Congress this month refined and expanded the Post-9/11 GI Bill in ways that should benefit more Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and, at the same time, deliver a boost to the national economy. In a press release hailing the changes in the 2009 GI Bill, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., explained: "This new package makes it easier for some veterans to use their benefits to pay for tuition at public and private universities, and others who want to enroll in training programs that will place them directly in the workforce, helping us get our economy back on track."
Indeed, the legislation now awaiting President Obama's signature can be expected to greatly ease the transition from the military to the civilian workforce for any number of veterans and their families. The expanded Post-9/11 program will allow members of the National Guard who were excluded from the 2009 GI Bill to qualify for benefits, allow the use of those benefits for vocational and on-the-job training, and increase tuition assistance, the book stipend and living allowance. The changes also are expected to speed the distribution of benefits by simplifying the way they are calculated.
The number of veterans newly eligible for benefits under this expansion is significant. Some 300,000 veterans and their family members have used 2009 law's benefits to date, according to Stars and Stripes, the U.S. armed forces independent news service. The expanded GI Bill will allow another 90,000 members of the National Guard who were previously excluded to use the benefits.
There's good reason to believe that this expanded program will give the economy a boost. The original GI Bill, written into law in 1944, greatly expanded the American middle class following World War II. It helped produce tens of thousands of engineers, scientists and teachers. The GI Bill was brought back in various forms at the end of the Korean war and early during the Vietnam war. But until the enactment of this Post-9/11 GI Bill last year, the benefits hadn't approached the levels of the World War II GI Bill.
The 2009 GI Bill essentially promised veterans a full-ride, covering tuitions and fees at any state-funded college of university. It also offered a monthly housing stipend and up to $1,000 a year for books and school supplies. A one-time relocation allowance was made available for veterans who had to move to be near their campus, and there was the option of transferring the educational benefits to family members.
Last year's Post-9/11 GI Bill offered a generous benefit for returning veterans, more generous than any that had been offered since the World War II GI Bill. The changes approved this month improve on that program, while extending benefits to deserving veterans who were previously excluded.
This expanded GI Bill amounts to an investment in human capital that should pay off handsomely for a generation or more to come. It also can be viewed as a small, but meaningful, way to recognize the many sacrifices of our men and women in uniform and their families.
- Longview Daily News