Towards the end of the lame-duck session of Congress, the House and Senate passed a bill that will enact major changes to the Post-9/11 Bill, which will most certainly be signed by President Obama. The bill, entitled the “Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010,” was universally praised by veterans’ organizations. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America considered it a victory for veterans along with the American Legion, which had its legislative director, Tim Tetz, present at a ceremony celebrating the passage of the bill. However, these groups along with many in the media having not been highlighting some of the changes in the “Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010” that will negatively impact thousands of veterans currently using the Post 9/11 GI Bill. These groups who claim to advocate for veterans (and in some cases collect dues from said veterans) on Capitol Hill have been disingenuous in praising this legislation without highlighting the obvious problems with it. Overall, while there are clearly some positive reforms that will be made to the GI Bill as a result of this legislation, this is by no means a huge win for veterans and will potentially force many veterans to change their educational plans.
Probably the biggest change that will hurt many veterans in several states is the new national cap on yearly tuition and fees of $17,500, which replaces the current state-by-state cap. In states like Massachusetts were fees and tuition exceeds $20,000 at most schools for resident students who attend classes year-round, the student veteran will be forced to make up the difference either through utilizing the Yellow Ribbon Program, applying for a scholarship, or worse, taking out a student loan. While this might simplify the process for paying schools and save money, the change in the tuition and fees cap will negatively effect the ability of veterans in certain states to pay for their education.
The legislation also changes how the BAH stipend is paid. Right now, as long as you taking one credit more than a half load (in the case of my school, Arizona State, seven credits out of twelve) you received the full BAH stipend for your school. However, beginning in August 2011, the BAH stipend will be prorated based on the number of credits a veteran is taking. This might seem like a logical and “fair” thing to do, but considering that many veterans do not take a full credit load in order to work or do an internship (which are often unpaid) and considering the fact that many veterans rely on the BAH stipend to survive, this amounts to a pay cut for thousands (if not tens of thousands) veterans in 2011. For me personally, this will negatively impact me since I will most likely not need to take more than three classes (or nine credits) my last semester and I was planning on doing an internship in order to beef up my resume. However, due to the impending changes to the GI Bill, I will most likely be forced to reevaluate these plans.
The bill will also add BAH benefits for distance-learning (aka online) students; however the amount will only be half the national average. I was always under the impression (and I could be wrong) that the reason why the post-9/11 GI Bill didn’t have BAH benefits for distance-learning students was to discourage veterans from attending shady online for-profit universities. However, online programs are more flexible, especially for veterans with families and jobs and many state schools offer online degree programs that are cheaper than traditional programs. If anything, the VA should be encouraging certain veterans to enroll in online programs.
It would not be fair if I didn’t point out some of the positive changes the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 makes the post-9/11 GI Bill. The legislation expands GI Bill eligibility to over 85,000 National Guardsmen and enables active duty troops currently using the GI Bill to receive the annual book allowance. In addition, wounded veterans currently going through vocational rehab will receive increased allowances. However, in order to pay for these changes, the cuts listed above were made. This bill literally robs one group of veterans to pay another.
If in the original Post 9/11 GI Bill, BAH stipends would have been prorated and there would have been a national cap on tuition and fees, veterans would have been able to properly plan their education. However, veterans were led to believe that they would be receiving a certain level of compensation and now beginning in 2011 tens of thousands of veterans will be receiving less if changes are not made. To quote Representative Steven Buyer, a veteran and one of the few people to openly criticize this bill, parts of the bill “[are] nothing but a lump of coal for veterans.”
Daniel Caldwell served four years as an infantryman in the U.S. Marine Corps. For the first two years, he was part of the Presidential Support Program. During his last two years, he served with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines and deployed to Iraq in 2009. He uses the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend Arizona State University.