Lost in all the noise about the repeal of DADT was news that the lame-duck Congressed passed a bill that implemented major changes to the GI Bill. Of course since this bill was passed by a Democrat-controlled Congress, IAVA considers it a win but the American Legion considers it a positive as well (Strangely, I haven’t seen anything on VoteVets about it). Here are the changes to the GI Bill that will take effect Aug. 2011 according to IAVA:
In 2008, historic New GI Bill legislation was signed into law. Since then, IAVA has been fighting for critical upgrades where the benefit was lacking. These upgrades, which were passed last week, will impact 400,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans within the first year. These include:
- 85,000 full-time National Guardsmen who will become eligible for the New GI Bill
- 58,000 students at private and graduate schools will have increased?tuition benefits
- 25,000 distance learners will receive a monthly living allowance
- 21,000 disabled vets using Vocational Rehab will receive additional allowances
- 19,000 Active Duty service members will receive an annual book stipend
- 6,000 vocational students will receive tuition/fees and a?monthly living allowance
- 6,000 On The Job training/Apprenticeship participants will get access to an?expanded program
- 6,000 schools will receive increased fees for processing vets’ paperwork
- 180,000 new recruits will not have to pay $1,200 to buy into the old GI Bill
Sounds great right? Well of course thats not the whole story. Here are some of the other changes this bill makes to the GI Bill from the Marine Corps Times (emphasis is mine):
Living stipends, based on military housing allowances, are now fully paid to a student who is taking a course load that makes them more than a half-time student. This means that someone taking a full load is getting the same living stipend as someone taking fewer credits. The bill would change this by prorating living stipends based on the number of credits, which means people taking less than a full course load would be receiving less money.
Distance learning students, currently ineligible for living stipends unless they are taking at least one class at a traditional school, would be eligible for the monthly payment equal to one half of the national average for military housing allowance for an E-5 with dependents. That is less than sought by distance learning schools but more than they are getting now.
So clearly there are some changes to the post-9/11 GI Bill that IAVA didn’t discuss on their website (along with other Veterans groups) that will have a detrimental impact on some veterans, especially those attempting to work or do internships which limit their ability to take a full course load. In regards to my own situation, I know my last semester I am planning on doing an internship (which I cannot receive credit for since I would have already received the maximum amount of credits for an internship) and taking only three classes since I don’t need to take a full load to graduate. Under the current rules, I would receive a full BAH stipend, but under the new rules I will be receiving less money. I can think of ten other veterans I either served with or know at Arizona State that will be negatively impacted by this rule change as well. I guess using some people’s math, thats a “win” for me and other vets.
Also, the reason why the GI Bill originally didn’t offer a stipend for online-only students and why in the future that stipend will only be half of regular students’ stipends is because the Democrats who have controlled Congress declared war on for-profit online universities. Now granted some of these institutions have pulled some shady stuff in the past but many state-schools and private colleges offer online degree paths. Again using a personal example I could complete both of my degrees completely online at Arizona State and then get real experience by doing an internship or working fulltime in addition to saving the VA about 1000 dollars a semester since the online programs are cheaper at ASU (as is the case for many state-schools). But instead I am forced to go sit in a classroom and wish I was back in Iraq (Yeah, thats how much I hate going to class). Online programs are also better for veterans with families or other work commitments since its more time-flexible. If anything, in some cases, the VA should be encouraging vets to do online-only programs.
Now, obviously there are some good parts to this bill. It expands educational benefits for the National Guard and sets aside more money for wounded Vets in addition to making it easier for Vets to attend private schools. However, I think it is a bit disingenuous of IAVA and other vet groups not to highlight the downsides to this bill, especially considering it will effect a lot of veterans currently using the GI Bill.