With Congress adding a $1 billion-a-year transferability feature, President Bush has dropped his opposition to the extraordinary Webb GI Bill initiative and is prepared to sign it into law as early as this month.
Known also as the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, the new GI Bill will deliver to current service members, to many recently separated veterans and to oft-deployed Reserve and Guard members an education benefit never envisioned for an all-volunteer force.
Approved as part of a wartime budget supplemental (HR 2642), the Webb’s plan is a far richer benefit than the Montgomery GI Bill, but MGIB benefits also will climb, by 20 percent, almost immediately. This will ensure that veterans attending school this fall receive some swift help with education costs.
Students who qualify will get retroactive reimbursement of the fuller benefits when the Webb program begins in August 2009.
The plan, conceived by freshman Democrat Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, will pay tuition and fees at any college up to amounts charged by the most expensive public colleges in each state. Payments for full-time students will jump from $1,100 a month under the MGIB to an average of $1,900.
To entice private colleges to participate, a “yellow ribbon” provision allows the government to pay half of any tuition bill in excess of the state school ceiling if the private college will absorb the other half. This could allow veterans to attend most any college or university they can get into.
The new GI Bill also will pay a monthly stipend to cover living expenses. The stipend will be tied to local housing costs by matching Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) payment payable to married members in pay grade E-5. This stipend will not be paid to part-time students.
To win Bush’s endorsement, the House included a transferability feature so that military careerists can transfer unused education benefits to their spouse or children. To transfer a full 36 months of benefits, a member would have to have at least six years in service and agree to serve four more. A member will need 10 years’ service to transfer benefits to children.
The secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs would be able to change the years of service requirement for transferability. Similar transferability features could be created for the MGIB for active duty members and reservists.
Transferability adds $10 billion to the 10-year cost of the Webb initiative, raising the total estimated cost through 2019 to $62 billion. Despite objections from fiscal conservatives, the legislation doesn’t require an offset or reduction in other entitlement programs to cover the cost.
Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at: email@example.com