Washington The House unanimously endorsed on Tuesday one of the biggest increases ever for a program that has helped millions of veterans get college educations since the end of World War II.
Some lawmakers said the boost, to cost $9 billion over 10 years, still was too small to keep pace with rising higher education costs.
Under the legislation, passed 416-0, education and training benefits available to a veteran with three years' service would increase over the next three years from the current $650 a month to $1,100. The bill still needs Senate consideration.
For veterans with two years of service or reservists who have served four years, the maximum benefit would go up from $528 to $894 over three years.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said that the education benefit, when fully phased in, would rise from today's $23,400 to $39,600, an amount he said would cover the costs for a commuter student at a four-year public college.
Smith estimated that with the 70 percent rise in benefits the number of veterans using the program would increase from 266,000 today to about 375,000 in 10 years. It's a "historic opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to veterans," he said.
Almost 21 million veterans have taken advantage of the GI Bill, enacted in 1944 and revised several times over the years. Its twin purposes were to help veterans make the transition to civilian life and, more recently, to help the services recruit quality personnel. The Veterans Affairs Department says about 55 percent of veterans have taken advantage of the program since it began, including 8 million each from World War II and the Vietnam War era.