Alerts and Updates

"Forever GI Bill" Will Expand Post-9/11 GI Bill for Veterans, Service Members and Family

August 3, 2017

The bill makes several important changes to the current Post-9/11 GI Bill program administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that directly impact future educational opportunities for eligible recipients.

On August 2, 2017, S. 1598, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, was passed by the Senate by unanimous consent. The bill is identical to H.R. 3218, which was passed unanimously by the House of Representatives on July 24, 2017. The bill is now headed to the president’s desk. The bill enjoys significant bipartisan support and is expected to be signed by the president during the August recess.

The bill makes several important changes to the current Post-9/11 GI Bill program administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that directly impact future educational opportunities for eligible recipients. Specifically, the bill:

  • Removes the time restriction on use of the GI Bill for future eligible recipients and those who were discharged on or after January 1, 2013;
  • Provides an increase in GI Bill funding for reservists, members of the U.S. National Guard, dependents, and surviving spouses and dependents;
  • Provides 100 percent GI Bill eligibility to Post-9/11 Purple Heart recipients;
  • Provides GI Bill eligibility to reservists and National Guard members who are currently being put on active duty and convalescent medical leave orders that do not currently accrue GI Bill eligibility;
  • Provides an extra academic year’s worth of Post-9/11 benefits for over 3,300 veterans each year to help them finish a STEM degree;
  • Creates a pilot program that would pay for veterans to take certain high technology courses (coding boot camps, IT certifications, etc.) and provide living stipends; and
  • Restores eligibility for service members whose school closes in the middle of a semester (ex. ITT Tech and Corinthian).

The provisions of this bill provide greater opportunities for veterans, service members and their family members to pursue postsecondary credentials. This is accomplished through an expansion of eligibility criteria, elimination of the time restriction and an increase of some benefits. Additionally, the bill supports an extension for STEM degree seekers and a pilot project in IT programs. The bill also includes enhanced oversight of school certifying officials and realigns living stipend payments in order to off-set the expansion.

It is important to recognize that this bill does not make any changes to the certification process through the State Approving Agencies (SAA), nor does it make any changes to the 90/10 calculations. Institutions approved for GI Bill benefits must still maintain compliance in these areas.

Background

The Post-9/11 GI Bill was enacted on August 1, 2009, and has since provided educational benefits to nearly 2.5 million veterans, service members and their family members, including tuition, fees, housing, books and other associated costs. Post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiaries represented almost 70 percent of all eligible VA education beneficiaries seeking educational benefits in 2013. As illustrated by the chart below, the Post-9/11 GI Bill program has grown rapidly with respect to beneficiaries. 

Department of Veterans Affairs Educational Beneficiaries: FY 2000 to FY 2013

Fiscal Year

Total Educational Beneficiaries

Post-9/11 Trainees

2000

397,589

N/A

2001

420,651

N/A

2002

464,159

N/A

2003

472,970

N/A

2004

490,397

N/A

2005

498,498

N/A

2006

498,123

N/A

2007

523,344

N/A

2008

541,439

N/A

2009

564,487

34,393

2010

800,369

365,640

2011

923,836

555,329

2012

945,052

646,302

2013

1,091,044

754,229

Source: Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration, Annual Benefits Reports, 2000 to 2013

Elimination of Time Limit

Section 112 of the bill would eliminate the current time limitation to use the GI Bill for new members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Student veterans currently have 15 years from the date of their last active duty discharge to use the benefit or lose it. As amended, the bill would allow new service members and those discharged on or after January 1, 2013, to use all 36 months of their GI Bill benefits throughout their lifetime. Those who became eligible for GI Bill benefits prior to January 1, 2013, would remain bound by the 15-year time limit

Increase in Benefits Payable

Section 105 of the bill would authorize additional GI Bill funding for members of the National Guard and Reserve. This section would increase the amount of money/eligibility that individuals receive who serve at least 90 days but less than six months on active duty: an increase from 40 percent to 50 percent of benefits payable. It would also increase the amount of money/eligibility that individuals receive who serve at least six months but less than 12 months: an increase from 50 percent to 60 percent of benefits payable. These changes would take effect on August 1, 2020.

