Taking note of the challenges that veterans and service members face in their efforts to get an education or job training, former Senator Jim Webb, a Democrat from Virginia, authored the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, which would replace key elements of the Montgomery GI Bill, with the explicit goal of replicating the benefits available to veterans after World War II.
Under Webb’s new vision for the GI Bill, which he proposed on his first day in the Senate in 2007, veterans, service members, and their families would be able to access a much more comprehensive array of services. In addition to covering up to 100 percent of tuition and fees for public, in-state undergraduate tuition, the bill provides recipients with a housing allowance, $1,000 a year for books and supplies, and, for individuals living in remote areas, a one-time relocation allowance. If they choose to not make use of their benefits, members of the military can transfer their eligibility to family members.
With the housing and book allowance, recipients can dedicate themselves full time to school. For veterans and service members who may have bought a home or are married with children, those additional benefits are a crucial element of their success.
Gregory Wilson, a junior at McDaniel, can attest to the value of the housing allowance. He enlisted in the Army straight out of high school and was stationed in Hawaii and Afghanistan. Now he is 26 years old, attends school full time and plans to become a high-school social-studies teacher once he graduates.
“I’m unemployed, so the GI Bill housing allowance is a very important part of my finances,” he says. Wilson owns a home, and he says it would not be possible to finish his course of study on time if he also had to hold down a part-time job to cover the mortgage.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill has been a game changer for many, says Bill Brown, the director of the Military Connection Center at Old Dominion University. “Before the 9/11 GI Bill, it would be kind of daunting to get out of the service and realize, ‘My benefits cover only two and half years of school, how am I going to afford this? I’m going to have to work part time, and maybe I’ll be able to take one class per semester,’” he says. “That drags out the college process a lot longer, and then five or six years later, you haven’t been able to achieve the degree.”
After some wrangling in Congress, and an initial threat of veto from President George W. Bush, Webb’s bill passed in 2008. Overall, the bill has been a boon for veterans, active service members, and military families. Between the program’s inception in 2009 and 2013, the Post-9/11 GI Bill had benefited 1 million active service members, veterans and military family members to the tune of more than $30 billion in tuition and other education-related payments, according to the Veteran Benefits Administration.