How did the largest expansion of GI Bill benefits in a decade, a bill that was all but dead in April, gain life support and now is set to breeze through the House?
Engagement of Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), and bipartisan compromise on Capitol Hill, brought the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2017 — also known as the “Forever” GI Bill — back to life and is expected to move forward after a House committee markup hearing Monday night.
However, veterans, advocates, and even members of Congress were not always optimistic about passing these much-needed reforms.
In April, about 6 months of behind-the-scenes work appeared to fall apart after it became public a measure was being considered among Veteran Support Organizations that would require future service members to pay for improved GI Bill benefits.
“Ultimately, this could have been something that may have been divisive, but we went back to the drawing board,” said John Kamin, assistant director for veterans employment and education at the American Legion.
VSOs like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Student Veterans of America (SVA), the American Legion, and others could have been derailed as there was an opportunity for some members of Congress to politicize the GI Bill in May.
Democrats could have argued that there was a Republican attempt to cut benefits for troops, as there were differences on how to pay for the new expansion.
Instead, this bill enjoys broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
“They [the House Veteran Affairs Committee] did what Congress writ large can learn from. They brought everyone in the room and had some tough conversations, and they compromised,” said Justin Brown, co-founder and executive director of Hill Vets. “At the end of the day they ended up with a bill that has broad bipartisan support.”
Discussion and lobbying continued for the initiative, and eventually more parties rallied around the proposed legislation. In total, about 40 veterans’ organizations supported the bill as they continued to work with Congress.
“Once again, our Committee has proven to be one of the most productive and bipartisan committees in the whole U.S. Congress,” Rep. Tim Walz, ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs committee, said in an emailed statement.
The House Veterans Affairs committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Wednesday. Speaking before the committee Monday night, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he is looking to schedule a vote on the House floor sometime next week.