The House overwhelmingly passed legislation on Monday to give veterans more flexibility in using their GI benefits to pay for school tuition.
Lawmakers passed the bill with a 405-0 vote that will now await Senate action before reaching President Trump’s desk.
The bill removes the current restriction that veterans use their GI benefits within a 15-year timeframe. Future recipients and veterans discharged after January 2013 would be able to use their benefits to return to school at any time in their lives.
The bill also ensures that post-9/11 Purple Heart recipients and veterans affected by school closures midsemester would be eligible for benefits.
“For the first time in history of our GI Bill, future beneficiaries and some veterans will be able to carry these benefits with them throughout their life,” said House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), the author of the legislation.
Lawmakers also passed several other bills to make reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), including to require a report listing bonuses awarded to senior executives.
But moments before passage of the GI expansion measure, House Democrats blocked legislation from passing under an expedited process to authorize a $2 billion funding extension for the Veterans Choice Program, which pays for certain veterans' health care. The VA has estimated the program will run out of money by mid-August.
The Veterans Choice Program extension was considered under a procedure that requires a two-thirds majority for passage. It failed to pass with the necessary supermajority on a vote of 219-186.
House Democratic leadership urged members to vote against the bill due to concerns it wouldn't provide adequate resources to meet demand. Several veterans advocacy organizations had also warned the bill was a step toward privatization of the VA.
"Instead of rushing through an inadequate bill that does not address critical funding issues the VA is facing, Republicans should not force the House to vote on this bill today, but instead allow the House and Senate to continue to work toward a bipartisan solution that can pass both chambers as well as receive support from [veterans service organizations]," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer's (D-Md.) office wrote in a notice to members on Monday.
The House is expected to consider a national security-themed spending package this week that includes funds for the VA and military construction projects.