Today’s veterans not only deserve but need the expanded GI education benefits that have been unanimously passed by the U.S. House and Senate and, as of Aug. 15, are awaiting the president’s signature. The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2017 removes the end date for veterans to use the educational benefits, expands eligibility and boosts aid. These benefits meet the needs of life in the 21st century and will be life changing for so many.
As a veteran, a college graduate, a Baker College dean and a father of a soldier, I understand how lives are put on hold when military service calls and the importance of being able to pick up where soldiers left off when they return from deployment. This widens the opportunity for our veterans to acquire and maintain skills that will enable them to serve our great nation once again while providing for their families.
The bill was named for Harry Walter Colmery, credited with the initial draft of what became the first GI Bill of Rights enacted in 1944. This latest iteration combines 18 bills promoted by a coalition of 37 partner organizations representing veterans, disabled and retired veterans, student veterans, active-duty military, military families, educators and others. Their goal was to ensure all qualifying veterans who want to go to college have the means to do so for the rest of their lives. Dubbed the “Forever GI Bill,” the legislation extends the length of time veterans have access to GI educational benefits from 15 years following military service to their lifetime.
Other enhancements in the budget-neutral Forever GI Bill are the expansion of educational benefits available to reserve and guard forces, extension of coverage for surviving spouses and dependents and lifting of requirements that had prevented some Purple Heart recipients from receiving benefits at the 100 percent rate.
Also significant to thousands of veterans are provisions that address college education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields — programs that typically require longer than four years to complete. The Forever GI Bill provides funding for students in specific STEM degree programs exceeding the standard number of years, enabling them to pursue these in-demand careers without the hardship of paying additional tuition out of pocket.
Another important change in the bill is the reinstatement of benefits for veterans impacted by a school’s closure or disapproval by the Department of Veterans Affairs. This occurred in the recent past and left our national heroes stranded, ineligible for benefits and unable to complete their degree programs.
These changes, among others in the Forever GI Bill, make it easier for veterans, their dependents and survivors to pursue a college degree and a better life. The changes come when post-secondary education and/or training never have been more essential to earning a living wage. Students can use the benefits to go to school — on campus or online — to further training they received in the service or to start a career path in a new area of interest.
At Baker College, we are committed to providing quality higher education that prepares graduates for employment or career advancement. We take this commitment seriously as an institution and as individuals, especially in support of military-connected students, as they overcome challenges inherent in their return to civilian life. That’s why our campuses have a veteran point of contact, designated admissions advisors and financial services team members to provide unique assistance to these students. This bill is a leap forward in enhancing these students’ paths to success.
I applaud the bipartisan support for this legislation, and I encourage every American to contact their U.S. representatives and senators to thank them for accommodating the changing needs of our military and society.
Richard G. Bush, Ph.D., is dean of the College of Information Technology at Baker College where he leads undergraduate and graduate programs in information technology and computer information systems offered at campuses throughout Michigan — including one in Muskegon — and online. He served in the U.S. Air Force and Air Force Reserves for more than 15 years at bases in Germany and Michigan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.