We must ensure care for veterans when they return home

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By Congressman Tom Perriello

I recently had the honor of traveling with the Surgeons General of the U.S. Army and Navy and a bipartisan group of Members of Congress from the Veterans’ Affairs Committee on a mission to Afghanistan. We had the unique opportunity to see first-hand the heroism and professionalism of our medical personnel saving lives overseas, from the battlefront to transition hospitals. Our soldiers were heartened to receive notes of support that I brought over from Rustburg Elementary and Middle School, Gladys Elementary, and Dillwyn Primary School.


As we prepare to make serious decisions about our policy in Afghanistan, it was important to me to listen to the men and women risking their lives to defend our country and the generals leading them. It’s also important that we ensure that continuity of care when they return home. I’d like to take this opportunity to inform our recently returned troops about the new educational benefits that will be available to them soon.


The Post-9/11 GI Bill, written and championed by our own Virginia Senator Jim Webb, is the most comprehensive education benefit package since the original GI Bill was signed into law in 1944. Service member and veterans can start enrolling for this benefit starting on May 1, 2009 for education and training starting on or after August 1, 2009. To be eligible, a service member or veteran must have served at least 90 aggregate days on active duty after September 10, 2001.


The benefit includes: the cost of tuition and fees, not to exceed the most expensive in-state undergraduate tuition at a public institution of higher learning in the state you are attending school; monthly housing allowance equal to the basic allowance for housing payable to an E-5 with dependents, in the same zip code as the school; and yearly books and supplies stipend of up to $1,000 per year.


The maximum basic benefit is earned after serving an aggregate of 36 months of active duty service or after 30 days of continuous service for those individuals who were discharged for a service-connected disability. Individuals serving between 90 days and 36 months of aggregate active duty service will be eligible for a percentage of the maximum benefit. The percentage level ranges from 40% of the basic benefit for those whose service is between 90 days and 6 months to 90% for those who served between 30 and 36 months. For example, an individual with 5 months of qualifying service could receive 40% of the tuition benefit, 40% of the monthly housing allowance, and a maximum of $400 books and supplies stipend.


Individuals will generally receive 36 months of full-time education benefits. This should allow an individual to receive benefits for a four-year undergraduate degree based on a nine-month academic year, however, individuals may continue to receive benefits for approved training at an institution of higher learning, including graduate training, provided they have remaining entitlement.


Again, enrollment in the Post-9/11 GI Bill program begins on May 1. At a time when we have double-digit unemployment among our troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, this benefit couldn’t come at a more important time. For additional information, including how to apply for benefits, visit www.gibill.va.gov or call the toll-free number 1-888-GI-BILL-1 (1-888-442-4551).


There is a new toll-free number you can use to contact my office: 1-888-4-TOM4US (1-888-486-6487). Please feel free to contact me to share your concerns and ideas. You may also write to 1520 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515 or visit www.perriello.house.gov to sign up for my weekly e-newsletter.