The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, July 25, 2017 1:00 am

Expanded GI Bill passes House on unanimous vote

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

The U.S. House voted unanimously Monday evening to approve legislation that would expand the GI Bill for military veterans.

The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 would remove the 15-year limit on using GI Bill education benefits, extend full eligibility to Purple Heart recipients who do not serve at least three years on active duty and improve benefits for members of the National Guard and Reserve.

The legislation passed by a 405-0 vote. Companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate.

“The original GI Bill transformed our country and provided a generation of veterans with important educational opportunities. This legislation invests in a new generation of veterans and ensures no veteran gets left behind,” Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, a member of the Navy Reserve, said in a statement.

The Colmery act, named for an American Legion national commander who wrote what in 1944 became the GI Bill of Rights, includes provisions introduced by Banks and other Indiana members of the House.

The proposal sponsored by Banks would make permanent a pilot program called VetSuccess on Campus, which places Department of Veterans Affairs counselors on university and college campuses to assist students who are veterans.

A provision from Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th, would retroactively restore education benefits to veterans attending schools that close mid-semester. His proposal targets more than 7,000 veterans who were attending Carmel-based ITT Technical Institute when it shut down last year.

A provision by Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th, would stop counting against GI Bill eligibility the reimbursements veterans receive for testing expenses related to licensing, certification and college admission.

The bill also includes provisions similar to legislation filed by Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd, that would ensure benefits for World War II veterans exposed to mustard gas during the military's secret chemical weapons tests on American troops.

In another vote, minority Democrats defeated legislation to shift $2 billion in VA funding to the Veterans Choice Program. Several veterans advocacy groups had opposed the bill, calling it a privatization effort. The Veterans Choice Program reimburses non-VA physicians who care for veterans.

The final vote of 219-186, largely along party lines, was well short of the two-thirds majority the bill required to advance under House rules. 

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