What Veterans Need to Know About the New ‘Forever GI Bill’

GI bill

Seventy-three years after the GI Bill was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt  — providing members of the military, veterans, and their dependents with educational assistance — Congress has decided it’s time for an upgrade.

The result?

The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, informally dubbed the “Forever GI Bill.” After spending only three weeks in Congress, the new bill is now awaiting President Donald Trump’s signature.

If signed, this bill will greatly broaden the scope of educational benefits for veterans. But what does that mean for veterans? And who’s going to pay for it? Read on to find out.

Changes proposed by the Forever GI Bill

This long-awaited upgrade of the GI Bill is swinging for the fences. According to Money, here are some changes the bill proposes:

  • Elimination of expiration dates on benefits for new enlistees
  • Expansion of access to benefits for service members
  • Restoration of benefits for veterans who attended colleges that closed in the middle of a semester
  • Emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degrees through additional scholarship funds
  • Easier access to benefits through updates to resources (human and technological) that manage the program

As for the cost of the bill, its $3 billion price tag over 10 years appears to be self-contained. According to Money, “Lawmakers plan to pay for the expanded benefits … by decreasing living stipends to GI Bill recipients so that they fall in line with active-duty service members’ basic housing allowance.”

Although this isn’t the first change to the GI Bill, the benefits could be far-reaching.

Forever GI Bill could help veterans compete for in-demand jobs

The Associated Press reported that “according to Student Veterans of America, only about half of the 200,000 service members who leave the military each year go on to enroll in college.”

The new bill could change that — and it looks like veterans aren’t the only ones who might benefit.

According to the Brookings Institution, the changes proposed by the Forever GI Bill could enable veterans to compete in a high-demand market while also giving employers more of the skilled workers they need.

“Too few skilled workers are entering the workforce, and many jobs are unfulfilled,” the Brookings Institution reported. “Among the many updates to the bill, two provisions in particular — the removal of the 15-year expiration date of education benefits and the emphasis on the STEM education — specifically address this need for more skilled workers through education.”

To further understand the potential impact, check out this statistic: According to a 2017 study by the National Veteran Education Success Tracker (NVEST), 21 percent of veterans using the GI Bill were 35 or older at graduation. And another 21 percent were between the ages of 30 and 34.

But few are taking advantage of STEM programs:

GI Bill

Image credit: NVEST

As you can see, business, management, and marketing were the runaway winners, making up 26.99 percent of total degrees earned. STEM degrees, on the other hand, made up only 14.44 percent.

But with the added STEM benefits proposed in the Forever GI Bill, that could change.

“Under the new bill, veterans studying STEM fields may be granted an extra year of funding for their education,” the Brookings Institution reported. “By incentivizing entrance into the STEM fields, the new GI Bill builds on veterans’ strengths to increase the number of skilled STEM workers in the country.”

The Forever GI Bill: More than just an increase in funding

At first glance, this new bill passed by Congress might seem like a simple increase in funding for veterans’ education benefits. But it appears it could be much more than that.

If President Trump signs the bill, its potential benefits include the following:

  • Veterans of all ages will be able to return to school.
  • Veterans of various military sectors looking to gain technological skills will get more funding to do so.
  • Employers looking for skilled workers will have more to choose from if veterans take advantage of STEM education benefits.

And finally, the restoration of funds for veterans who attended schools that closed midsemester means they won’t be left in the dust. This change is no small one given that 27 percent of veterans who used the GI Bill for education attended for-profit schools, which have experienced various closures in recent history.

All in all, improving veterans’ chances of gaining an education is what this bill aims to do — and sources such as the Brookings Institution seem to think these changes could be good for both veterans and employers. Only time will tell if the president agrees.

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