GI Bill in Effect, Obama Marks Occasion with Speech to Veterans
Updated 12:35 p.m.
By Philip Rucker
President Obama visited the electoral battleground of Northern Virginia on Monday morning to mark the implementation of last year's GI bill granting higher education benefits to veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan and other post-Sept. 11 conflicts.
The legislation is the most extensive educational assistance program for veterans since the original landmark GI Bill, signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1944, during World War II. Although the bill to extend access to college for recent veterans passed Congress in 2008 and was signed by President Bush, the Department of Veterans Affairs issued its first payments to colleges and universities on Aug. 1. The government expects to spend $78 billion over the next decade.
Obama used the occasion to reaffirm his administration's commitment to American service men and women.
"We do this not just to meet our moral obligation to those who've sacrificed greatly on our behalf and on behalf of the country," Obama said in a 12-minute address before some 350 veterans, advocates and other officials gathered at George Mason University in Fairfax County. "We do it because these men and women must now be prepared to lead our nation in the peaceful pursuit of economic leadership in the 21st century."
Obama said the bill gives veterans an opportunity to become part of the "backbone of a growing American middle class."
He praised the veterans' service and pointedly contrasted it with other, less noble behavior. "We have lived through an age when many people and institutions have acted irresponsibly -- when service often took a backseat to short-term profits; when hard choices were put aside for somebody else, for some other time. It's a time when easy distractions became the norm, and the trivial has been taken too seriously," he said.
"The men and women who have served since 9/11 tell us a different story. While so many were reaching for the quick buck, they were heading out on patrol."
"We owe a debt to all who serve," the president added. "And when we repay that debt to those bravest Americans among us, then we are investing in our future -- not just their future, but also the future of our own country."
Obama, flanked by Vice President Biden, described the GI bill as: "You pick the school, we'll help pick up the bill." The law grants every U.S. veteran who served in active duty since Sept. 10, 2001, an opportunity to receive an in-state, undergraduate education at a public college or university at no cost. It also offers student veterans a monthly housing allowance, annual book allowance and covers fees for tutorial services and other educational programs.
The administration estimates the bill will help some 250,000 American veterans attend colleges and universities by 2011, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki told the assembled.
"History is about to repeat itself," Shinseki said, suggesting the bill could be as far-reaching as the original GI bill. He told the veterans' gathering that the bill signifies the nation's "respect and appreciation for your service and your sacrifice."
Sen. Jim H. Webb (D-Va.), a decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War and a former Navy secretary who wore his son's war boots during his campaign for Senate in 2006, introduced the new GI bill on his first day in the Senate. Then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), whose grandfather went to college with help from the first GI bill, was an early co-sponsor of the bill.
Former senator John W. Warner (R-Va.), a veteran of World War II and the Korean War who went to college because of the 1944 GI Bill, credited Webb for passing the overhaul legislation.
"We recognized that massive reorganization and updating had to be done to this legislation," Warner said. "But it was never fully recognized until Jim Webb came on board. He rallied us."
Details of benefits provided under the bill, as described by the White House, follow:
BACKGROUND ON THE POST-9/11 GI BILL
· Post-9/11 GI Bill is a new Department of Veterans Affairs Education benefit for individuals who served on active duty after 09/10/2001.
· Specifically, the individual must have served for an aggregate period of at least 90 days after 9/10/2001, or serve at least 30 continuous days on active duty after 9/10/2001 and receive a discharge for disability.
· Benefit payment rates range from 40% of the maximum benefit for an individual with at least 90 days but less than 6 months of aggregate service, up to 100% of the benefit for individuals with at least 36 months of aggregate service or 30 continuous days and a discharge due to a service connected disability.
· In general, individuals will remain eligible for benefits for 15 years from the date of last discharge or release from a period of active duty of at least 90 continuous days.
· Instead of one monthly payment to the beneficiary each month, as is typical under existing education benefit programs, there will be three different payments made under the Post-9/11 GI Bill:
1. Tuition and Fees (paid directly to the school)
2. Monthly housing allowance (paid to the individual)
3. Books and supplies stipend (paid to the individual)
· Individuals may be eligible for payment of their actual tuition and fees up to the highest amount of established charges for full-time, undergraduate training at a public Institution of Higher Learning (IHL) in the State the student is attending.
· The housing allowance is equivalent to Basic Allowance for Housing for an E-5 with dependents based on the zip code of the school where the student is enrolled. However, active duty service members, anyone training at ½ time or less, and those pursuing entirely distance learning are not eligible for the monthly housing allowance.
· A books and supplies stipend of up to $1,000 per year can be paid, which is prorated based upon the student's payment rate. Active duty members are not eligible for this payment.
Transfer of Entitlement
· On or after August 1, 2009, DoD may allow an individual to elect to transfer entitlement to one or more dependents if he/she:
o Has served at least 6 years in the Armed Forces; and
o Agrees to serve at least another 4 years in the Armed Forces
· DoD determines eligibility for transferability and may, by regulation, impose additional eligibility requirements and limit the number of months transferable.
Yellow Ribbon Program
· Schools may voluntarily enter into an agreement with VA to pay established charges not covered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
· Under this agreement, VA will match each additional dollar provided by the school (up to 50 percent of the established charges not already covered under chapter 33).
· This benefit is only available to individuals entitled to the 100 percent benefit rate.
Web Politics Editor
August 3, 2009; 11:59 AM ET
Categories: B_Blog , Education
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