The House veterans affairs committee unanimously approved changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill Wednesday. It is one of two bills introduced in the last month to better educational benefits to future veterans.
If passed, the new GI Bill, a major enlistment enticement for service members, would no longer feature the 15-year "use it or lose it" time limit. While this has been largely well received, some say it doesn't go far enough.
In addition, another bill would require educational benefits to be made available to those wishing to attend certain pre-apprenticeship programs that currently must be paid for out of pocket.
Both bipartisan bills share co-sponsors Mike Bost (R-Ill.), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), and Timothy Waltz (D-Minn.).
If passed, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 would make several changes to the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The changes include expanding benefits for Purple Heart recipients, those serving as reservists, and surviving dependents.
It also provides additional benefits to those pursuing an education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics - or STEM - fields.
But the biggest change is the removal of the 15-year time limit that service members currently have to use the benefit after they separate from service, something colloquially known as the "use it or lose it" requirement.
The new terms of the Post 9/11 GI bill would only apply to service members who become eligible after January 1, 2018. Those currently serving and eligible are out of luck. To be eligible, a service member must serve 90 days of active duty service.
Many lawmakers and veterans group hail the bill as a win for veterans.
"This is a really important day and a day that should be celebrated,” said committee member Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) in an interview with Military Times.
"Not only have (veterans) given to our country and served our country, but they are also giving to their communities while they’re learning and they are then turning around and fulfilling jobs and enriching their community." - U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.)
"It’s a twofer," she continued. "It’s a valuable, valuable investment that we’re making – not only in our veterans, but also in our future."
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard tweeted:
Unfortunately, in referring to veterans in the present tense, lawmakers are misrepresenting the bill, since no one currently serving on active duty will benefit from it.
"There’s a piece of the pie for everybody,"said Lauren Augustine, Government Relations Director of Got Your 6. "It’s good to see everybody have a win out of this."
Augustine did acknowledge that it would have been nice to see the new GI bill extend to all veterans, but there just wasn't enough money, so it's better to take care of those looking forward, something that Vietnam Veterans of America obviously disagrees with.
"What we care about most, what we want to still see get done, is we'd like to see every veteran who is kicked out who has PTSD, who has TBI (a traumatic brain injury) who lost their access to the GI Bill gain eligibility." - Kristofer Goldsmith, assistant director for policy and government affairs at Vietnam Veterans of America.
He added, "That’s not in this, but that’s VVA’s next major priority when it comes to the GI Bill."
The bill would allow veterans to use their educational benefits to enroll in certain pre-apprenticeship programs in preparation for an apprenticeship. It would also provide returning veterans with a smoother transition to the civilian workforce.
"As a veteran, I know first-hand the difficulties our returning service members face as they transition to civilian life. This bill will make it easier for them to obtain jobs using the benefits they earned," said Rep. McSally.
Rep. McSally said in a press release:
"Stable, good-paying tradecraft and manufacturing jobs in our community remain vacant because there aren't enough people with the skills to fill them. Allowing GI bill use for these training programs benefits our returning troops and their families, as well as local businesses. It only makes sense. Thanks to Rep. Gabbard for working with me on this commonsense legislation."
Currently, GI benefits cannot be used to cover the cost of approved pre-apprenticeship programs.
Many veterans, as a result, face barriers to entry into skilled trade apprenticeship programs because they lack the required pre-apprenticeship training. The Veterans’ Entry to Apprenticeship Act would fix that.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, skilled trade programs are expected to grow faster than average, as a growing economy and population gives rise to the need for new infrastructure and those baby boomers who were encouraged into the trades decades ago retire.
This bill will make it easier for veterans to fill those critical gaps.