President Barack Obama said Monday a new GI Bill for those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan is an investment in both a new generation of veterans and the future of America.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is the most comprehensive education benefit offered to veterans since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the original GI Bill for World War II veterans in 1944. In the next decade, $78 billion is expected to be paid out under it.
"We do this not just to meet our moral obligation to those who sacrificed greatly on our behalf, on behalf of the country," said Obama, speaking at a celebration rally at George Mason University. "We do it because these men and women must now be prepared to lead our nation in the peaceful pursuit of economic leadership in the 21st century."
The maximum benefit under the law rolled out Saturday will allow every eligible veteran, serviceman and woman, Reservist and National Guard member to attend a public college or university for free for four years. They are also eligible for a monthly housing stipend and up to $1,000 a year for books.
Those who attend a private institution or graduate school can receive financial assistance up to the cost of a public college in the state. About 1,100 schools are offering additional scholarships matched by the VA.
Obama noted that many of the 1.9 million troops who have deployed in support of the recent wars joined the military knowing they'd have to go and fight somewhere. He said military members have endured multiple tours in grueling combat.
"The contributions that servicemen and women can make to our nation do not end when they take off that uniform," Obama said. "We owe a debt to all who served and when we repay that debt to those bravest Americans among us, then we are investing in our future."
Service members who agree to serve four more years in the military can opt to transfer the benefit to their spouse or kids. It's anticipated that nearly a half million veterans or their family members could participate in the first year.
More than 100,000 claims have already been processed, and more than 25,000 service members have applied to use the transfer benefit.
The legislation has been widely praised by veterans groups, but there have been concerns that universities and the VA could be overwhelmed, in part, because of the complexity of the benefit. There have been complaints that veterans attending private schools in states that keep public tuition low face a huge disparity in what they receive.
The legislation was authored by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va. He was joined by several other veterans in Congress in getting it passed.