June 20, 2008 in Nation/World

House boosts vets’ GI Bill benefits

Richard Simon Los Angeles Times

War funding and more

Highlights of legislation to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, extend unemployment benefits, boost GI Bill college benefits and provide flood aid to the Midwest:

War funding – $162 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, enough to fund the war into next year.

GI Bill – $63 billion over 10 years for increased college aid for military service members who serve after Sept. 11, 2001.

Unemployment insurance – $12.5 billion over two years to provide 13 additional weeks of unemployment benefits for people whose 26-week benefits have run out.

Flood aid – $2.7 billion to replenish various disaster aid accounts in the aftermath of widespread flooding in the Midwest.

Medicaid rules – Blocks six of seven new Medicaid regulations sought by the Bush administration to curb program costs and combat waste and abuse.

Other spending – $10.1 billion for various foreign aid programs, including $1.9 billion for international food aid and $465 million for Mexico to combat drug trafficking; $5.8 billion for Louisiana levee repairs and construction; $4.6 billion for military base construction.

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The House on Thursday approved a new GI Bill, with a significant expansion of veterans’ education benefits, as part of a war-spending measure that will pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into next year and also provide aid for the jobless.

The measure must be approved by the Senate, but its prospects brightened after House Democratic and Republican leaders and the White House reached agreement to head off another confrontation over the war and spending in a politically charged election year.

Its centerpiece is the popular modernization of the World War II-era GI Bill.

The new benefit would offer full tuition up to the cost of the most expensive in-state public university – plus stipends for books and housing – for post-Sept. 11, 2001, veterans who have served three years of active duty. It would allow service members to transfer educational benefits to their spouses or dependents.

“After tonight, in a bipartisan way … we can proudly say to our troops … that when they come home, we will say thank you by sending them to college,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

In a statement, the White House said that the legislation would “build upon the GI Bill’s historic legacy of ensuring brighter futures for service members and their families” and urged Congress to send it to President Bush swiftly.

The expanded veterans benefit emerged as an issue last month in the presidential campaign. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic nominee, assailed his expected Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, for opposing a bill sponsored by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a Vietnam veteran and former Navy secretary. McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam, attacked Obama for challenging his support for the military.

McCain expressed concern that providing returning troops with a free college education after three years of active duty could spur departures at a time when the military is struggling to retain service members.

But the addition of a provision to allow service members to transfer benefits to spouses or children appeared to win over McCain, who said Thursday that it would encourage people to stay in the military.

The measure provides $162 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through early summer 2009, after a new president takes office.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email