Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have unanimously passed legislation to make major changes to education benefits for military veterans. Now all that’s left is for President Trump to sign it into law — and the White House says he will.
The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2017 has garnered strong bipartisan support in Congress, where lawmakers have worked to fast-track the bill to the president’s desk. Senators passed the legislation by voice vote Wednesday, less than three weeks after the Forever GI Bill, as it’s become known, was introduced in the House of Representatives.
“This bill invests in the proven success of our veterans,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans‘ Affairs. “When our veterans return home, they should have every opportunity available to them to pursue their desired profession and career. I thank Congress for quickly approving this bipartisan, bicameral legislative package. This is a great victory for our veterans and their futures.”
The new GI Bill would bring significant changes to the current law passed in 2008. Among its most popular provisions are the elimination — for veterans who left the military in 2013 or later — of a 15-year use-or-lose rule, as well as the expansion of benefits for reservists, Purple Heart recipients and surviving dependents. It would also restore GI Bill benefits to veterans impacted by school closures since 2015 and allocate more funds for college degree programs in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.
If the Forever GI Bill becomes law, some of the provisions would take effect Jan. 1, 2018. Others would start next August, and others — like granting active-duty service members eligibility for the Yellow Ribbon Program — would not apply for a few more years.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., ranking member on Isakson’s committee, said the legislation will open doors for service members transitioning back to civilian life and aid them in their transition.
“It also does right by Guardsmen and Reservists by getting them the education, housing and healthcare that they have earned,” he said. “I look forward to working with President Trump to quickly sign our bill into law.”
A White House spokesman said the president intends to sign the legislation, but it’s not clear when.
The legislation is the culmination of two years of legislative lobbying from several prominent veterans service organizations. Earlier efforts to expand the GI Bill by reverting to a pay-in structure for the benefits proved controversial — with some calling it a “tax on troops” — and temporarily halted congressional talks on the issue.
The updated version of the bill calls for slight reductions in the monthly housing allowances for new GI Bill enrollees to pay for the estimated $3 billion cost of the benefits expansion. The 1 percent reductions would take place over five years.
VSO leaders celebrated the bill’s passage Wednesday and praised Congress for its bipartisan efforts.
“The Forever GI Bill is proof that even a divided nation can come together to support our veterans and their families,” said Got Your 6 Director of Government Relations Lauren Augustine. “This comprehensive bill will provide millions of current and future veterans and their loved ones the peace of mind knowing the education benefits they’ve earned are secure.“