BUFFALO, NY – On the eve of Independence Day, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27), Erie County Executive Chris Collins, New York State Assemblyman Mark Schroeder and County Legislator Tim Kennedy are applauding the final step in authorizing an expanded GI Bill, which among other things will restore the promise of a full, four-year college education for the veterans and servicemembers of Iraq and Afghanistan and contribute to American economic recovery.
“Our servicemembers invest their time and risk their lives to protect each of us and preserve our freedoms,” said Congressman Higgins. “In return an American investment in our veterans’ and servicemembers’ future provides new hope and opportunity not just for the veterans and their families but the entire nation.”
The GI Bill of 1944 made a free college education available to more than 15 million veterans after World War II. According to a congressional study, for every $1 spent, the original GI bill returned $7 to the national economy in terms of productivity, consumer spending and tax revenue.
“The least we can do for our brave men and women returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan is provide them with a first-rate college education,” said Erie County Executive Chris Collins. “Erie County’s Office of Veterans Services will work diligently to make sure our local veterans know what benefits – new and existing – are available to them. Attracting our local veterans back home to continue their education and build their lives will only benefit our community and our economy.”
The GI Bill for the 21st Century increases education benefits for all who served at least three months on active duty since 9/11. Those who have served for three years or more would qualify for the full educational benefit which includes:
· Payments covering 100 percent of tuition, fees and books at in-state public schools;
· A government match, dollar for dollar, to contributions from institutions whose tuition is more expensive than the maximum assistance provided under this legislation;
· Monthly stipends equivalent to housing costs in the area;
· And additional assistance for tutoring, as well as license and certification exams.
“During this time of war, when thousands of our troops are putting their life on the line, it is imperative that we do all that we can to help them when they come home,” said Assemblyman Schroeder. "This new GI Bill is exactly what our veterans need to get the education and training required to advance their careers and take care of their families.”
Under the new GI Bill veterans and servicemembers have up to 15 years, rather than the 10 year existing limitation, to use their education assistance benefit. Service members with six years of service, coupled with an additional service agreement of four years will be allowed to transfer unused educational entitlements to their spouses and children.
Over 1.7 million troops nationwide including more than 68,000 New York residents have been deployed to serve in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and would be eligible to receive GI Bill benefits.
“Our soldiers are dedicated, disciplined, and inspiring in their service to our country,” said Legislator Tim Kennedy. “With access to a quality education, our troops, who served us so well, have limitless potential the American workforce.”
Congressman Higgins noted that County Executive Collins, Assemblyman Schroeder and Legislator Kennedy are staunch advocates for veterans services, most recently teaming up to restore the Erie County Office of Veterans’ Services as a stand-alone agency. The Erie County Veterans’ office serves the 110,000 veterans living in Erie County and was established 81 years ago, making it the first of its kind in New York State.
Currently, veterans’ educational benefits are administered under the Montgomery GI Bill – a program designed for peacetime service. The Montgomery GI Bill pays only about 60 to 70 percent of a public college education and 30 percent of a private college education. Furthermore, reservists and National Guardsmen get only a fraction of that.
The House of Representatives approved the GI Bill for the 21st Century on June 19, by an overwhelming bi-partisan vote of 416 to 12. The bill was signed into law by the President on June 30, 2008. The law will be implemented in two phases, with the first phase beginning this fall and full implementation in place by August 2009. For more information on the new GI Bill visit the Department of Veterans Affairs website at www.gibill.va.gov.