GI Bill Implementation: Where Are We Now?

The new GI Bill is intended to give every Iraq and Afghanistan veteran access to an affordable college education, but the VA’s recently-issued regulations have made the benefit confusing and unfair. Right now, a veteran attending a private school in Arkansas might end up tens thousands of dollars in debt, while a veteran next door in Texas, with identical tuition costs, gets their school paid for. Besides being inequitable, the system is confusing. Under the VA’s patchwork system of tuition and fee benefits, veterans will not be able to make educated decisions about the costs of attending school. IAVA has recommended a simpler system that would:

  • increase the benefit for many veterans who wish to attend private colleges or universities,
  • make the GI Bill fair for all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, by ensuring that those from every state get the same opportunities, and
  • have no affect on a veteran’s benefit at any public school in the country.

Background:

IAVA was at the forefront of the fight for a new GI Bill; its passage was our top priority in 2008. The Post 9/11 GI Bill is an historic piece of legislation that has made college affordable to an entire generation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Like the World War Two GI Bill, the Post-9/11 GI Bill gives every veteran a chance to dream bigger dreams. In the current economy, strong support for veterans’ education could not be more crucial.

The VA must implement the new GI Bill correctly and on time, so that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans get their benefits in time for the new school year. The deadline is August 2009. VA Secretary, retired Army General Eric Shinseki, has said the implementation is one of his top priorities this year. IAVA has been following the implementation process carefully, and we are concerned about certain regulations the VA has issued. Most significant is the confusing and unfair system of tuition and fee caps.

The current system is unfair to many veterans.

  • A veteran attending a private college in Texas will have their entire tuition paid no matter where they enroll, including the most expensive private school in Texas Southern Methodist University (SMU), costing upwards of $33,170/yr. However, a veteran attending Hendrix College in Arkansas which costs marginally less, $26,080/yr., will only receive about $5,000 in tuition and fees and will owe upwards $21,000/yr. These campuses are only a couple hours drive from each other, but the difference in benefits is huge.
  • At the University of Phoenix, if a veteran is participating in nursing program based out of Arizona, they will have their entire tuition and fees covered ($11,550/yr.) while a veteran participating in the same University of Phoenix nursing program based out Florida will be required to pay nearly $4,000 out of pocket, even though the programs cost the same. In 2007, 344 veterans attended the University of Phoenix North Florida program.

The current benefits structure is also profoundly confusing.

  • Many schools do not post on their websites a breakdown between tuition and fees. Instead, they simply list the total of “tuition and fees.” Since under the current system, tuition and fees spent on fees, this lack of clarity will mean that veterans may overestimate how much their Post 9/11 GI Bill will cover. This confusion will prevent veterans from making an educated decision on where they should attend, and will result in the veteran paying unexpected charges upfront to enroll in school.
  • There are gaps in the transferability provisions that allow troops to transfer their benefits to a spouse or dependent, and in the Yellow Ribbon program that is intended to match with federal dollars the funding private schools provide to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. You can see the complete details of IAVA’s concerns about the current implementation of the GI Bill here.

IAVA is already taking action to fight for our vets. We have already participated in dozens of hearings and hundreds of meetings on Capitol Hill regarding the GI Bill, and we continue to work closely with Congress to introduce a technical corrections bill that will address a number of these issues.

  • IAVA has worked for two years to make the GI Bill a reality, and to make sure it is fair to every veteran. The changes we recommend would not affect a veterans’ benefit at any public school, which would still cover the entire cost of tuition and fees. In addition, our plan would increase the benefit for many veterans who wish to attend private colleges or universities.
  • The easier-to-implement option would be a combined ceiling for tuition and fees. This would resolve the immense confusion created by the current system, without changing the benefit promised in the legislation: tuition and fees at any public school in the country.
  • An alternative system that we support would be a national ceiling, which would not affect the public school benefit, and would increase the benefit available at many private schools. For instance, in Virginia, the current system covers the costs of a public school, but a student attending the University of Richmond, a private school, will be left with $33,260 in debt. Under a national cap system, they will receive over $6,000 more in GI Bill benefits. In fact, a veteran attending any private school in Virginia will do better under a national cap system.

For more information on the new GI Bill and your benefits, or to give us your feedback, please visit www.NewGIBill.org.