The Forever GI Bill, officially known as the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, was passed in 2017.
Under the Forever GI Bill, benefits for many servicemembers and their families have been extended and expanded. Many benefits were changed immediately when the bill passed, but others will be rolled out over the next few years, with the final changes expected to take effect by 2022.
Overall, the Forever GI Bill provides a wider range of benefits to veterans who are eligible to receive assistance under the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Under the Forever GI Bill, eligibility criteria have been expanded, meaning that more servicemembers and reservists may now qualify for educational assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Learn about the most important changes brought on by the Forever GI Bill and discover how veterans as well as their families and survivors may be affected in the sections below.
The Forever GI Bill is named after former commander of The American Legion, Harry W. Colmery, who drafted the original GI Bill of Rights in 1944 to help veterans returning home from WWII. The original GI Bill has been updated and enhanced over time to better suit the needs of veterans. However, when the forever bill was introduced, it proposed some of the most significant changes yet. The bill was first introduced to the House of Representatives in July 2017, after which it quickly passed through Congress and was signed into law on August 16, 2017.
The Forever GI Bill came with more than 30 new provisions, most of which are aimed at expanding the education benefits available to veterans. Most importantly, the bill removes the requirement that a veteran uses his or her GI benefits within a 15-year deadline after separating from service. Any veteran who was discharged after January 1, 2013 may receive up to 36 months of education benefits at any point in his or her life. The removal of the previous 15-year deadline is how the bill became nicknamed the “forever” bill, due to the fact that eligible veterans have the rest of their lives to use their benefits.
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Note: Unfortunately, the GI Forever Bill does not cover veterans who were separated from their service prior to January 1, 2013. Instead, these veterans will still need to use their benefits within a 15-year deadline.
A variety of other provisions also went into effect after the bill was passed. A few of the most notable changes include the following:
Nearly all of the changes to the Forever GI Bill provide more benefits or more flexibility when using benefits, but there are a few changes that set limitations. For example, under the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program, beneficiaries can only receive 36 months of entitlement rather than the 45 months that they were previously eligible for. However, beneficiaries who were already receiving funds under the DEA program before August 1, 2018 may still receive benefits for 45 months instead. Overall, this change creates more uniformity in the GI Bill, which will make the program more efficient.
While the Forever GI Bill brought about many immediate changes, the provisions will continue to roll out until 2022. Future changes will be similar to those that have already been made, in that most of the revisions will allow more servicemembers to receive educational assistance and have more flexibility in using their benefits. Three major changes are yet to be implemented.
First, the Forever GI Bill will provide up to nine additional months of educational assistance for students who are studying in a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) program. This change takes effect August 1, 2019. Second, benefits for the Forever GI bill will be consolidated so that there are fewer benefit levels, thus making the program easier to administrate. Under this provision, the 40 percent benefit level will be eliminated, while the 60 percent benefit level will be expanded starting August 1, 2020. Third, the Yellow Ribbon program will be available to active duty servicemembers starting August 1, 2022. Currently, this program is only available to veterans and their families, leaving active-duty servicemembers ineligible.
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