New VA Secretary Wilkie Puts 'Forever GI Bill' Expansion Into Effect

Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 17, 2018.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The Department of Veterans Affairs has begun implementing new provisions of the Harry W. Colmery Educational Assistance Act of 2017, better known as the "Forever GI Bill."

In one of his first actions since taking the oath of office Monday, new VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the provisions to expand GI Bill coverage were put into effect Aug. 1.

The VA said the new provisions "will have an immediate and positive impact on veterans and their families using VA benefits to pursue their educational goals."

"We are excited to get the word out about implementation of the provisions," Wilkie said in a statement. "From the day the Forever GI Bill was signed into law, VA, in collaboration with Veterans Service Organizations, state approving agencies and school certifying officials, has taken an expansive approach to ensure earned benefits are provided to veterans in a timely, high-quality and efficient way."

The VA said 15 new provisions of the GI Bill went into effect Aug. 1, in addition to 13 that were already in place.

Among the new provisions is one making recipients of the Purple Heart awarded on or after Sept. 11, 2001, eligible for full post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for up to 36 months, if they were not already entitled.

Another new provision expands the "Yellow Ribbon Program," in which degree-granting institutions of higher learning can agree to make additional funds available to a veteran's education program without an additional charge to the GI Bill entitlement.

The new provisions also allow additional Guard and Reserve service to count toward post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility.

At a House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity hearing last month, the VA said it had to overcome numerous Information Technology (IT) challenges to ready the new provisions to be put in place.

"This is a complex, heavy-lift effort," retired Maj. Gen. Robert Worley II, director of VA education services, said in his testimony. The VA had hoped to begin implementation on July 16 but had to delay until August, he said.

The VA estimated that putting systems in place to accommodate the new provisions would cost about $70 million.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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