‘Forever GI Bill’ Could Forever Change Education Aid

‘Forever GI Bill’ Could Forever Change Education Aid

Photo by: Architect of the Capitol

A new veterans’ education measure named for a World War I pilot could make a major change in post-service benefits.

The Harry W. Colmery Educational Assistance Act of 2017 is named for a World War I Army Air Service instructor and pilot who is credited with drafting the GI Bill of Rights at the end of World War II, creating not just the benefit that allowed a generation of veterans to attend college but also established on-the-job and vocational training benefits and the VA Home Loan guaranty program. Colmery, who rose to the rank of captain, was a Kansas attorney and former national commander of the American Legion when he wrote the first draft of the post-war benefits bill.

Testifying before Congress in 1944 about the law he’d drafted, Colmery said he thought it was “the duty, the responsibility and the desire” of the American people to see that veterans should “not be penalized as a result of their war service.” The GI Bill of Rights, he said, is “sound national policy” and “for the good of the nation.” Colmery died in 1979.

The new bipartisan legislation builds on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, a measure that mirrored Colmery’s idea of paying for college and providing a living stipend for veterans while they attended school.

The major change in the bill is it drops a requirement for benefits to be used within 15 years of leaving the service, something even Colmery had not proposed. This provision is why the Colmery Act is being called the “Forever GI Bill.” That change applies only to people who enter the military after the bill becomes law.

The new bill, pending before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, also significantly increases education benefits for Army National Guard and Army Reserve members, and for dependents, surviving spouses and surviving dependents.