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Legislation would expand wounded vets' GI Bill

Mar. 5, 2013 - 09:54AM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 5, 2013 - 09:54AM  |  
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Two new bills are pending in the House of Representatives to improve Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for service members whose careers are cut short by service-connected disabilities.

HR 833, sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, would allow troops medically retired from the military for service-connected reasons to transfer GI Bill benefits to a spouse or children after leaving service, which is not allowed under current law.

Chaffetz' bill, the Expanding Education Opportunities for Post-9/11 Vets' Families, would grant a window of up to 36 months after disability retirement to transfer benefits to immediate family members, with the possibility of an additional year under special circumstances. In a statement, Chaffetz' staff said the bill "does not increase costs" because "funding already exists for service members who qualify for the benefit."

"The bill simply restores equality and fairness to the process, allowing the service members to determine who gets to use their earned benefit," he said.

The second bill, HR 604, is sponsored Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine. It is aimed at people who for medical reasons were transferred from active duty to the reserves, and then medically retired.

Called the Chris Kotch VA Education Access Act, the bill is named for an Army veteran who suffered injuries when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Iraq. Koch, of Brunswick, Maine, believed he would be eligible for full Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits like anyone else retired by disability after a minimum of 30 days of service. But he was surprised to learn his transfer to the reserves before retirement left him eligible for benefits based on only his five months of active service.

In a statement, Pingree said she has "heard about other reservists who have fallen into the same trap" and ended up, as Koch did, taking out student loans to pay for college.

Her bill would treat people medically retired or separated from the reserves the same as anyone medically retired from active duty when calculating benefits, and would be retroactive to the 2009 start of the Post-9/11 GI Bill to help Koch and others in his situation.

Both bills were referred to the House Veterans' Affairs Committee for consideration, where discussions already are underway on making other changes in the popular education program.

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