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By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 6, 2009 - All systems are on track for this summer's rollout of the new Post-9/11 GI Bill, which Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said he expects to have as monumental an impact as the original World War II-era GI Bill of Rights.
Shinseki, who served as Army chief of staff from 1999 to 2003, told American Forces Press Service he understands the excitement over the new program that goes into effect Aug. 1.
The new GI Bill will provide the most comprehensive educational benefits since the original bill, officially called the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, was signed into law.
Many veterans who served after Sept. 11, 2001, will be eligible for full tuition and fees, a new monthly housing stipend and an annual stipend of up to $1,000 for books and supplies. Reservists and National Guard members who have been activated for more than 90 days since 9/11 will have access to the same GI Bill benefits.
And for the first time, those enrolled in the Post-9/11 GI Bill program will be able to transfer unused educational benefits to spouses or children.
"It has been a long time since we've had an education initiative that includes tuition fees [and a] housing allowance, [and] takes care of all of the requirements required to go to school," Shinseki said of the program. This will enable veterans to focus on their studies, he said, without the distractions of figuring out how to pay for them.
Shinseki said he expects the Post-9/11 GI Bill to have as big an impact as the original GI Bill. That law provided college education or vocational training for millions of returning World War II veterans, loans so they could buy homes or start businesses, and unemployment compensation while they looked for jobs.
By the time the original GI Bill ended in July 1956, 7.8 million World War II veterans had taken advantage of the education and training programs it funded, and another 2.4 million had signed up for VA-backed home loans.
"What that bill did for the country was to change the course of our history and the latter half of the 20th century," Shinseki said. "When those veterans went back to their communities with their college degrees, they ended up being our leaders in religion, education, business, government – you name it."
The Post-9/11 version "has the opportunity to create in the 21st century the same kind of impact for development, ... social change [and] leadership across a lot of institutions," he said.
The program will be administered and funded by VA, and represents a "huge investment" by the United States in its veterans, Shinseki said.
This, he said, sends a strong, unmistakable message.
"I think young veterans who come back and participate in [in the Post 9/11 GI Bill] will begin to understand how much they are valued [and] how much their service is valued, just by the opportunity here," he said.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates advocated expanding education benefits as a way to recognize troops' service while supporting both recruiting and retention. Gates first heard the transferability concept floated during a meeting with a military spouses' group at Fort Hood, Texas, and pitched the idea to then-President George W. Bush. Bush promoted the idea and ultimately signed the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2008 into law on June 30.
A whopping 97 percent of servicemembers surveyed in August said they plan to take advantage of the new benefits provided in the Post-11 GI Bill, said Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy.
"Enormous interest has been expressed in the transferability provision and how it would work, because so many in the force have families," Carr said. He noted that half of the military force is married. By the time troops have served six years of duty, about two-thirds have families.
To qualify for transferability under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, servicemembers must have served six years on active duty or in the Selected Reserve, and must commit to another four years. But Carr said the rules could be tweaked soon to allow mid- or late-career troops to qualify, even if they can't sign on for another four years of duty due to service restrictions