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Misinformation clouds new GI Bill

Jul. 7, 2008 - 06:33PM   |   Last Updated: Jul. 7, 2008 - 06:33PM  |  
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Full-tuition educational benefits included in a new veterans' program signed into law on June 30 will not take effect until Aug. 1, 2009, unless Congress approves a change in the new law.

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Full-tuition educational benefits included in a new veterans' program signed into law on June 30 will not take effect until Aug. 1, 2009, unless Congress approves a change in the new law.

There will be a 20 percent increase, effective this Aug. 1, in Montgomery GI Bill benefits for active-duty veterans and veterans who have served two or more years of active duty, raising the maximum benefit to $1,321 for a full-time student who has three or more years of active service, under terms of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008.

Full tuition benefits, plus stipends for living expenses and books, will not take effect under the law until Aug. 1, 2009, despite earlier claims by aides to the bill's chief sponsor that those payments would be retroactive to when the bill is signed.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Jim Webb, D.Va., chief sponsor of the new benefits package, said the fact that the benefits are not retroactive came as a surprise; the final bill passed by Congress omitted crucial paragraphs of Webb's legislation.

The spokeswoman, Kimberly Hunter, said a technical correction bill fixing other problems with the bill could include language that would restore the retroactive benefits Webb wanted in the bill.

That is not the only thing Webb's staff promised that ended up being wrong.

People who previously enrolled in the Montgomery GI Bill program must continue to make their $100 monthly installments until they have fully paid the $1,200 contribution required to participate — even though the post-9/11 benefits program will be completely free.

Pentagon officials said ending contributions is not allowed under either the new or previous law, and that enrollments in the Montgomery GI Bill continue because there are some types of post-service education, including on-the-job and vocational training, that are not covered by the new program. Military officials are working on a briefing for new recruits that will explain the differences between the old and new veterans' benefits programs. It will recommend that troops continue to enroll in the Montgomery GI Bill program if there is any chance they might need non-traditional education.

The disappointing news about the lack of retroactive benefits and continued enrollment charges came from the departments Veterans Affairs and Defense, who have staffs poring over the details of what is now Public Law 110-252 to determine how it will be implemented.

Defense and VA aides said they are working with congressional staff to implement the benefits plan that was passed by Congress and to suggest changes when errors were made.

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