Consideration of Time Spent Receiving Medical Care

Section 101 of the bill would add time spent on active duty under orders authorized by section 12301(h) of title 10, U.S.C., as qualifying time for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. These particular orders are used when a National Guard member or reservist is receiving medical care or is recovering from active duty injuries. This change would apply to service in the U.S. Armed Forces occurring on or after September 11, 2001. An eligible individual would be able to use this entitlement beginning August 1, 2018.

Purple Heart Recipients

Section 102 of the bill would extend full eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill to any Purple Heart recipients since September 11, 2001. This section would take effect on August 1, 2018.

Reserve Restoration

Section 106 would allow certain members of the Reserve component to transfer into the Post-9/11 GI Bill who lost educational assistance benefits when Congress repealed the Reserve Educational Assistant Program (REAP) in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016.

Section 401 would make individuals who have served and who will serve on 12304, 12304(a) and 12304(b) orders eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and for benefits under the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program in chapter 31 of title 38, U.S.C. An eligible individual would be able to use this entitlement beginning August 1, 2018.

Technology Pilot Program and STEM Program Benefit Expansion

Section 116 of the bill would authorize VA to conduct a five-year pilot program that would provide veterans the opportunity to enroll in high technology courses (including coding boot camps, IT certification courses, etc.). VA would enter into contracts with these schools or programs and would provide tuition and fees payments on a sliding scale that incentivizes the schools to graduate the student and ensure they find a job in their field of study. The section would also authorize a living stipend payment equal to the Post-9/11 rate to students while they are using the benefit. The Secretary shall seek to enter into contracts with qualified providers within 180 days after August 1, 2018. To facilitate that date, the Secretary must first develop criteria for approving providers for purposes of the pilot program.

Section 111 of the bill would authorize VA to provide additional GI Bill funds to help a student veteran complete a STEM degree. They would be eligible to apply for the program, which would pay for the lesser of nine additional months of Post-9/11 GI Bill or a lump sum of $30,000. The amount of money that could be spent on this program would not exceed $25 million in fiscal year 2019, $75 million in fiscal years 2020 through 2022, and $100 million in any fiscal year beyond 2023. These provisions would take effect on August 1, 2019.

Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Expansion

Section 203 of the bill would increase the monthly payment for educational assistance provided under Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program; impacting not only pre-9/11 survivors but also dependents of 100 percent service-connected disabled veterans or those where the service member died of a service-connected injury. The VA estimates that in FY 2018 nearly 100,000 dependents and survivors would be positively impacted by this change. These changes would apply beginning on or after October 1, 2018.

Further, section 202 of the bill would realign the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program from 45 months to 36 months of eligibility for individuals entitled to the program on or after August 1, 2018.

Section 110 would allow a veteran to transfer remaining months of GI Bill entitlement to another dependent, if the dependent who originally received the transferred benefits dies before they can use all of the benefits. The section would also allow a dependent to transfer remaining months of GI Bill entitlement to another dependent after the death of the service member or veteran. The amendment will apply to deaths occurring on or after August 1, 2009, but the dependent will not be eligible until the effective date beginning on or after August 1, 2018.

Yellow Ribbon

Section 103 would extend the Yellow Ribbon Program to students receiving GI Bill payments through the Fry Scholarship program and those who received a Purple Heart after September 11, 2001. Fry recipients are surviving dependents of service members who died while serving on active duty. This section would take effect on August 1, 2018.

Section 104 would extend the Yellow Ribbon Program to certain members of the U.S. Armed Forces serving on active duty. This section would take effect on August 1, 2022.

Closed School Benefit Restoration

Section 109 of the bill would restore entitlement to individuals when their school closes in the middle of a semester. This section would also authorize additional living stipend payments to be paid to students whose school closes in the middle of a semester for no more than four months or the length of the semester. Specifically, full GI Bill benefits for students affected by school closures in the middle of a semester (ITT Tech, Corinthian) would be restored within 90 days after the date of enactment if the student is unable to transfer their credits to a new institution. This would apply to schools that closed on or after January 1, 2015, through the date of enactment. The bill would authorize that when a school closes in the future, the student would be eligible for a bridge living allowance payment of no more than four months and eligibility would be restored for the semester or period the student was in when the school closed.

