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Legion salutes 'California fix' to new GI Bill

The best veterans benefit in a generation just got better, says American Legion National Commander David K. Rehbein.

"The new GI Bill is making it possible for today's veterans and family members to obtain the higher education they so richly deserve," Rehbein said. "But even though this bill, made possible through the advocacy of The American Legion and others, goes a long way toward expressing the gratitude this nation has toward its heroes."

Some inequities in the new GI Bill needed to be corrected, and the solution reached between California and VA is a step in the right direction, Rehbein said, referring to disparities in the benefit caused by wide-ranging tuition rates found in different states.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefit authorizes VA to pay tuition and fees charged by a state university, regardless of the amount. But California state schools charge little or no tuition; instead, they label the cost as "fees." This semantic difference means that veterans attending private schools in California have been receiving far smaller benefits than those attending private schools in other states.

California resolved the issue Aug. 4 by agreeing to allow VA to accept a new California billing line item ("Educational Fee / Tuition") to meet its requirements.

"The Post-9/11 GI Bill is an important part of fulfilling our promise to the men and women who have served our country so honorably," VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said. "This solution will allow all veterans who want to attend a California school the same benefits as any other veterans across the nation."

Rehbein, who met with President Obama on Aug. 4, said he is pleased that the president is taking an inclusive approach to using the GI Bill.

Currently, National Guard members mobilized under Title 32 state orders do not enjoy the same veterans education benefits offered to their counterparts mobilized under federal orders.

"My general philosophy is that somebody who served in uniform on behalf of our safety and security should be eligible," Obama said. "We want to be inclusive rather than exclusive. We want to encourage more people to use the program rather than less."

The American Legion's strong support of GI Bill benefits is nothing new. A past national commander of the Legion, Harry W. Colmery, wrote the original Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, a.k.a. the "GI Bill of Rights." As tuition rates have soared over the years, The American Legion has been the leading advocate for more substantial veterans education benefits.

"Passing this historic new GI Bill into law could not have happened without the dedicated efforts of The American Legion," said Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, when Congress passed the Post-9/11 GI Bill in June 2008.

Rehbein said that The American Legion will continue to advocate for greater equity and inclusiveness in the distribution of GI Bill benefits. He recommended that veterans contact The American Legion if they have questions about their benefits or visit www.mygibill.org.

"Whenever there is a program of this scope, there will be glitches," Rehbein said. "This GI Bill, however, is a result of support from the grassroots, advocacy from The American Legion, and Congress doing the right thing. We are grateful for the agreement reached between VA and California. It's now time to address any other inequities that exist."

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