Trump Signs Forever GI Bill Into Law, Boosting Aid To Student Vets

Education

President Donald Trump signed an expansion of veterans education benefits Wednesday, boosting aid by $3 billion over the next 10 years and extending assistance to some veterans and dependents who didn’t qualify.


Trump signed the bill -- dubbed the “Forever GI Bill” by its supporters – at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., with little fanfare and no press or public remarks, and only Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin at his side. Shulkin took a few questions from reporters following the signing, though they focused mostly on the violence that erupted during a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.

Lawmakers and veterans have heralded the GI Bill expansion from its introduction less than one month ago through its passage in the House and Senate – calling it a “shining example” of bipartisanship.

“The signing… marks a new era for all who have honorably served in uniform,” American Legion National Commander Charles Schmidt said in a statement. “This lifetime benefit will allow veterans, and their families, to earn degrees and begin rewarding careers that can lead our economy. We believe that this legislation… will transform America, as the original did following World War II.”

The bill is officially titled the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, named for the past commander of the American Legion who authored the GI Bill of Rights in 1944. It’s a combination of 18 different bills.

It immediately eliminates the 15-year limit veterans currently have to tap into their education benefits. That restriction will no longer apply to veterans discharged on or after Jan. 1, 2013, or to current and future servicemembers.

The bill also includes dozens of provisions that will go into effect in August 2018.

Members of the National Guard and Reserve mobilized under Pentagon authorization codes Title 10, Section 12304, 12304a and 12304b, were prevented from earning GI Bill credit. The bill fixes that, allowing servicemembers and veterans who deployed under those orders since June 30, 2008, to claim their benefits.

All Purple Heart recipients will be able to receive full education benefits. Currently, a veteran must be medically retired from the military or have 36 months of active-duty service to qualify. According to the Military Order of the Purple Heart, there are approximately 1,500 Purple Heart recipients who aren’t eligible for full education benefits.

Surviving spouses and children of servicemembers killed in the line of duty will qualify for the Yellow Ribbon Program, which now allows only veterans to attend schools or enroll in programs that cost more than the GI Bill tuition cap.

The bill also provides a 10 percent boost in payments for servicemembers who spent less than one year on active duty, meaning an increase of up to $2,300 per year to some veterans.

The legislation also offers tuition reimbursement to veterans whose schools close. The measure applies to veterans affected by school closures since Jan. 1, 2015, meaning thousands of students at for-profit ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian Colleges who lost their GI Bill credit can have them restored.

Starting in August 2019, veterans using the GI Bill to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees will be eligible for an extra nine months of benefits to complete their degrees, up to an extra $30,000.

Spending on the GI Bill over the next 10 years is expected to total more than $100 million. The $3 billion boost will be paid for by decreasing living stipend payments under the GI Bill to the level the active-duty military receives. In 2014, payments to active-duty servicemembers were reduced by 1 percent each year for five years. The reduction didn’t apply to GI Bill recipients.

The VA voiced concerns last month that it would take a reworking of the agency’s information technology for their automated system to recognizes the changes in eligibility for benefits. Under the bill, the VA will receive $30 million to get its IT ready.

Veterans organizations feuded about an initial proposal to pay for the expanded GI Bill by reducing new enlistees’ basic pay by $100 each month for 24 months. Some organizations called it a “tax on troops.” Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., said it was almost a “death knell” for the bill.

After the groups found consensus, the legislation was introduced July 13 and received no opposition in the House and Senate.

“To go from being dead in the water three months ago to having this on the way to the president’s desk is nothing short of remarkable,” Will Hubbard, vice president of government affairs for Student Veterans of America, said when the Senate passed the bill Aug. 2.

SVA President Jared Lyon credited Hubbard and representatives from Military Order of the Purple Heart, Got Your 6, Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors for getting the bill passed. A few dozen other veterans, military and education organizations also supported it.

"This is a moment worth celebrating with our sisters and brothers who have - and will have - worn our nation's cloth,” Lyon said in a statement. “Thanks to the herculean effort of the veteran community and allies in Congress, student veterans today and in the future will enjoy lifetime access to the GI Bill.”

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©2017 the Stars and Stripes. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

U.S. Army photo

On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.

Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.

In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.

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(U.S. Army/Pvt. Stephen Peters)

With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.

After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.

Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.

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(U.S. Marine Corps/Staff Sgt. Andrew Ochoa)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

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The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.

They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.

It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.

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(Reuters/Carlos Barria)

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Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.

Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime."

"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.

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