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Plan to overhaul GI Bill moves through House, on to Senate

Natalie Gross | Military Times

Major reforms to veterans’ education benefits are one step closer to becoming law after the House of Representatives unanimously voted in favor of the legislation Monday.

The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2017 — colloquially known as the “Forever GI Bill” — would make significant changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. These include eliminating a requirement that veterans use their benefits within 15 years of active-duty service and expanding benefits for reservists, Purple Heart recipients and surviving dependents. The bill would also retroactively restore benefits to veterans affected by recent school closures and provide additional funds to GI Bill users pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.

There has been a lot of momentum for the bill since it was unveiled by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee a week and a half ago, receiving bipartisan support and the backing of several prominent veteran service organizations.

“This bill and how it got to this point today is a shining example of how well Congress can and should work together,” Committee Chairman Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said before the vote.

Committee Ranking Member Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., called the GI Bill legislation “a real historic piece of work” and “just smart legislation.”

“The Senate is going to pick this up, and I think and look forward to that day when President Trump — hopefully towards the end of summer, early fall — picks that pen up and signs this and makes a difference in veterans’ lives today,” Walz said.

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will hold a hearing for its own identical plan for GI Bill reform, which has also garnered support from Republican and Democratic lawmakers and more than 40 veteran, military and higher education groups, according to a spokeswoman for Committee Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. The committee is also aiming to move this legislation along quickly, she said.

Both the House and Senate versions call for slight reductions in the monthly housing allowances for new GI Bill enrollees to pay for the estimated $3 billion cost of the benefits expansion.