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U.S. House Approves GI Bill For Recent Warveterans

This story was written by Michael Coburn, The Dartmouth

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to significantly increase college tuition benefits for veterans as part of a war funding bill passed on Thursday. College President James Wright has been a major advocate of the legislation, which will offer tuition benefits equal to those provided by the World War II GI bill. The benefits will be available to all veterans who served after 2001 and will likely take effect in fall 2009.

The bottom line was that this was an important piece of legislation, Wright said in an interview with The Dartmouth. Its affirming our national gratitude for those who serve. Its an investment in the future of the country.

Wright worked this winter with Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., to help craft the Post-9/11 Veterans Assistance Act of 2007. He advised Webb that benefits should meet the in-state tuition requirements of the most expensive state university in the country, Wright said. The government will then match the amount paid by the student or the university for the additional tuition costs.

Wright wrote opinion pieces, which appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education and The Boston Globe, supporting the bill.

Webbs office said it was grateful for Wrights help.

[Wright] has been tremendously instrumental in building momentum and elevating the conversation around the need for a 21st century GI bill, a Webb spokeswomen said via e-mail in April.

Wright said his prior work with wounded Iraq War veterans and his experience as a former marine motivated him to become involved with the bill. While Wright said the benefits he received as a veteran in the late 1950s were not very consequential, he said he appreciated the positive impact of the original GI bill following World War II.

When you talk about the greatest generation, their greatness came in part from winning a very vicious world war, but it also came in part from the contribution they made after they came back, Wright said in an April interview. That is because the GI bill provided the means for them to receive an education.

There are currently two Iraq War veterans on campus and six more will matriculate in the fall, according to Wright. All should benefit from the bill if it passes the Senate and is signed into law in its current form.

The Colleges need-blind financial aid policy, however, should mean that Dartmouth tuition is affordable either way, Wright said. The bill will encourage more veterans to apply to college overall, Wright added.

Veterans currently receive $9,000 for tuition per academic year under the current Montgomery GI Bill, which Wright said does not come close to covering the cost of a four-year institution.

Samuel Crist 10, an Iraq War veteran and president of the Dartmouth Undergraduate Veterans Association, said he agreed with Wrights assessment. The militarys education package for disabled veterans provides tuition for Crist, who was wounded during the 2004 Battle of Fallujah. Crist said he would be unable to afford college tuition if not for his injuries.

College is just way too expensive for the [Montgomery bill], he said in an April interview. Veterans get married, have kids, and theyre not going to be able to afford it.

A similar GI bill passed the House in April, but was opposed by the Pentagon and the Bush administration. Critics worried that the bill would decrease retention rates by encouraging veterans to go attend college instead of re-enlisting. To attract more bipartisan support, sponsors dropped demands for a tax increase meant to pay for the bill and agreed to allow veterans who re-enlist to transfer any tuition benefits to their children.

With widespread bipartisan support, which includes te presumptive presidential candidates John McCain, R-Ariz., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., the revised bill will likely pass the Senate and be signed into law by President George Bush.

Bipartisan support is critical, Wright said.

My concern was that it would get caught up in the presidential elections in the fall, he said. It doesnt look like it will.

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