On May 16, 2016, Senate Bill S.2921 was introduced by members of the United States Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The bill, The Veterans First Act, is a truly bipartisan omnibus package designed to bring much needed reform to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
One of the key provisions of the bill, deals with improving and enhancing veteran educational benefits for veterans and their dependents. It proposes, among other things, the following enhancements:
- Expands Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility to thousands of mobilized Reservists.
- Authorizes additional benefits for spouses and children and allows surviving spouses more time to use the education benefits.
- Allows the VA to reinstate benefits to veterans when their school [college] permanently closes.
- Improves the approval and oversight of education programs by the VA.
- Enhances programs that prepare veterans for careers through licensure and certification programs.
To me, the section of the Bill, which addresses benefits to surviving spouses and children is of particular importance. Why, you may ask? Let’s take a look.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill, Chapter 33, allows eligible service members to transfer all or a portion of their educational benefits to their spouse and/or dependent children. This is the first GI Bill program that has this transferability provision. In order to transfer their benefits, the service member must meet certain criteria established by the Department of Defense. The main criteria deals with their current rank/pay grade, time in service, and time remaining on their enlistment contract. Therefore, there are thousands of service members who cannot transfer their benefits until they meet the prescribed eligibility. So, if a service member is killed or becomes 100 percent disabled prior to their ability to transfer their benefits, under the current legislation the surviving spouse or children do not have access to these educational benefits and they are effectively lost.
True, a surviving spouse or child(ren) of a veteran killed during active duty or who becomes 100 percent disabled due to a service-connected incident, may receive educational benefits through the provisions of The Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance Program (Chapter 35, DEA). However, this benefit falls well below the current Post-9/11 GI Bill with regards to what it provides in educational benefits.
Senate Bill S.2921 seeks to provide surviving spouses and children of service members killed in action or who become 100 percent disabled due to a service-connected incident and who were not able to transfer their benefits previously access to these educational benefits.
Not only do service members make a commitment to serve our country selflessly and make sacrifices to do so, but their families do as well. When the ultimate sacrifice is made by a service member, that sacrifice is also made by the surviving spouse and children. Gold Star families deserve our thanks, appreciation, sympathy, and support. They deserve to have access to the educational benefits their service member earned.
I urge you to contact your legislators (writing an email will take less than 5 minutes) and have them support and vote for Senate Bill S.2921. It is time we all put Veterans First — and their families.
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