A bill passed this summer by Congress offers veterans more resources to pay for their college educations, alleviating a problem that has been exacerbated by the number of soldiers returning home from Iraq.
The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, also known as "The New GI Bill," offers separate funds for tuition, board and books to veterans entering higher education institutions. The bill -- which will not go into effect until August 2009 -- replaces the 1944 Montgomery GI Bill, which awarded a flat, monthly stipend to veterans for a college education.
Although veterans will still have the option to receive the former bill's benefits, many George Washington University veterans said the new bill is far more useful.
"You can't really compare the two," said senior Wade Spann, an Iraq veteran and the president of GWU Veterans. "The new one blows the old one out of the water. There's no real benefit to having the old one."
Under the post-9/11 bill, veterans receive $1,000 annually for books and school supplies. Monthly funds for housing depend on the average cost of living near the school, which amounts to about $1,855 in Foggy Bottom, according to the Department of Defense.
"The key thing for the new GI bill I'd say is the monthly stipend," Spann said. "I mean, that's helping guys out hugely because they can focus on school now."
In terms of tuition money, the government will grant no more than the cost of the most expensive public institution of higher education in the veteran's state. In D.C., the most expensive public university is the University of the District of Columbia, where the highest tuition is $4,180 per semester.
To compensate for the more expensive tuition of private schools, the bill establishes a "Yellow Ribbon" program that matches any money that a university contributes towards a veteran's education. GW does not participate in the program.
"Our big push is to get that going," Spann said.
The program, however, could cost GW millions of dollars, he said.
"We understand that it does take time because they have to look at it financially," he said.
But even without the Yellow Ribbon program, veterans said the post-9/11 bill is a better fit for GW due to the high cost of living in the District.
"I think it's really good for those who are going to be able to use it," said junior Tim Kauffman, who served four years in the Marines.
The old bill, however, is still a better choice for some veterans.
If the old bill's single, standard monthly stipend covered covers a veteran's housing and educational costs, he or she could have money left over since the stipend is paid directly to the veteran. In contrast, the post-9/11 bill pays tuition money to the school.
"When I collected my old GI bill, I collected $1,900 a month, which is a good amount of money when I was going to community college," Spann said.
While the Montgomery GI Bill's stipend did not cover rent in some areas, it could still be more beneficial than the post-9/11 bill in some rural areas where the cost of living is lower, said Veterans of Foreign Wars Deputy Legislative Director Eric Hilleman. The old bill could also benefit veterans attending school part-time who only qualify for some benefits of the new bill.
But for the majority of veterans, their decision is clear.
"The bulk of them will be better off under the new GI bill," Hilleman said.