Apprenticeship Programs

Section 304 of the bill would allow the VA to provide a fee to schools or a sponsor of a program of apprenticeship for the reports or certifications that these institutions are required to submit to VA about the individuals at their school receiving GI Bill benefits. Specifically, it would require VA to provide $16 to the institution for each individual that it certifies as using GI Bill benefits at the institution. For schools with 100 or more enrollees using GI Bill benefits, this section states they may not use the funds received by the institution from the reporting fees for the institution’s general fund and that those funds may only be used for VA approved programs at that institution. This provision would be effective on August 1, 2018.

School Certifying Official

Section 305 of the bill would require VA, in consultation with the SAAs, to expand requirements for training for school certifying officials at educational institutions that are approved for GI Bill benefits. This section would also allow VA to disapprove a course of education if a school does not ensure that the school certifying official meets the training requirements. This provision would be effective on August 1, 2018.

Section 309 would provide more flexibility to the school certifying officials if the first day of a course does not start on the first day of an academic term, by allowing the school certifying official to certify the course as beginning on that first day of the academic term for purposes of certifying a veteran for GI Bill benefits.

Offset

Section 501 would be the offset for the package by realigning the living stipend payments for those using the Post 9/11 GI Bill (E-5 with dependents rate) to the same Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) payments currently paid to active duty service members at the E-5 with dependents rate. Several years ago, the annual percentage increase to active duty BAH payments was reduced by 1 percent a year for five years, but GI Bill payments were exempt. This bill would realign these payments so that a GI Bill recipient would receive the same living stipend per month as an E-5 active duty service member with dependents. This section also stipulates that these decreases to the annual percentage increase would only be in effect for individuals who first begin using their education benefits on or after January 1, 2018.

Other Changes

Section 107 would change the way living stipend amounts are calculated, from the current rule that says the living stipend payment is based on where the school is located to instead having the payment calculated based on where the student attends the majority of his or her classes. This section would apply with respect to initial enrollment on or after August 1, 2018.

Section 113 would require VA to prorate the GI Bill housing stipend provided to reservists who get called up for active duty during the middle of a month. Current law prohibits them from prorating the stipend, so if the reservist is on active duty orders for even one day of a month then they would lose the entire month’s worth of VA housing allowance. This section would apply to a quarter, semester or term commencing on or after August 1, 2018.

Section 115 would authorize $30 million to improve GI Bill claims processing and complete their rules-based processing system for these claims.

Section 201 would repeal the sunset date in the law that allows VA work-study benefits for outreach to student veterans and to assist state approving agencies.

Section 302 would allow an eligible individual to use their GI Bill benefit for an accredited independent study program (including open circuit television) at an educational institution that is an area career and technical education school or a postsecondary vocational school providing postsecondary level education.

Section 303 would require VA to include on its GI Bill Comparison Tool information on whether a school has a priority enrollment system in place that allows veterans to enroll in courses earlier than other students attending the school.

Section 306 would extend the authority for VA’s Advisory Committee on Education from December 2017 through to December 2022.

Section 307 would codify VA’s Veterans Success on Campus (VSOC) program, which is administered and overseen by the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment services (VR&E). There are currently 94 schools with a VSOC program, each providing a VR&E counselor to assist veterans with their transition from military to college life as well as provide the support and assistance needed to pursue their educational and employment goals.

Section 308 would require VA to make available to educational institutions the ability to view the remaining benefit amount for each veteran attending that institution. This section would also allow the veteran or their dependent (if they are a beneficiary of their GI Bill benefits) to opt out of the school’s ability to receive such information from VA. The effective date of this section is August 1, 2018.

For Further Information

If you have any questions related to this alert, please contact Katherine D. Brodie, Kristina Gill, any of the attorneys in the Higher Education Practice Group or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.

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