Senate VA Committee Passes Amendments to Post 9/11 GI Bill
August 11, 2010
On August 5, the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs approved a comprehensive bill introduced by Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) to reform the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The "Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010" (S.3447 aka Akaka's Bill) simplifies and improves many areas of the Post 9/11 bill, implemented one year ago. NACUBO, along with various veterans' groups and higher education associations, supported the changes and continues to work with the VA to ensure institutions and veterans are receiving timely and accurate payments.
Under Akaka's Bill the following changes were made:
Book Allowance. Active-duty users of the new GI Bill would be eligible for a $1,000-a-year book allowance, which is currently paid to veterans but denied to active-duty service members and their spouses using transferred benefits.
Currently the book allowance is linked to the program's housing payments. Since active-duty service members are already receiving a housing allowance or are provided housing they were considered ineligible for the book allowance. The new bill will separate book and housing payments so that both active-duty and veterans can receive the $1,000 allowance for books.
Living Stipend. Akaka's bill also would overhaul living stipends so that payments are prorated based on the number of credits taken. The current law provides a full living stipend - based on military pay grade housing allowance for the ZIP code of the institution where the student is enrolled - for those taking a course load that makes them more than a half-time student. Under Akaka's change, more part-time students would receive payments, but some taking less than a full load of courses might be paid less.
Tuition and Fees. S.3447 also eliminates the state-by-state cap and replaces it with a national average of tuition and fees. With the change, the GI Bill would cover the full cost of tuition and fees for almost everyone taking undergraduate classes at a public college or university. Those attending private schools, paying out-of-state tuition at public institutions, or enrolled in graduate or doctoral classes would be paid up to the national cap, based on the average cost of tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates at in-state rates for four-year public colleges and universities.
Additional Training. The bill would also add vocational training, flight training, on-the-job training, and apprenticeships to the types of education covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Currently, coverage is limited to courses offered by a degree-granting institution.
National Guard. Akaka's Bill also gives credits toward earning benefits to National Guard and reserve members on full-time active duty; their service currently does not count. Akaka said these people were "inadvertently omitted" when Congress approved the benefits program last year.
Distance-Learning Living Stipend. The bill also provides a reduced living stipend to distance-learning students, who under current law receive the benefit only if they are taking at least one on-campus course. Those who enrolled only in distance-learning classes would receive a payment that is 50 percent of the payment for on-campus students carrying the same number of credits
Still to be determined is how to pay for the many provisions in the Akaka Bill with estimated costs seen as high but still to be calculated. Other concerns include the system for payments to institutions and the administrative burden of overpayments and refunds many insitutions are facing. NACUBO continues to monitor and work closely on these issues with the VA as progress is made.
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