Written by William & Mary Law Student Angela Diaz

Since it’s enacting, the GI Bill has helped thousands of Veterans obtain gainful employment through education and job training. It is one of the hallmarks of the entire VA benefits system and it benefits not only veteran themselves but also their spouses and children. However, recently there have been movements to reduce the benefits received by GI Bill recipients. While these are seemingly small reductions, they could open the door to eliminating other essential benefits.

The current incarnation of the GI Bill has evolved greatly since its inception. On June 22, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the GI Bill of Rights, in response to the issues faced by Veterans trying to assimilate into civilian life.[1] The GI Bill would remain largely unchanged until 2008 when it was updated again to provide enhanced educational benefits to veterans with active duty service on, or after, September 11, 2001.[2]

Today, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides tuition and fees, housing allowances for students who attend more than half-time, and a stipend for books and supplies.[3] To be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the veteran must have “served at least 90 aggregate days in active duty after September 10, 2001, or were honorably discharged from active duty for a service connected disability after serving 30 continuous days following September 10, 2001.”[4] Length of service is also used to determine the amount of benefit payable.[5]

Although the GI Bill is mostly used as a method for veterans to seek college education, it can also be put toward many other functions not commonly known, including: trade schools, on the job training, apprenticeships, and flight schools.[6] Additionally, it can be used to pay for tutorial services, licensing, and certification tests.[7] Post-9/11 GI Bill recipients can transfer unused benefits to a spouse or dependent; however, this usually requires fulfillment of an agreement to serve four more years.[8] These alternative uses, at least in theory, express the VA’s commitment to helping veterans in their professional development and careers.

Even though the GI Bill provides unparalleled opportunities for veterans to pursue professional development, the benefits available to GI Bill recipients has recently faced increasing scrutiny. Just this past February the House of Representatives approved a bill that would cut the housing stipend for dependents of service members receiving transferred Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits in half and restrict the use of Post-9/11 GI Bill for flight training.[9] This bill had the support of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans because of the components that would streamline veterans’ health care and benefits; however, other groups such as the Association of the United States Navy (AUSN) disagree and point out that reducing GI Bill benefits is a “slippery slope.”[10]

In the past, the only changes to the GI Bill have expanded the services available to veterans. The original GI Bill was intended to reduce unemployment among the veteran community and prevent economic crisis.[11] Eliminating some of the GI Bill benefits could potentially have the effect that the drafters of the GI Bill intended to avoid and severely disadvantage many veterans who rely on these awards.

Additionally, GI Bill beneficiaries have faced another recent setback. Last December’s National Defense Authorization Act stipulated that Post-9/11 GI Bill recipients of education payouts should not also be eligible for unemployment benefits.[12] The application of this new regulation is still unknown as the Department of Labor is working to publish guidance on the matter[13], but the effects of this reduction could potentially create unexpected financial burden on unassuming veterans. Since it is still undetermined who will be losing benefits it is hard for veterans to prepare for the change. While the fallout of the new law to discontinue unemployment benefits for veterans receiving GI Bill benefits is still up in the air, veterans advocates can only hope for future clarification.

 

[1]  U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Education and Training: History and Timeline, benefits.va.gov, http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/history.asp.

[2] Id.

[3] Department of Veterans Affairs, Post 9/11 GI Bill It’s Your Future (Veterans Benefits Administration, May 2012), http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/docs/pamphlets/ch33_pamphlet.pdf; Jennifer Cary, 15 Facts Everyone Should Know About the Posrt-9/11 GHI Bill, ClearanceJobs.com (Aug. 19, 2015) https://news.clearancejobs.com/2015/08/19/15-facts-everyone-know-post-911-gi-bill/

[4] Department of Veterans Affairs, Post 9/11 GI Bill It’s Your Future (Veterans Benefits Administration, May 2012), http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/docs/pamphlets/ch33_pamphlet.pdf.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] George Altman, House votes to scale back GI Bill housing stipend for military kids, Military Times (Feb. 9, 2016, 9:43 PM), http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/benefits/education/gi-bill-ta/2016/02/09/gi-bill-housing-stipend-cut-military-kids-passes-house-representatives/80079550/.

[10] Id.

[11] U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, supra note 1.

[12] Leo Shane III, New law will cut off unemployment pay for GI Bill users, Military Times (Mar. 14, 2016, 9:33 AM), http://www.militarytimes.com/story/veterans/2016/03/12/unemployment-changes-gi-bill-veterans/81645480/.

[13] Id.