One of the biggest educational benefit challenges facing transitioning veterans is time. Under the current law governing the post-9/11 GI Bill, veterans have 15 years to use or lose their benefits—and many transitioning vets are simply not ready to go to college when they separate from active service. Others only use a portion of their benefits to gain a certificate or other industry-related qualifications when they transition, only to have their benefits lapse when they seek to make a career change requiring additional or more advanced education.
Last month, with a unanimous vote of 405-0, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to expand the post-9/11 GI Bill to eliminate the 15-year limit on educational benefits for new recruits to use once separated from military service after January 2018.
The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 then passed the Senate, and it is hoped that President Trump will sign it into law before the August recess. The Colmery bill was named for the American Legion member who wrote the initial WWII GI Bill. For veterans who separated from active service prior to the Colmery Bill, the 15-year shelf-life of their educational benefits remains in effect.
Additional changes incorporated in the Colmery Bill eliminate the three years of active-duty service requirement for recipients of the Purple Heart. It also eases the requirements for GI Bill eligibility for members of the National Guard and Reserves, survivors, and dependents.
Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said this bill "will empower service members, survivors, and dependents for generations to come." He continued by saying, "For the first time in the history of our GI Bill, they can carry these benefits with them throughout their lives."
In order to successfully implement the new changes and administer the reforms in the Colmery Bill, significant upgrades to the information technology systems within the Department of Veterans Affairs are required, according to VA officials. A major concern for Curtis Coy, Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity in the Veterans Benefits Administration, is the IT infrastructure. According to Coy, “almost all of these sections [of the bill] require some degree of changes in our IT system.”
If the bill becomes law—and the VA can make the necessary IT upgrades—the Colmery Bill will positively affect veterans for decades to come.
This article originally appeared on MilitaryOnlineColleges.org.
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