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GI Bill: Time to Start Over?

As reported here last month, the unintended consequences of the new law to fix the Post-9/11 GI Bill -- Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010, (AKA GI Bill 2.0) -- has congress scrambling to undo the damage before it's too late. The latest issue to surface is the possible loss of the additional 12 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits promised to veterans and servicemembers once they exhaust their Montgomery GI Bill benefits. Many veterans chose not to switch over to the Post 9/11 GI Bill because they were counting on this provision when they finished using their 36 months of MGIB.

Currently there are at least four bills pending in Congress that would fix the fix to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Two of the bills target the new $17,500 tuition and fee cap for non-public colleges and universities. Another bill would restore interval pay, which currently pays benefits during scheduled breaks in study, like the common spring and winter breaks.

Unfortunately, the attempts to fix the GI Bill are likely to cause further unintended consequences. For example, the attempt to remedy the harm caused by the new $17,500 tuition and fee cap will put a two-year freeze on the housing allowance for all vets (meaning no increase or decrease in the BAH rate for two years), which is based on the DoD's Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rates. This fix is designed to help veterans in the six highest cost states, but the outcome is that all veterans will have their housing stipend frozen.*  This will likely have  minimal impact since the BAH rate has actually gone down over the past few years, but who knows how long that trend will last. The basic rule of physics seems to apply with the GI Bill –  every action has an equal and opposite reaction – and somewhere, some vet is likely to feel it.

* Frozen meaning there will be no increase or decrease in the housing stipend for two years.

I have often jokingly referred to this series of GI Bill fixes as GI Bill 2.0, GI Bill 2.1, and so on. But this is no joke; each time Congress comes up with a half-baked GI Bill fix someone, somewhere, gets hurt.

It’s easy to blame the Department of Veterans Affairs, or the poor souls who administer the programs at the school level when vets don’t get the payment or benefit expected. But it is Congress that made the laws, and continues to try to repair the damage caused by their actions.

Maybe it is time to scrap the whole thing and get a fresh start. Until they do we are going to continue to float in an ever changing ambiguous system that gets harder to understand and harder to manage each time Congress passes an amendment.

Congress continues to worry about the cost, but if they were to sunset all previous versions of the GI Bill and fold them into a single GI Bill chapter based on the Montgomery GI Bill model – single flat payment sent directly to the veteran – the savings in administrative time, manpower, and benefits would go a long way to covering the cost. It is time for Congress to realize that the current GI Bill is in a “sunk cost” situation, too much effort and money has gone into trying to save a flawed program. Maybe it’s time to cut our losses and start over with a smart equitable single GI Bill program that works.

To be clear, I am not advocating scrapping the current GI Bill until AFTER a new chapter has been fully developed, vetted, and implemented. This may not come in time to help some of our current vets, but it's the right thing to do for those who follow.

Visit the Military.com Legislative Center to contact your elected officials about this important topic.

Let your voce be heard!

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