Specialist Robert Cannon, of Boise, served 5.5 years in the U.S. Army in military intelligence.  This included a 13-month deployment in Southern Iraq.  Robert attended approximately eight different colleges until he found a class structure that provided the hands-on learning that best enabled him to succeed.  Unfortunately, when ITT Educational Services (e.g., ITT Technical Institutes) closed, his education and educational benefits were in limbo. 

However, new changes in law make him eligible to retain some of the GI Bill® benefits he already used to further pursue his education if a school does not accept his already accrued credits.  The purpose of this guest column is to try to help get the word out to Idaho veterans and their families about the fairly recent changes to veterans’ educational benefits so that more veterans, like Robert, can access the educational benefits they so greatly deserve.

For more than 70 years, veterans’ educational assistance (GI Bill) benefits have been provided through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its predecessor.  As the Congressional Research Service summarizes, “In general, the benefits provide grant aid to eligible individuals enrolled in approved educational and training programs.”

Congress has adjusted eligibility requirement and made other changes over the years.  This includes the August enactment of S.1598, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017.  I co-sponsored this legislation that was introduced by Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) and Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Montana) that, as Chairman Isakson explained, “makes much-needed updates for reservists, Purple Heart recipients, veterans who face school closures while enrolled, and surviving family members.”  The committee’s summary of the improvements can be accessed at www.veterans.senate.gov.  The law includes the following changes:

  • For veterans who were discharged on or after January 1, 2013, eliminates the 15-year window in which a veteran was required to use GI Bill benefits enabling the use of the benefits any time in their career;
  • Returns used GI Bill benefits to students who face permanent school closures;
  • Provides GI Bill eligibility for reservists mobilized under selected reserve orders for preplanned missions in support of the combatant commands or in response to a major disaster or emergency;
  • Provides GI Bill eligibility for reservists undergoing medical care;
  • Enables use of GI Bill benefits for distance courses in technical and career education institutions;
  • Provides full GI Bill benefits for Purple Heart recipients regardless of length of service; and more.

Importantly, the law includes legislation, known as the Shauna Hill Post 9/11 Education Benefits Transferability Act, which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho).  I joined Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) in introducing the companionlegislation in the Senate.  The legislation is named for Idahoan Shauna Hill, a 16-year-old junior at Eagle High School who was killed in an automobile accident in 2012.  Her father, Captain Edward Hill, then sought to reassign his education benefits to his younger daughter, Haley.  But, until this recent change in the law, statute precluded a veteran from transferring education benefits after retirement.  Now, this unnecessarily rigid restriction has been removed allowing veterans to reassign benefits in the event the original recipient dies, even after the servicemember retires. 

We must continue to make needed improvements for the everyday lives of servicemembers and their families.  More information about education and training benefits provided through the VA can be accessed at https://explore.va.gov/education-training.  Together, we can continue to advance needed legislation to ensure that veterans’ benefits make best use of their skills and experience and reflect a deep respect for their abiding service. 

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.