Thursday, 30 May 2024

Lawmakers work to fix 'snafu' in Post 9/11 GI Bill

LAKE COUNTY – Late last week, as the nation was preparing for the Memorial Day celebration, lawmakers were trying to fix a glitch in the new GI Bill which is leaving many California veterans hoping to attend private universities in the cold.

Republican Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon and North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) worked together across the aisle to introduce the Veterans Educational Equity Act, HR 2474, which has since won overwhelming support from the California delegation. The bill has a total of 36 co-sponsors.

McKeon and Thompson told reporters late last week that they're trying to get the legislation through to prevent California veterans from facing an unfair reduction in benefits under the post-9/11 GI Bill.

“I'm hoping that we don't have to go through the whole legislative fix,” said Thompson, who called the situation “no more than a bureaucratic snafu.”

The Post-9/11 GI Bill – which becomes effective this summer – requires that the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pay each veteran's private university tuition based on the highest in-state undergraduate tuition rate at a state operated school in the state of enrollment.

Thompson, chair of the Military Veterans Caucus, said the bill was passed to provide educational opportunities for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The issue, as Thompson explained in a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki – which McKeon co-signed – is that California is constitutionally barred from using the word “tuition” and instead uses the word “fees” to describe the cost of matriculation at public universities.

While the VA has determined the maximum tuition benefit for California veterans to be $0, the maximum fee benefit can equal up to $6,586.54, according to the congressmen.

McKeon said the president of Pepperdine University, Andrew K. Benton, brought the issue to his attention. Benton told McKeon that veterans who wanted to attend Pepperdine, a private university in Malibu, were told they wouldn't be reimbursed.

It is reasonable to assume that these two words are interchangeable,” wrote Thompson. “Unfortunately, based on this simple semantic difference, the VA has determined that since California does not use the literal term 'tuition,' the state has a $0.00 level of reimbursement for tuition claims at private universities. As such, our veterans will be denied these critical benefits, and put at a great disadvantage in comparison to veterans in other states.”

Veterans applying for the benefits have so far been denied, while they've been granted to veterans in every other state, McKeon and Thompson explained.

It's an especially critical issue, since – as Thompson told Shinseki – “the denial of such benefits to California veterans was most certainly not the intent of Congress when passing this landmark legislation.”

As well, there are more veterans reside in California than any other state in the country – more than two million in all, said McKeon.

Last Tuesday, Pepperdine's Benton was in Washington and he worked with McKeon's staff to quickly draft the bill.

The following day, McKeon – the top Republican on the Education & Labor Committee and a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee – personally brought the issue to the attention of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who called fixing the problem a “no brainer.”

“Everybody's pulling together to try to make this happen,” said McKeon.

McKeon explained that time is of the essence – the VA needs to get checks out to student-veterans by Aug. 1; that's when the Post-9/11 GI Bill officially goes into effect. The VA has reported that it is notifying 500,000 veterans about the new GI Bill benefits.

Meanwhile, HR 2474 has been referred to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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