Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said lawmakers are not likely to reduce or eliminate veterans education benefits. (Getty Images)
Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said he “can’t imagine” lawmakers cutting back on veterans education benefits in the near future even with the continued fiscal pressures facing Congress.
Speaking at an event marking the 70th anniversary of the GI Bill, Gibson said the benefit remains one of the most significant pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress, helping millions of veterans not only transition but thrive in post-military life. And he’s confident its significance isn’t lost on Congress.
“It’s one of those things you can point to for an outstanding return on investment,” he said.
Veterans groups have been less assured of the future of the benefit, especially in terms of the generous Post-9/11 GI Bill offerings. Through that benefit, troops who have served three years on active duty since September 2001 are eligible for four years’ free tuition at their home state’s public university, plus a monthly housing stipend.
As the Post-9/11 GI Bill approaches its fifth anniversary, the VA has already paid out $41 billion to roughly 1.2 million beneficiaries.
That’s a sizable price tag for lawmakers, who this week will consider a veterans health expansion program that could total up to $50 billion annually. House leaders have said they want to find an offset for any new spending, and reducing education benefit costs could help fill that gap.
But so far lawmakers have stayed away from GI Bill trims. Meanwhile, groups like Student Veterans of America have worked to quantify graduation rates and post-college success for student veterans, as an advance response to the question of the value of the cost for the public.
Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of the American Legion’s National Economic Commission, said the benefit not only serves to help veterans catch up to their civilian counterparts in the private sector, but also is an important reintegration tool.
“To us, it’s not just about the economic impact these vets will have” after graduation, he said. “It’s the readjustment impact too, the extra support it gives.”
Before Monday’s ceremony, Gibson met with a panel of student veterans from George Washington University to discuss their college experience. Both Gibson and his father received academic degrees thanks to the GI Bill, and the acting secretary said he expects the benefit to be as transformative for this generation as earlier ones.
“What we’re celebrating here are lives being changed, society being changed, America being changed for the better,” he said.