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Sweeping new GI Bill plan gets final approval

By Rick Maze - Staff writer

Army Times

A sweeping new veterans' education package has been approved as part of the 2008 war budget.

The package is designed to fully cover the cost of completing four years of college — including tuition and fees, books and living expenses — and to let career troops share those benefits with dependents. The new "GI Bill for the 21st Century" will offer a benefit worth an average of $80,000, double the GI Bill's current value.

The new benefit would pay up to the in-state rate for tuition and fees for the most expensive four-year public college or university in the state where a veteran attends school.

The package also includes a monthly living stipend, an annual book allowance, and money for tutorial assistance, along with many other features.

The House of Representatives passed the war funding bill Thursday night. The Senate is expected to follow suit next week. Benefits increases take effect as soon as the war funding bill is signed into law by President Bush, which will happen in the next few weeks. But veterans now in school will not get the higher amounts right away because lawmakers are giving the Veterans Affairs Department until Aug. 1, 2009, to calculate and pay amounts that will vary by state and by school. Retroactive payments will have to be made.

Also, anyone who had not previously enrolled in the GI Bill will have to wait until Aug. 1, 2009, to collect any payments.

Under the package's new family transfer option will give active-duty, National Guard and reserve members the right to transfer benefits to spouses or children after meeting certain time-in-service milestones. No transfer rights would be available until regulations are issued by the Pentagon.

"It has been seven years since the 9/11 attacks, and the operating tempo and strain on the troops has not diminished," said Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., the chief sponsor of the new GI Bill package.

"It is long past time to do this."

Much more detail on the new GI Bill plan will be in next week's Military Times newspapers.

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