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Cantwell Works to Open Door for Veterans to Have Better Access to Education Opportunities

Location: Washington, DC

Cantwell Works to Open Door for Veterans to Have Better Access to Education Opportunities

Cantwell bill to expand GI Bill, giving veterans access to education benefits for life

When troops return home from Iraq and Afghanistan , U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) wants them to have increased access to educational and training opportunities afforded by the Montgomery GI Bill. While almost all soldiers contribute to the GI Bill program during their military service, only about half take advantage of the education benefits before they expire ten years later. Cantwell plans to introduce the "GI Bill for Life" so veterans will always have the door to higher education open to them.

"We know that the GI Bill opened the door to higher education, helping millions of service members and veterans who wouldn't otherwise have had the chance to pay for college," Cantwell said. "But there are many others who did not, or could not, use their earned education benefits within that time frame. We should not stop veterans from going to school because of an arbitrary time limit."

Active duty soldiers are asked to contribute a total of $1200 toward education benefits. While 96 percent of all active duty soldiers enroll in the program, it is estimated that only 57 percent take advantage of the benefits before they expire 10 years later. Cantwell's bill will remove the time limit, allowing veterans to enroll in classes at a time of their choosing.

Cantwell said, " The GI Bill for Life, would ensure that educational opportunities are lifelong, allowing service members and veterans the flexibility to seek education and job training opportunities when it is the right time for them to do so."

The 1944 GI Bill of Rights was passed to help veterans successfully transition back into civilian life - using education as the key to employment opportunities.

Current GI Bill benefits are divided into two programs. One program targets active duty and veteran members, paying over $1,000 per month to qualified students, up to $36,000. The other is directed at the Selected Reserve, which includes the Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve and Coast Guard Reserve, and the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard. This program provides educational benefits of $288 per month, for a total of $10,368.

The active duty and veteran program benefits expire 10 years after the soldier is discharged, while benefits for Reserve members expire after 14 years.

Unfortunately, only 57 percent of soldiers who pay into the GI Bill fund actually use their earned education benefits within that time frame. After leaving the military, some servicemembers postpone going to school in order to support their families. Others were either homeless or faced long rehabilitation schedules due to disabilities associated with military service. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs currently has only limited discretion to grant time extensions to those who are unable to use their benefits due to mental or physical handicaps.

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