Without a single vote in opposition, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Monday night to expand the post-9/11 GI Bill and eliminate the 15-year time limit on the use of education benefits for new recruits.
The vote was 405-0 in a rare display of bipartisanship in Congress on behalf of veterans seeking higher education after active duty service
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he expects the Senate to take up and pass the bill later this week and move it to the White House for possible signing by President Donald Trump before Congress goes into its August recess.
Trump could also wait for Congress to return after Labor Day before signing it.
The bill, named the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 -- for the American Legion member who wrote the initial World War II GI Bill, would eliminate the current 15-year time limit on use of the GI Bill for those who enlist after January 2018.
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The use-it-or-lose-it time limit of 15 years would remain in place for current post-9/11 veterans who served three years on active duty.
The bill would also eliminate the three years of active-duty requirement for recipients of the Purple Heart, and ease requirements for GI Bill eligibility for National Guard members and reservists, survivors and dependents, Roe said.
No opposition to the bill was expressed during the brief floor debate.
The bill "will empower service members, survivors and dependents for generations to come," Roe said. "For the first time in the history of our GI Bill, they can carry these benefits with them throughout their lives."
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., the ranking member on HVAC, said the bill has his "unwavering support. This is a really historic piece of work."
Despite the partisan divide in Congress, the reform of the GI Bill shows that "when we get together, there is much we can do for this country," he said.
Passage of the bill will require major upgrades to Department of Veterans Affairs information technology systems to administer the reforms, according to VA officials.
"Probably my biggest concern is two words: IT," Curtis Coy, the VA's deputy under secretary for economic opportunity at the Veterans Benefits Administration, said at an HVAC hearing last week.
"Almost all of these sections [of the bill] require some degree of changes in our IT system, and that's what concerns me the most," he said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.