It almost didn’t happen, but relentless lobbying by advocacy groups, along with some 11th-hour procedural maneuvers by then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, finally pulled it off: Just before the end of the final legislative session of 2010, Congress approved the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law on Jan. 4, 2011.
For all the good it did for most military veterans, the original Post-9/11 GI Bill, enacted in June 2008, revealed several glaring flaws as it was implemented that neglected several categories of veterans and service members.
Col. Bob Norton, U.S. Army (Ret.), deputy director of government relations for the Military Officers Association of America, says that while the new law, commonly known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill 2.0, or the “Fix Bill,” isn’t perfect, it goes a long way toward closing these unintentional gaps in coverage.
GI Bill 2.0: The Fixes
The major provisions of the new law include:
- the expansion of GI Bill eligibility to National Guard members who serve on active duty stateside in a number of circumstances, including emergency response or training Reserve components.
- the expansion of coverage to non-degree granting programs that had, historically, been a mainstay of the GI Bill: vocational, technical, certificate, apprenticeship, or on-the-job training programs. “A lot of young men and women out there may not be at a point in their lives where they want to go to college,” Norton says. “They may want to become an electrician, pipefitter, truck driver, Microsoft®-certified engineer. They might want to go to a flight training school … all of those non-degree training programs are now switched back on for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.”
- elimination of the confusing state-by-state “undergraduate cap” method of calculating benefits, establishing instead a $17,500 fee cap for private institutions.
- expansion of the annual book stipend eligibility – up to $1,000 for textbooks – to include active-duty service members and their spouses.
- a living/housing allowance for service members who are online or “distance learners” in programs such as those administered by the University of Phoenix, Kaplan University, American Military University, and others, of up to $673.50 per month.
- coverage for a greater number of licensure, certification, or placement tests such as the SAT®, GRE®, LSAT, and CLEP®.
- a choice for wounded warriors receiving subsistence allowances under the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) VetSuccess Program to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill rate instead, if that rate exceeds the one assigned to them under the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA’s) disability rating system.
GI Bill 2.0: The Trade-offs
Congress’ ability to pass the law was due, in part, to the fact that it is projected to save $730 million over the next decade. In order to expand coverage to more veterans, some cost-saving trade-offs were necessary, including:
- Veterans enrolled less than full time will see their housing stipend prorated to match the number of credit hours taken each term, rather than receive the full rate for any number of hours over half-time enrollment.
- The housing stipend will not apply during mandatory school breaks; when school is not in session, students are assumed capable of earning their rent.
- The $17,500 cap on tuition and fees will, in a handful of states, not cover the entire cost of education at certain institutions – but this doesn’t necessarily mean students will be left out in the cold. The provision is intended not only to save government money but to urge participation in the VA’s Yellow Ribbon Program, which will pay up to half the total amount of fees and tuition if participating institutions agree to pay the other half.
Norton considers these trade-offs to be well worth the outcome. Two years ago, he points out, few veterans would have contemplated attending private schools at all; most were simply out of reach. “When you consider all the good of expanding the number of veterans eligible now to get all kinds of GI Bill benefits under these fixes,” he says, “it far outweighs the perceived or real cuts, both in terms of the number of people affected and in terms of the quality of the benefit overall.”