Sept. 11 Veterans Ed. Bills Up For Vote

    Several bills have been introduced to Congress this month calling for increased education benefits for veterans who served on or after Sept. 11, 2001.

    Among the sponsors of the various bills are Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.).

    The GI Bill for the 21st Century was introduced simultaneously to both branches of Congress on May 16 – to the Senate by Clinton and to the House by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) – while Webb presented the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007 to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs on May 9. Both bills come in response to the growing post 9/11 veteran population and rising cost of education across the nation.

    “”The GI Bill has helped millions of soldiers transition successfully to civilian life and it has been one of the best investments we have made as a nation,”” Clinton said. “”Now it is time to update and modernize the GI Bill for the 21st century to meet the needs of today’s soldiers, veterans and their families.””

    The proposed bills would assist veterans by funding full tuition for four academic years, paying room and board and covering other educational costs.

    Webb’s bill will provide an additional stipend of $1,000 per month and cover a wide array of traditional college, apprenticeship and technical programs.

    “”When we are talking about truly honoring service and truly taking care of the people who have served in an affirmative way, I can’t think of a better thing to do than to allow them to reach the level of their talent with the type of educational assistance that will allow them to go to any school that they can get into,”” Webb said to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

    Clinton’s legislation would revoke the pay-in requirement of the current GI Bill and expand not only educational benefits, but housing and entrepreneurial benefits as well.

    Present benefits awarded under the Montgomery GI Bill require a $1,200 buy-in and pay $1,075 a month for 36 months while veterans are enrolled in approved courses. Following initial enrollment, recipients have a 10-year period to use their full benefits before surplus funds are rescinded.

    The bills are a throwback to the World War II GI Bill signed into law in 1944 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1947, veterans accounted for 49 percent of college admissions, and by the expiration of the original GI Bill in 1956, the total number of WWII veterans who had received benefits was 7.8 million – nearly half of all those who had returned from the war.

    “”There have been other veterans’ education programs, but none as ample as the original legislation,”” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), co-sponsor and supporter of Webb’s bill. “”Currently, veterans’ educational benefits are provided under the Montgomery GI Bill, which is designed primarily for peacetime – not wartime – veterans.””

    John Muir College junior and veteran Andrew Kleist said he feels one of the drawbacks to the current GI Bill is that payment amounts are deducted from financial aid awards, and that most veterans would receive an equal amount of money for college even without GI Bill benefits.

    “”If the GI Bill is designed to facilitate students going to college who otherwise wouldn’t, it doesn’t really work,”” Kleist said. “”I think people who use the GI Bill would go to school even without it.””

    Despite enthusiastic support from veterans’ organizations and politicians, there are several aspects of the new bills that have raised concerns. These include the high cost of implementing the changes and, in the case of Webb’s bill, the complexity of the drafted legislation.

    The Department of Veterans Affairs Undersecretary of Benefits Daniel L. Cooper responded to Webb’s proposed bill by addressing concerns to the Committee on Veteran’s Affairs during the May 9 hearing.

    “”We have serious concerns about certain provisions of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007 and therefore oppose it,”” Cooper said. “”The complexity of eligibility rules, anticipated cost and administrative burden associated with this bill are all problematic.””

    According to Cooper, it is also unclear what effect benefits would have on military recruiting and retention.

    “”While we defer to [the Department of Defense] on this matter, we acknowledge that this may lead to lower reenlistments,”” he said.

    Furthermore, the Department of Veterans Affairs determined that the bill would result in benefit costs of $5.4 billion during fiscal year 2008, $32.2 billion for fiscal years 2008 through 2012 and $74.7 billion over the 10-year period from fiscal year 2008 through 2017. 

    As a veteran, Earl Warren College junior Ryan Nelms would welcome the new legislation, though he has some reservations.

    “”It seems it would cost a ridiculous amount of money,”” he said. “”There are a lot of other financial issues in the military they could deal with.””

    Another GI Bill proposal is the Montgomery GI Bill for Life Act of 2007, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.). This bill would not change financial aspects of the GI Bill but would eliminate the time constraints on use.

    Cantwell said benefits should not have an expiration date because many service members leave the military with family obligations, develop work commitments and face economic difficulties – all of which hinder enrollment and completion of educational programs.

    “”Times have changed, and we owe it to our veterans to keep up,”” Larsen said in a press release. “”In today’s changing economy, veterans should be able to get the education they need when they need it.””

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