New G.I. Bill: long-term investment in veterans

As chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I am charged with ensuring that our veterans receive the very best care, honor, and respect that a grateful nation can bestow. I am extremely pleased that Congress made good on an important promise to our veterans by passing the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, one of the key bipartisan achievements of the 110th Congress. Providing veterans with the means to better themselves through educational opportunities has been a goal of this nation since 1944, when the first G.I. Bill of Rights laid a foundation for veterans to have the support necessary to readjust to civilian life.  Now, in 2009, this country has come together to fully invest in the future of our heroes and support those who have borne the heaviest burdens of war.

The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is truly a G.I. Bill for the 21st century! It will cover the costs of a four-year college education for the brave men and women returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — on par with the educational benefits available after World War II. This bill will give our returning troops the tools to succeed after military service, strengthen our economy in the face of increasing global competition, and make military service more attractive as we work to rebuild our military. We owe our veterans a future that is equal to the first-class service that they have given to our country.

The original G.I. Bill sparked economic growth and expansion for a whole generation of Americans. It made a free college education available to more than 15 million war veterans after World War II. The original G.I. Bill paid the full cost of tuition at any public or private college or university. By 1956, about 8 million World War II veterans had taken advantage of the G.I. Bill education and training benefit, including some of our nation’s greatest leaders. According to a congressional study, the original G.I. Bill returned $7 to the economy for every $1 spent.

America’s veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now have an incredible opportunity to play a larger role in an American economic recovery. The United States has never erred when it has made sustained new investments in higher education and job training. The educational opportunities offered by the new G.I. Bill help veterans achieve higher income levels, which increases our national prosperity.

In recent decades, educational benefits for veterans have not been as expansive as the original G.I. Bill — and no longer fully cover the costs of a four-year college education. Prior to the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, veterans’ educational benefits were administered under the Montgomery G.I. Bill — a program designed primarily for peacetime, not wartime, service. Current educational benefits under the Montgomery G.I. Bill only pay about 60 percent of a public college education and 30 percent of a private college education. Furthermore, Reservists and National Guardsmen, who have made an unprecedented commitment with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, receive only a fraction of the benefit. Most veterans will find that the new G.I. Bill offers increased benefits compared to the Montgomery G.I. Bill; however, there may be exceptions for those still on active duty or taking night classes.

{mosads}Under the bill, education benefits are increased for all those who have served at least three months on active duty since 9/11. Those who have served for three years or more would qualify for the full educational benefit — i.e., the costs of a four-year education up to the level of the most expensive in-state public college. Those who have served between three months and three years of active duty would qualify for a proportion of that full benefit. Also, for those service members with six years of service, coupled with an additional service agreement of at least four years, the new G.I. Bill allows them to transfer unused educational benefits to their wives and children.

A vital component to the success of the original G.I. Bill was a home loan guarantee program, which continues to provide support to veterans as they readjust to civilian life.  For many of our returning service members and veterans, the stress of deployment is still prevalent when they return home. Congress took action to pass three major bills to provide for the housing needs of veterans — The HEART Act, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act, and the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act. Together, these new laws prohibit foreclosure for nine months after military service, provide a much needed increase to the VA home loan limit, enable more veterans to refinance their existing high-risk loans with government-backed loans, and expand homeownership opportunities by making thousands of veterans eligible for low-interest loans.

America has indeed made a long-term commitment to our nation’s veterans by providing a quality educational benefit for those to whom we owe so much. Indeed, with many of our troops having served two, three, or more tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is past time for us to have enacted a new veterans’ education program modeled on the World War II-era G.I. Bill. On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind. As a nation, let it be our pledge that when they return home, we leave no veteran behind.

Filner is chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.


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