New GI Bill Offers Massive Benefits

The first GI Bill since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is the most comprehensive set of educational benefits for veterans since the original World War II-era version. The $78 billion program pays as much as four years of tuition at a state university, housing allowances, money for books and fees.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block in Washington.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand in California.

Nearly a half million veterans will attend college this fall. And now, there's a new GI Bill to help them out. It provides billions of dollars in educational assistance for people who have served in the military since 9/11. Today, President Obama celebrated the bill with a rally at Virginia's George Mason University.

NPR's Claudio Sanchez reports.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ: President Obama's speech was short, but replete with references to the original GI Bill signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944.

President BARACK OBAMA: The GI Bill was approved just weeks after D-Day and carried with it a simple promise to all who had served: You pick the school, we'll help pick up the bill. And what followed was not simply an opportunity for our veterans, it was a transformation for our country.

SANCHEZ: By 1947, the president said, half of all Americans enrolled in college were veterans. Eight million veterans who were educated under the original GI Bill, Mr. Obama added, became the backbone of the largest middle class in U.S. history.

Pres. OBAMA: Including my grandfather. No number can sum up this sea change in our society.

SANCHEZ: The generation of veterans that have served since 9/11, the president said, can lead the way to a lasting economic recovery. It was that point that stood out for Jim Miller, the Marine who introduced Mr. Obama. It's what veterans can give back to this nation as civilians that's remarkable, says Miller.

Staff Sergeant JIM MILLER (United States Marine Corps): For every dollar spent by the American government to send a veteran to school, it receives $7 back. And that's an amazing statistic to think about.

SANCHEZ: Miller, who served three tours in Iraq, will attend George Mason this fall.

The new GI Bill provides full in-state undergraduate tuition and fees at a public college for four years, a housing stipend and up to $1,000 for books. To qualify, veterans must have served at least three months of active duty beginning on or after September 11th, 2001. National Guard and Reserve members who spent at least three months in Iraq or Afghanistan are also eligible.

Over the next 10 years, the new GI Bill will pay out $78 billion in educational benefits. Still, the money may not go very far if a veteran chooses a more expensive private college. So some schools are pitching in.

Michael Lochhead is vice president for administration and finance at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Mr. MICHAEL LOCHHEAD (Vice President for Administration and Finance, College of the Holy Cross): Most of those students, if they chose Holy Cross, would be full-need students. In which case, our policy is to meet 100 percent of demonstrated need.

SANCHEZ: Undergraduate tuition, room and board at Holy Cross these days is over $49,000, says Lochhead.

Mr. LOCHHEAD: What our program does is basically guarantee up to $18,000 in additional grants to the service member. And it's been our understanding that those grants would then be matched by the Veterans Administration.

SANCHEZ: But not every private college is putting up that kind of money and this is causing some tension, which the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says it can't do anything about. Members of Congress have already introduced legislation to help cover more of the cost at private colleges.

Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.

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