Tester’s Bipartisan G.I. Bill Reform Clears Key Hurdle

Senator’s Bill to Modernize, Strengthen Veterans’ Education Benefits Heads to Senate Floor

(U.S. Senate) – The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee today unanimously passed Senator Jon Tester’s bipartisan bill to modernize and strengthen education benefits for Montana veterans, Reservists and their families.

Tester’s bill would break down barriers to education benefits by getting rid of the arbitrary 15-year window for veterans to use their G.I. Bill education benefits.

“This bipartisan bill invests in the future and helps create opportunities for the brave Montanans who have served our country,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Our bill strengthens education benefits for veterans and service members, and better allows them use their benefits in a way that makes the most sense for them and their families. This bill is a testament to what’s possible when Republicans and Democrats work together.”

Tester’s Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act amends the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to make responsible investments in student veterans who are pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering or math fields, as well as technical and vocational careers.

In addition, under Tester’s bill, Guardsmen and Reservists would be able to count their training, deployments and medical treatment related to their service towards accruing education benefits like their active duty counterparts.

The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act also does the following:

  • Extends the Yellow Ribbon Enhancement Program, which provides education benefits to survivors of those who died in the line of duty. 
  • Transfers benefits to a dependent if the servicemember dies before being able to use them.
  • Restores benefits to student veterans who received credits or training from certain educational institutions that subsequently close.
  • Reinstates the Reserve Educational Assistance Program for Reservists.
  • Prorates licensing and certification benefits, rather than charging veterans a month’s worth of benefits.
  • Extends full education benefits to recipients of the Purple Heart.
  • Provides more on-campus educational and vocational counseling services for veterans.

Veterans, educators and advocates praised Tester’s bill.

“As a surviving child of an Army veteran, I’m elated to see that Senator Tester is focusing on surviving families and their educational benefits,” said Weston Haycock, Montana State University student, Fry Scholarship recipient and Gold Star son. “Having chosen an out of state school, the Yellow Ribbon Program would help relieve the burden of securing the difference in cost between in state and out of state tuition.”

“This common-sense package of reforms to the Post-9/11 GI Bill strengthens education benefits for troops in several important ways,” said Jon Byerly, an Iraq and Afghanistan student veteran from Lewistown. “Senator Tester’s bill would cover the additional field study requirements that my major requires and ensure that Purple Heart recipients whose time in service was cut short due to injury will receive full GI Bill coverage. On behalf of current and future GI Bill recipients, thank you to Senator Tester for your commitment to our post-service success.”

“Veterans of the past helped to pave the path to the present, through the power of education, and the veterans of the present will pave our path to the future, through the power of education,” said Daryl Lee, School Certifying Official at the University of Montana Veteran’s Education and Transition Services Office. “We the American people need to ensure we are providing all tools necessary to make our veterans successful and Senator Tester’s bill will do exactly that. A guiding hand is really what most people need and the career counselling and peer support services will provide that much needed resource for our veterans.”

“As a Purple Heart University, the University of Montana prides itself in the service we provide to our student veterans,” said Dr. Sheila Stearns, President of the University of Montana. “We welcome any assistance that will expand access, eliminate barriers to receiving education benefits and improve educational opportunities for our deserving American servicemen and women.”

“Passage of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act will open more doors for veterans seeking to improve their lives and the lives of their families through a college education,” said Montana State University President Waded Cruzado. “Additionally, the act will support veterans in completing their degrees so they can embark on new, post-service careers.”

“As a retired USAF officer and a university president, I know the singular importance of higher education to the future careers of our veterans,” said Dr. Tony Aretz, President of the University of Providence in Great Falls. “The biggest barrier for this education, as for any student, is the cost of attendance. Senator Tester’s bill is simply a welcome thank you for the selfless service and sacrifice that veterans provided to our nation. They deserve our support and this bill fixes many of the issues with the current legislation.”