The House passed legislation on Wednesday that would expand eligibility for GI Bill education benefits for National Guard and Reserve troops.
Lawmakers passed the bill on a bipartisan basis, 287-135, with 68 Republicans joining with all Democrats in support.
National Guard and military reservists currently don't accrue the same benefits as their active-duty counterparts under the GI Bill, which helps qualifying veterans and their family members pay for higher education.
The legislation approved by the House would eliminate that disparity by allowing all federal missions, as well as training days in uniform, to count toward GI benefits for National Guard and Reserve troops.
"National Guard and Reserve members are increasingly serving on the front lines of our nation’s greatest challenges, responding to climate disasters, the pandemic, and the attack on our nation’s Capitol building," said Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.), the bill's chief author.
"It’s shameful that we have asked Guard and Reserve members to respond to these crises without providing them with the same GI Bill benefits as the active duty service members who they often serve with."
Based on data from the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the increased eligibility under the bill would affect more than 40,000 National Guard and Reserve troops.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where it's not clear whether it could overcome a GOP filibuster. A majority of House Republicans voted against the bill on Wednesday, despite the 68 who supported it.
Many of the Republicans who did vote for the bill are centrists who have more frequently crossed party lines or are members of the House Armed Services Committee.
But other Republicans argued that allowing training to count toward accruing GI benefits would drive up costs.
Rep. Mike BostMichael (Mike) J. BostMORE (Ill.), the top Republican on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said he thought it would be a better use of resources to instead direct funding toward "higher priority issues" like expanding services for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals.
"While I support the intent of this bill, I do not believe that it is the right solution for our National Guard and reserves at this time," Bost said during House floor debate. "In a tight fiscal environment, I believe that full active-duty benefits for training and drilling is a bridge too far."
Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, qualifying veterans can receive up to three years' worth of benefits covering tuition and fees, housing and the cost of books and supplies. The amount of the benefits depends on how long service members are on active duty, with the maximum amount available to people who served for at least three full years.