(July 13, 2017) Today, House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-Minn) introduced H.R. 3218, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017.
This landmark bill, if passed, would launch a new era for all who have honorably served in uniform, and for the nation as a whole. It would close current gaps in the existing Post 9/11 GI Bill and guarantee that veterans have access to their hard-earned GI Bill benefits beyond the current 15-year time limit. In essence, it would help today’s GI Bill live up to the world-changing accomplishments of the original, which transformed America after World War II.
The legislation is named in honor of American Legion Past National Commander Harry W. Colmery, who is credited with writing the draft of what became the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, more popularly known as the G. I. Bill of Rights. He then worked for its adoption after its introduction in Congress in January 1944, and President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law on June 22, 1944.
This new legislation would make necessary changes to VA educational benefits. Recently, ITT Technical Institute and Westech College suddenly shuttered their doors after losing accreditation. This left thousands of student veterans out of school mid-semester, with no plan for what to do the rest of the term. They lost weeks or months of GI Bill benefits that were wasted at failed institutions. Even worse, they lost the monthly housing stipend many relied upon to make ends meet. Student veterans who attended schools like ITT have now lost those months of GI Bill eligibility and have no credits to show for it. These student veterans are now struggling to complete their degrees without their previous credits. This bill will restore lost months of eligibility to the student veterans who lost theirs, and will provide a safety net monthly housing stipend for veterans who face this crisis in the future.
At the request of the Department of Defense (DOD), Congress provided DOD the authority to involuntarily mobilize National Guard and Reserve service members for deployments in support of preplanned missions and enable Guard and Reserve service members to remain on active duty to recover from injuries they have sustained during their service. However, Congress failed to ensure service members involuntarily mobilized under these new authorities are granted the same benefits and services as other Guard and Reserve service members who are called to serve on active duty, including eligibility for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) education benefits. More than 25,000 Guardsmen and Reservists have been activated without the same benefits as their active duty counterparts. This bill will restore the benefits that were not accrued while these Guardsmen and Reservists served on active duty.
For the past decade and a half, our country has been sending Guardsmen and Reservists into harm’s way at an unprecedented level, and some of them have been wounded in the line of duty. Nearly 3,000 of these Citizen Soldiers have bled for this country, but have not accrued enough active duty time to attain full GI Bill benefits. Now all recipients of the Purple Heart will receive full GI Bill eligibility regardless of time on active duty.
The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John D. Fry Scholarship gives one hundred percent GI Bill benefits to the children and spouses of servicemembers who gave their lives serving our country. While this is a great benefit for the families of the fallen, it does not cover the full cost of attending private institutions of higher learning. The Yellow Ribbon Program was created to bridge the gap so veterans would not have to pay any out-of-pocket costs to achieve their educational goals. Fry Scholarship recipients are not eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Programs, but with this important legislation they now would be.
The current GI Bill has a fifteen year use-it-or-lose-it time limit on the benefit. This arbitrary cap negatively impacts those veterans looking to use their educational benefit later on in life. Veterans should not be punished for successfully transitioning shortly after their service, and choosing to go back to school afterwards. This legislation will eliminate the fifteen year limit and allow the GI Bill to be used whenever a veteran chooses, making this truly a forever GI Bill.
The American Legion greatly appreciates the work of Chairman Roe, Ranking Member Walz, and their dedicated staff on this important proposal that will positively affect thousands of American veterans and their families.