Truman National Security Project

The GI Bill Isn’t Good Enough For Veterans

By Michael McNerney | 9.10.13
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Early in his first term, President Barack Obama signed the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The new law provided much-needed reforms to the traditional GI Bill, such as simplified tuition rates, the ability to transfer entitlements to dependents and expanded access to higher education for many veterans.

Unfortunately, there are still a few kinks in the system that prevent veterans from taking full advantage of these benefits. Byzantine rules imposed by the bureaucracy are difficult to understand, making access difficult. For example, many benefits assume a four-year degree track, meaning veterans who graduate early often leave money on the table and that those who graduate late run out too quickly. Additionally, student veterans must rely on untrained school administrators for assistance, resulting in frequent delays. Finally, many veterans qualify for the GI Bill but have already completed their degrees, putting them in the unfortunate position of qualifying for educational benefits but unable to use them.

Adding to the frustration, and unlike most other benefits, many veterans were required to pay for their educational benefits before becoming qualified. For example, particularly for those covered by the traditional GI Bill, military members had to complete their service commitments honorably and pay up to $1,200 from their own paychecks in order to “buy in” and qualify for benefits. When these veterans are later denied full access to their benefits because of red tape or incomprehensible rules, the costs can run into the thousands of dollars.

None of this was likely the intent of Congress — even the best laws are often hindered by the bureaucracies that execute them. But the result is that veterans returning home from fighting America’s wars are finding it hard to transition to civilian life. Worse yet, many have to overcome bigger hurdles, from health and psychological problems to the need to support growing families. Educational benefits should not add to this burden.

One way to help alleviate this problem would be to allow veterans to use untapped GI Bill funds to pay down their college debt directly. Once qualified for educational benefits, veterans who already have their degrees or those who are unable to fully use them while in school because of bureaucratic hurdles could work with the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Education to pay off qualified debt after graduation. Payments could flow directly from one pot to the other until some or all of the debt is paid. This could help with both the unused benefits and student debt problems at once without overburdening the federal budget.

It might only be small a drop in a huge bucket, but any little bit helps. It’s also the right thing to do.

Michael McInerney is a Truman National Security Project Fellow. This article originally appeared on Politico.