The largest expansion of GI Bill benefits in nearly a decade became law Wednesday, clearing the path for thousands of veterans to take full advantage of educational opportunities.
President Donald Trump signed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, at a closed ceremony in Bedminster, N.J Wednesday afternoon.
Speaking to reporters in Bedminster, Veterans’ Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said “This is expanding our ability to support our veterans in getting an education.” To date, more than one million veterans have filed for GI Bill benefits, a number Shulkin hopes to see increase greatly.
Also known as the “Forever GI Bill,” the law eliminates the 15-year limit for veterans to use education benefits for veterans who were discharged on or after Jan. 1, 2013.
“Singing this bill into law really signals to veterans and their families that their benefits have been expanded, and this is something they can count on in the future,” said Lauren Augustine, director of government relations for Got Your 6.
“By enacting this law, we are making an important investment the proven success of our veterans,” Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said in a statement. “The 1.1 million individuals using VA education benefits each year will all benefit from these reforms, and even more veterans will gain eligibility for these benefits.”
In addition to ending the time limit veterans have to use their GI Bill benefits, Trump’s signature stands to benefit multiple groups. Veterans whose colleges closed permanently will have their benefits restored. The sudden closure of some for-profit universities caused veterans to lose their GI Bill benefits.
All Purple Heart recipients since 9/11 will be eligible to use their benefits. Previously, some Purple Heart recipients did not meet the time in service requirement when they became injured, limiting their benefits.
Survivors of service members killed in action will be able to use the Yellow Ribbon Program, which offsets the additional costs of attending private colleges.
Additionally, the law encourages veterans to enroll in science, technology, engineering, or math degree programs, by allocating more funds for those fields.
The measure enjoyed wide support in both chambers of Congress, and veteran service organizations credit the bipartisan effort as a major contributing factor for this legislation.
“As the highest ranking enlisted service member ever to serve in Congress, and as a teacher with over two decades of experience, I know firsthand the extraordinary value a quality education can have for a service member returning home,” said Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
“That is why I am so proud of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who worked hard to improve one of the greatest pieces of legislation ever passed in the history of the United States Congress: the G.I. Bill.”