Wyden pushes for new GI Bill

Wyden

A bill making its way through the U.S. Senate has the attention of Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and 40 other senators. The bill is S. 22, also known as the "Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007."

Another name it goes by is the "21st Century GI Bill."

The bill aims to beef up educational benefits for veterans who have served overseas since Sept. 11. The bill will bring those benefits to an even keel with those given to World War II-era veterans.

On Monday, Wyden announced his endorsement of the bill.

Wyden said while the Montgomery GI Bill passed 65 years ago is one of the better benefits of military service, this benefit has remained out of reach for many Oregon soldiers.

Noting the large number of National Guard soldiers and reservists, Wyden said they should receive the same benefits as active-duty troops when looking for educational opportunities.

"I believe that as a matter of basic fairness, soldiers who share the same foxhole for the same length of time should get the same benefit," he said.

The amount of benefits each veteran would receive would be tied to the amount of time served in the military, according to a facts sheet provided by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va.

The bill will allow "veterans pursuing an approved program of education" to get payments covering charges for education and a $1,000 monthly stipend. It may also provide payments for tutorial assistance and license and certification tests.

The bill has received a host of other endorsements from organizations such as the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Vietnam Veterans of America.

Locally, if the bill passes, it may have an impact at Blue Mountain Community College.

This year, there are about 70-80 veterans or family members of veterans receiving benefits and attending BMCC, said Cristina Sweek, financial aid officer and veterans representative. That comes to a significant percentage at a college where the number of full-time students is about 1,000 and the number of part-time students is around 4,500.

Sweek said she's seen an increase in veterans applying since 2001.

"That population has increased, obviously, since soldiers have been returning," she said.

Sweek said she could see the bill making a difference in the college by allowing more veterans to become eligible for benefits.

"I do believe it would have an impact - a positive one," Sweek said. "Everybody's feeling the crunch of the cost of education and anywhere that deserving students (and) eligible students can receive a benefit, then it would have a positive impact for the students as well as the institute their attending."

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