There is a lot of division in Congress these days, and the split between the aisles seems to be growing more entrenched all the time. Even non-partisan, non-controversial bills often get tied up for months or years in subcommittees, votes, amendments, and debate. Earlier this month, however, Congress came together in bipartisan support of an updated GI Bill — known as the Forever GI Bill — and passed it unanimously in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
On Wednesday, President Trump signed the bill into law, vastly expanding education benefits for veterans and military families.
The Forever GI Bill has sweeping benefits for veterans, surviving dependents, reservists, and more, but the biggest reform in the bill that has veterans groups cheering is the “forever” aspect. Under the current law, veterans who are eligible for GI education benefits have a 15-year window to use those benefits before they disappear for good. The new bill eliminates that time frame so that anyone eligible for the benefits will always be eligible to use those benefits — a year from now or three decades from now.
Since many service members put their life, career, and education on hold in order to put on the uniform and serve their country with honor, this new update will allow veterans to transition back into civilian life, pick up where they may have left off, or start a new path at a time that is best for them without a clock ticking down on what they have earned.
“This was a truly bipartisan effort lead by some amazing organizations and leaders within Congress, all committed to ensuring veterans and their families have the opportunity for a college education post-military service,” said Jared Lyon, president of Student Veterans of America. “I could not be more proud of the team effort that went into making this a reality. This is what collaboration looks like, and this is what leadership looks like.”
The Forever GI Bill, or Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 as it is officially called, includes lots of other updates to help veterans and dependents. For one thing, the new version of the GI Bill gets rid of any generational tags, such as “post 9/11,” and simply refers to all veterans the same way. It also guarantees benefits for all Purple Heart recipients; currently, some Purple Heart recipients do not qualify for full benefits (particularly reservists). The new GI Bill’s benefits, according to Task & Purpose, “could restore benefits for thousands of Purple Heart recipients, mainly Guardsmen and reservists who served alongside their active-duty colleagues.”
Some of the other major provisions of the bill include an extension of Yellow Ribbon education assistance benefits to surviving spouses and dependents of a GI Bill veteran, as well as restoring educational benefits to veterans who suffered when for-profit schools shut down in recent years. With the new GI Bill, veterans whose school programs were closed down would be able to get their educational assistance back and use it in the future.
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“When our veterans return home, they should have every opportunity available to them to pursue their desired profession and career,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “I thank Congress for quickly approving this bipartisan, bicameral legislative package. This is a great victory for our veterans and their futures.”
Different provisions of the Forever GI Bill would go into effect at different times. Some of the benefits, once it is signed into law, would take effect Jan. 1, 2018. Others would take effect next August, while others would see a few years pass before implementation. The bill was named after the past commander of the American Legion who wrote the original GI Bill of Rights in 1944. The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 — or Forever GI Bill — took just 20 days to pass through the House and the Senate with unanimous votes in both chambers. President Trump signed it into law on Wednesday privately with VA Secretary David Shulkin.
Will Hubbard, vice president of Student Veterans of America, said, “The folks who experience school closures, survivors of the fallen, Purple Heart recipients and reservists who have all earned the GI Bill and were waiting for so long are finally going to get the benefits and education they so strongly deserve.”
Jacob H. is an award-winning journalist and photojournalist who currently resides is West Michigan with his wife. In his spare time, Jacob enjoys writing, photography, mountain climbing, and camping.