DA Global Veterans & Military Families Caucus Leadership:
The long-awaited PACT Act will expand Veteran Affairs health care for personnel impacted by burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also includes benefits for those affected by water contamination at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Democrats Abroad's Global Veterans and Military Families Caucus spoke with Christian Pierce, a student veteran in Europe who previously served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Like many veterans studying abroad, Christian faced a major problem when trying to utilize his earned G.I. Bill educational benefits. But first, a quick background on using the G.I. Bill.
For 77 years, America’s veterans have been able to use G.I. Bill benefits to further their education after leaving the Armed Forces. Veterans have used this vital benefit to learn how to open and run businesses, become doctors and lawyers, learn important trade skills, and much more. For the entire history of this benefit, veterans have been able to freely use their benefits at whatever legitimate institution of higher learning they wanted -- until now.
During the Trump Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) made changes to the program approval process for universities to participate in the GI Bill program. For a foreign university to receive tuition payments from VA, the university must open a bank account with a U.S. financial institution and successfully obtain a U.S. Employer Identification Number through the IRS. VA calls this a "mere formality," but as student veterans abroad have come to find out, this is a critical barrier to paying for their education and thus have been left with no choice but to burn through their savings or drop out of school. This extra burden on overseas universities is unnecessary. After being questioned by Congress, VA admitted that the requirement is solely due to their legacy electronic payment system, which cannot process payments to foreign financial institutions. We maintain that this is an unacceptable reason to deny veterans their earned education benefits.
Have a listen to Christian detail his situation. We are in contact with several other veterans and military family members abroad who, sadly, have similar stories, which is why the 117th Congress must urgently fix this problem. Veterans earned their education benefits by sacrificing years of their lives and their health to serve in the United States Armed Forces. We cannot abide by veterans losing access to their earned benefits simply because of where they reside or where they would like to receive an education. Many overseas veterans have been unable to utilize their benefits because of these changes, and some have seen their G.I. Bill benefits expire. At the same time, they have waited for VA to approve their academic programs. Congress and VA must address this issue.
What can we do? Contact your U.S. Senators and the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs to tell them to pass H.R. 7375 immediately. This legislation would require VA to update its electronic payment system within 90 days of enactment to be able to process payments to foreign financial institutions. This would solve many problems for overseas-based student veterans. We believe this podcast interview will enlighten many listeners, and we encourage you to share it with other Americans to urge them to contact their Senators as well.