GI Bill changes in limbo as Senate recesses
Keith Wilson, VA’s director of education service, says his agency is in favor of many of the provisions of S. 3447. Photo by Rob Curtis

GI Bill changes in limbo as Senate recesses

The Post-9/11 GI Bill has widely been hailed as landmark social legislation. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon. Legislators and lobbyists alike have expressed possible changes to the bill, many of which are found in S. 3447 – a measure that currently sits in limbo with Congress on its recess.

S. 3447, should it pass the Senate, would make Title 32-activated National Guardsmen eligible for benefits; give coverage to veterans attending non-traditional institutions, including job-site training, apprenticeships, flight school and correspondence courses; allow individuals who are no longer serving to transfer benefits to family members; and give a housing allowance - 50 percent of what is awarded to traditional students using the new GI Bill - to veterans who are taking only online courses.

“S. 3447 is kind of a catch-all measure that I think incorporates a lot of the things that are being discussed on the Hill,” said Keith Wilson, VA’s director of education service. “Structurally, we just have some technical concerns with the language, in terms of how it’s put together to make sure it works. But, broadly speaking, we are in favor of a lot of these improvements.”

Once dubbed the “GI Bill 2.0,” S. 3447 would give veterans aid that is equal to a national average of the tuition cost of all private and public baccalaureate programs around the nation, instead of giving veterans a dollar amount equal to the cost of the public institution with the highest tuition in their state, as the GI Bill has done since it took effect in August 2009. This feature of the bill would streamline the often-confusing process of calculating benefits, which, in the past, has created difficulty on both sides of the process - for veterans and claims processors.

“I think there is pretty broad agreement that there are things that can be improved in it to allow veterans a better understanding of what their benefits are, to allow easier administration,” Wilson said.

Another issue that has arisen is getting the bill funded. In its current form, S. 3447 would require extra funding because it includes new provisions for housing allowances, changes to the transferability requirements and allotted aid for individuals who weren’t previously covered.

“I would anticipate it will pass, as long as there is not a money issue and there’s no great policy differences between the two houses - I don’t want to speak for my Democrat counterparts,” said Mike Brink, Republican staff director on economic opportunity for the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “I think most of the things in there are good things that have been identified by all four corners on the Hill as things we’ve want to address at some point.”

The American Legion, as it has with all GI Bill legislation, has taken the lead on lobbying for S. 3447.

“We made (S. 3447) a priority for the 111th Congress,” said Bob Madden, assistant director of the Legion’s Economic Division. “Obviously, when the ‘lame-duck Congress’ comes back we’d want to see this get passed. If not, we’ll continue to work with the 112th Congress to make sure this continues to be a high priority.”