veterans’ groups and educators that a final bill could be passed this year.

Akaka’s original bill “was good,” said Eric Hilleman, national legislative director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “The one he’s put out (of committee) is outstanding. We’re super-excited about it.”

Here are more details:

The revised GI bill would fully cover tuition and fees for all in-state degree programs including doctorates or graduate degrees. Removed would be a cap tied to the most costly in-state undergraduate degree program.Payments to private or non-state colleges would be simplified using an identical $20,000 cap across all states. Private college payments no longer would capped at the highest priced in-state school. This would raise veterans’ assistance in 45 states and clarify for private colleges the point at which standard GI Bill coverage stops and the new for additional assistance using the Yellow-Ribbon feature starts. The $20,000 ceiling would be adjusted every August 1 to reflect changes in education costs nationwide.Veterans who take enough online classes to exceed “half-time” student status could receive 50 percent of the GI Bill’s monthly living allowance. Currently they don’t qualify for any of this payment, which is based on local military housing allowance rates for married E-5s.Post-9/11 students on active duty, or their enrolled spouses, would qualify for the $1,000 annual book allowance. Any Guard member called to active duty since 9/11 by the president or secretary of defense under Title 32, used often for domestic emergencies or homeland security missions — or to serve full time under the Active Guard and Reserve program — would be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.Veterans enrolled in a qualified on-the-job or apprenticeship training would be paid 100 percent of the applicable living allowance for the first six months, 80 percent for the second six months, 60 percent for the third, 40 percent for the fourth, and 20 percent for any subsequent periods of training. This would be in addition to their GI Bill benefit, to be set for vocational training at the lesser of $20,000 a year or actual tuition and fees.To comment, send e-mail to or write to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, 20120-1111

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