Congress OKs boost in col­lege aid for veter­ans

Austin American-Statesman - - MORE OF TODAY’S TOP NEWS - By Hope Yen

Congress on Wed­nes­day sent Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump leg­is­la­tion to pro­vide the big­gest ex­pan­sion of col­lege aid for mil­i­tary veter­ans in a decade.

The Se­nate cleared the bill by voice vote, pass­ing the sec­ond piece of leg­is­la­tion aimed at ad­dress­ing ur­gent prob­lems at the be­lea­guered Depart­ment of Veter­ans Af­fairs in as many days. The House passed the bi­par­ti­san col­lege aid leg­is­la­tion last week.

The mea­sure is a broad ef­fort to bet­ter pre­pare veter­ans for life af­ter ac­tive-duty ser­vice amid a rapidly chang­ing job mar­ket.

Build­ing on ma­jor leg­is­la­tion passed in 2008 that guar­an­teed a full-ride schol­ar­ship to any in-state pub­lic univer­sity — or a sim­i­lar cash amount for pri­vate col­lege stu­dents — the bill re­moves a 15-year time limit to tap into GI ben­e­fits and in­creases money for thou­sands in the Na­tional Guard and Re­serve.

Veter­ans would get ad­di­tional pay­ments if they com­plete sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy and en­gi­neer­ing cour­ses. The bill also would re­store ben­e­fits if a col­lege closes in the mid­dle of the se­mes­ter, a pro­tec­tion added when thou­sands of veter­ans were hurt by the col­lapse of for-profit col­lege gi­ant ITT Tech­ni­cal In­sti­tute and Corinthian Col­leges. Pur­ple Heart re­cip­i­ents, mean­while, would be fully el­i­gi­ble for ben­e­fits, re­gard­less of length of time in ser­vice.

“This bill in­vests in the proven suc­cess of our veter­ans,” said Sen. Johnny Isak­son, R-Ga., chair­man of the Veter­ans Af­fairs Com­mit­tee. “When our veter­ans re­turn home, they should have every op­por­tu­nity avail­able to them to pur­sue their de­sired pro­fes­sion and ca­reer.”

The panel’s top Demo­crat, Jon Tester of Mon­tana, said the bill “also does right by Guards­men and Re­servists by get­ting them the ed­u­ca­tion, hous­ing and health care that they have earned. I look for­ward to work­ing with Pres­i­dent Trump to quickly sign our bill into law.”

The Se­nate on Tues­day backed a mea­sure that au­tho­rizes $3.9 bil­lion in emer­gency spend­ing to avert im­mi­nent bankruptcy in the VA’s Veter­ans Choice Pro­gram, which pays for pri­vate-sec­tor care.

The ed­u­ca­tion ben­e­fits would take ef­fect for en­lis­tees who begin us­ing their GI Bill money next year. For mem­bers of the Guard and Re­serve at­tend­ing a pri­vate univer­sity, that could mean $2,300 a year more in tu­ition than they are re­ceiv­ing now, plus a big­ger hous­ing allowance.

A wide range of veter­ans’ groups had sup­ported the ex­panded GI Bill ben­e­fits. The Amer­i­can Le­gion, the na­tion’s largest veter­ans group, hailed the pro­posal as launch­ing a “new era” for those who served in uni­form.

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