By Rep. Susan A. Davis
In the current political climate, bipartisanship can be a rare thing. But it is not extinct. Proof of that was on display this month when Congress passed legislation to expand education opportunities for our veterans.
The Forever GI Bill, as it is commonly known, which I am proud to have co-sponsored, will ensure that this critical education benefit will always be there for future generations of veterans. It also just became the law of the land.
The GI Bill began in 1944 for veterans to invest in themselves and their futures. The expansion of the GI Bill will provide veterans with access to education and workforce training that will ease their transition from active duty to civilian life.
The most important aspect of the new law is that we will see the end of the “use it or lose it” component of the education benefit. In the past, veterans had 15 years to use their benefits. The end of the 15-year limit also applies to surviving spouses and dependents as well.
Veterans will now be able to access their education benefits anytime in their life.
An ever-evolving economy means the need for an evolving higher education. One never knows when new skills and knowledge might be needed later in life. Having this education benefit always available means our veterans can keep up with an economy that is always on the move.
The new law also expands the GI benefit to even more Guard and Reserve members. Previously, servicemembers called to active duty by the President were eligible. Now servicemembers called into action when a governor asks for federal aid in response to a major disaster or emergency would be able to take advantage of the benefit.
No Purple Heart recipients will be left behind under the Forever GI Bill. Currently, at least three months of active duty is a requirement to receive GI benefits. Thanks to my colleague Rep. Scott Peters, 100 percent of Purple Heart recipients are eligible regardless of time served.
Recipients of the GI Bill will also see an increase in their overall benefits. The amount of the benefit is ultimately based on time served, but veterans should see an annual increase of $2,000.
I have heard from too many veterans who used their GI benefits only to have the school they are attending close or the school will lose its accreditation. In the past, the veteran would have been out of luck and not reimbursed for their lost tuition.
No longer. A veteran who finds themselves in such a situation will get their money back.
Our world is more technological than ever. It is likely to become more so in the future. We need to encourage our veterans to get into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education.
The Forever GI Bill launches these benefits into the 21st century with a strong emphasis on technology.
Veterans who have already used their GI benefits but are working toward a STEM degree can get a boost with the creation of a new scholarship created under the new law. The scholarship program will pay veterans up to $30,000 to help achieve that degree.
Veterans already with a STEM degree who want to pass along their knowledge to others can also get paid if they are working toward a teaching certificate.
A new High Technology pilot program will cover the cost of high tech training to ensure our veterans have the skills needed to compete in the global economy.
Of course, these benefits won’t help if our veterans are not fully aware of them. In my role as a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am working to direct the Defense Department to better educate servicemembers on their earned GI Bill benefits before they leave the service.
The Armed Services Committee also continues to expand and improve apprenticeship programs for servicemembers separating from the military. As Ranking Member of the High Education Subcommittee, apprenticeship programs will be high on my list when it comes to building on higher education programs. Apprenticeships allow students, including veterans, to earn while they learn.
Providing access to higher education and workforce training through the GI Bill has always been a recognition to the men and women who serve that we appreciate their sacrifice. The Forever GI Bill furthers that acknowledgement.
—Rep. Susan A. Davis represents Congressional District 53, which includes the San Diego communities of Old Town, Kensington, Mission Hills, University Heights, Hillcrest Bankers Hill, North Park, South Park, Talmadge and Normal Heights, as well as La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and parts of El Cajon and Chula Vista.
Sara is the editor of San Diego Uptown News.