New GI Bill Opens College Doors For Vets

By Staff
August 4, 2009

Come September, some former soldiers will be trading khaki for ivy, as they use the benefits of a post-9/11 G.I. Bill to attend college. Sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and passed by Congress last year, the law took effect August 1.

The measure is modeled on the G.I. Bill approved just after World War II, which is widely credited with helping another generation of returning soldiers adjust to civilian life and join the middle class. That 1944 legislation was in turn a reaction to the unrest brought about when jobless veterans of World War I marched on Washington, D.C. and U.S. troops routed the protesters, notes U.S. News and World Report.

"We're going to be giving a lot of people ... the same chance at a first-class future that the people from World War II had", Webb told the Christian Science Monitor. In fact, the current law goes further than the original in some ways, offering the option of transferring benefits to a spouse or child, under certain circumstances.

Benefits are scaled to length of service, according the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans who served three years, or at least 30 days of active duty and were discharged as a result of a service-related disability, get 100 percent benefits. Others with a shorter period of service will receive proportionally less in benefits.

In practical terms, the bill pays a portion of tuition and fees equivalent to that charged by a state public college or university. And through the Yellow Ribbon program, some 575 private universities are opting to cover the difference between their higher tuition and that of state schools, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Besides tuition, the new GI bill provides a monthly housing allowance for full-time students and a yearly allowance up to $1,000 for books and supplies. Beneficiaries include not only members of the U.S. armed forces but also Reserve and National Guard members who saw active duty.

Iraq War vet Don Gomez says the new law will help him finish the last year of his degree in Middle Eastern studies at City College of New York. "If this had not passed, I would be without benefits in October and I would have to find a way [to bridge the time] until I graduate [in May], so this is like a lifeline," he told the Christian Science Monitor.

President Barack Obama hailed the bill's rollout at a rally Monday at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. "It is an investment in our own country," Obama was quoted as saying by the Los Angeles Times. He praised the service of recent veterans, many of whom weathered hazardous duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, noting, "While so many [Americans] were reaching for the quick buck, they were heading out on patrol."

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