- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

I would like to share with your readers the increased benefits that will soon be available to them under the post-9/11 GI Bill, a new education benefit program that is effective Aug. 1.

Only active duty service performed after Sept. 10, 2001, may be considered for determining eligibility for this new benefit. To be eligible, a service member or veteran must have served at least 90 aggregate days on active duty. However, individuals honorably discharged for a service-connected disability after serving 30 continuous days may also establish eligibility. The maximum basic benefit provides the following:

• Cost of tuition and fees, not to exceed the most expensive in-state undergraduate tuition at a public institution of higher learning (paid to 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 (paid to individual); and

• Yearly books and supplies stipend of up to $1,000 per year (paid to individual).

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 percent of the basic benefit for those whose service is between 90 days and six months to 90 percent for those who served between 30 and 36 months. For example, an individual with five months of qualifying service would receive 40 percent of the tuition benefit, 40 percent of the monthly housing allowance, and a maximum of $400 books and supplies stipend.

The housing allowance and books and supplies stipend are not payable to individuals on active duty. The housing allowance is not payable to those pursuing training at half time or less or to individuals enrolled in distance learning programs.

Patrick W. Dunne
Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Benefits

Dear Adm. Dunne

Thanks for the update on the post-9/11 GI Bill. I urge all eligible vets to go to www.va.gov for continuous information on this well-deserved benefit.

Shaft Notes

An attaboy to Rep. Steve Buyer, Indiana Republican and ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, for recently urging House leaders and President Obama to include more than $2 billion for initiatives to assist veterans in any new stimulus package considered by Congress.

“We should not say we want to stimulate the economy and fail to include investments in programs that improve the lives of veterans,” Mr. Buyer said in a letter to Mr. Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner.

To put stimulus funding where it would help both veterans and the economy the most, Mr. Buyer’s letter proposed $1 billion per year to reauthorize an expired Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) program to guarantee loans to veteran-owned small businesses.

Mr. Buyer also proposed over $357 million for a broad set of initiatives that would increase job training and placement programs for veterans, especially homeless women veterans.

Additionally, he proposed $927 million above current funding to accelerate construction programs to upgrade VA’s aging health care infrastructure and cemetery system.

The committee’s deputy ranking member, Rep. Cliff Stearns, joined Mr. Buyer in the stimulus package letter.

“Investing in our veterans not only helps those who served our nation, it also promotes economic growth through new construction projects, and by increasing educational opportunities and access to health care,” said Mr. Stearns, Florida Republican. “I join in urging the leadership to provide additional funding for veterans’ programs in any new economic stimulus package.”

Mr. Buyer closed his plea by noting, “America faces many challenges in revitalizing the economy, but no one is more worthy of a stimulus than our veterans. Let us show them our appreciation by including them in any stimulus package.”

Service-disabled and low-income veterans who are reimbursed for travel expenses while receiving care at VA facilities were to see an increase in their payments beginning Jan. 9.

A recently passed law allows VA to cut the amount it must withhold from their mileage reimbursement. The deductible amount will be $3 for each one-way trip and $6 for each round trip with a calendar cap of $18, or six one-way trips or three round trips, whichever comes first. The previous deductible was $7.77 for a one-way trip, and $15.54 for a round trip, with a calendar cap of $46.62.

“I’m pleased that we can help veterans living far from VA facilities to access the medical and counseling help they deserve, especially in the current economic climate,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs James B. Peake. “Together with the increased mileage rate approved last month, we can further reduce the financial hardship some veterans undergo to use our superior health care.”

In November, Mr. Peake announced VA’s second increase in the mileage reimbursement rate during 2008, from 28.5 cents to 41.5 cents a mile.

Service-disabled and low-income veterans are eligible to be reimbursed by VA for the travel costs of receiving health care or counseling at VA facilities. Veterans traveling for Compensation and Pension examinations also qualify for mileage reimbursement. VA can waive deductibles if they cause financial hardship.

Veterans will have easier access under a VA plan to open 31 new outpatient clinics in 16 states.

“VA is committed to providing world-class health care to the men and women who have served this nation,” Mr. Peake said. “These new clinics will bring VA’s top-notch care closer to the veterans who have earned it.”

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or e-mail [email protected]

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