One of the main challenges facing transitioning veterans in using their educational benefits is time. Under the current law governing the post-9/11 GI Bill, veterans have 15-years to use or lose their benefits. A great many transitioning veterans are simply not ready to make the move to go to college when they separate from active military service. Others, only use a portion of their benefits to gain a certificate or other industry related credential when they transition, only to have their benefits lapse when they seek to make a career change requiring additional or more advanced educational requirements.
With a unanimous vote of 405-0, a rare display of congressional bipartisanship in today’s Washington D.C., the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to expand the post-9/11 GI Bill, eliminating the 15-year time new recruits have to use their educational benefits once separated from military service after January 2018.
The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 has been sent to the Senate and it is hoped President Trump will sign it into law before the August recess. The Colmery bill was named for the American Legion member who wrote the initial WWII GI Bill.
For veterans who separated from active service prior to the Colmery Bill, the 15-year shelf-life of their educational benefits remains in effect.
Additional changes incorporated in the Colmery Bill eliminate the three years of active-duty service requirement for recipients of the Purple Heart, and eases the requirements for GI Bill eligibility for members of the National Guard and Reserves, survivors, and dependents.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said this bill “will empower service members, survivors, and dependents for generations to come.” He continued by saying, “For the first time in the history of our GI Bill, they can carry these benefits with them throughout their lives.”
In order to successfully implement the new changes and administer the reforms in the Colmery Bill, significant upgrades to the DVA’s information technology systems are required, according to VA officials. For Curtis Coy, the under secretary for economic opportunity at the VA, his major concern is the IT infrastructure. According to Coy, “almost all of these sections [of the bill] require some degree of changes in our IT system”, stated Coy, during a recent HVAC hearing.
If the VA can make the necessary IT upgrades, the Colmery Bill will positively affect veterans for decades to come.