Congress Eyes Major Expansion of GI Bill Educational Benefits

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Congressional Republicans and Democrats are moving ahead on a plan to expand educational benefits for veterans under the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The bipartisan legislation unveiled on Thursday is expected to move quickly, at least through the House, over the next several weeks.

— What the bill does: The legislation expands a range of educational benefits long sought by veterans’ groups. For example, the bill would remove, for new enlistees, the 15-year time limit on when recipients must use their GI Bill benefits — a provision that the bill’s sponsors said better reflects the realities of a changing job market and allows veterans more flexibility to attend higher education later in life.

— The bill combines several pieces of existing legislation, and includes other changes to expand what’s available under the benefit to certain groups of National Guard and Reserve troops and to the dependents of fallen troops. In addition, the measure would allow Purple Heart recipients since Sept. 11, 2001 to receive GI Bill educational benefits even if they haven’t served the full 36-month period that’s typically required.

— The bill also addresses what happens to GI Bill education benefits when a college suddenly closes. That’s an issue that came up with the collapse of massive for-profit college chains like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech. The bill would restore some GI Bill benefits to veterans when their school closes in the middle of a semester. But the restoration would apply only to the benefits being used in the semester in which the school closes. It would not be a full reset of benefits used at the school — which is how the Education Department resets students’ loan and Pell grant eligibility in the case of school closures.

— What’s next: The House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said he’ll hold a hearing on the bill on Monday night. And a committee spokeswoman said a markup of the bill is planned for Wednesday. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told The Associated Press on Thursday he expected the House to pass the bill before leaving for the August recess.

— Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the chair and ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday praised the House bill, and said they’re working to introduce companion legislation in that chamber soon.

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