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G.I. bill could soon see significant boost to veterans’ benefits

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) today praised Senate passage of legislation they cosponsored to ensure veterans, reservists, Purple Heart recipients, and others can access G.I. bill educational benefits.

Cochran and Wicker are cosponsors of the bipartisan Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act (HR.3218/S.1598), which was passed by unanimous consent Wednesday. Congressman Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) cosponsored the House version of the bill, which was passed unanimously on July 24. The legislation now goes to the White House to be signed into law.

“These G.I. Bill reforms would create new opportunities for veterans to receive education and training to benefit them professionally. I am pleased that eligibility will be extended to many in the Guard and Reserve, many of whom are Mississippians who have served bravely since September 11,” Cochran said.

“This legislation represents the biggest expansion of the G.I. Bill in more than a decade,” Wicker said. “Many more Guardsmen and Reservists will now be eligible to take advantage of these well-earned benefits. Congress has also removed the 15-year deadline for veterans to make use of the program, giving these heroes the flexibility to pursue their education and training on a timeline that works better for them.”

The measure was written to improve veterans’ G.I. Bill educational benefits and enhance the post-9/11 G.I. Bill. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would reduce net direct spending by $222 million over the next 10 years.

One important reform in the bill would extend G.I. Bill benefits to previously ineligible reservists mobilized for combatant commands or in response to a major disaster or emergency. This provision could benefit members of the Guard and Reserve in Mississippi who have been called up since Sept. 11, 2001, to serve in the Middle East.

For veterans, reservists and surviving family members, S.1598 would also:
· Eliminate the 15-year period deadline during which a veteran is required to use the G.I. Bill
· Provide full G.I. Bill benefits to Purple Heart recipients regardless of their length of service
· Authorizes increased educational assistance for veterans to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs
· Extend G.I. Bill eligibility to reservists undergoing medical care
· Increase G.I. Bill payments by $2,300 per year for veterans with less than 12 months of active service
· Extend post-9/11 G.I. Bill Yellow Ribbon Program benefits to Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship recipients.

All the major veteran service organizations support this bill, as does the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans at Mississippi State University.

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