BRIDGEWATER, N.J. (AP) -- President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed into law an updated veterans' education bill that marks the largest expansion of college assistance for military veterans in a decade.
The Forever GI Act immediately removed a 15-year time limit on the use of GI benefits. The measure also increases financial assistance for thousands serving in the National Guard and Reserve, building on a 2008 law that guaranteed veterans a full-ride scholarship to any in-state public university, or a similar cash amount to attend private colleges.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who joined Trump for the signing, said the new law also provides benefits to Purple Heart recipients whose injuries forced them to leave the service. Benefits can also now be transferred to the eligible dependent of service members who are killed in the line of duty.
Veterans would get additional payments for completing science, technology and engineering courses, part of a broad effort to better prepare veterans for life after active-duty service amid a fast-changing job market. The law also restores benefits if a college closes in the middle of the semester, a protection that was added after thousands of veterans were hurt by the collapse of for-profit college giant ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian Colleges.
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"This is expanding our ability to support our veterans in getting education," Shulkin told reporters at a briefing after Trump signed the measure at his New Jersey golf club upon returning there after two nights at his home at New York's Trump Tower. Journalists were not permitted to watch Trump sign the bill, as the White House has done for earlier veterans' legislation he has turned into law. That includes a measure Trump signed at the club Saturday to provide nearly $4 billion in emergency funding for a temporary veterans health care program.
Wednesday's signing came the day after Trump was soundly rebuked for continuing to insist that "both sides" were culpable for an outbreak of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend between white supremacists and counter-demonstrators. One woman was killed.
A wide range of veterans groups supported the education measure. The Veterans of Foreign Wars says hundreds of thousands stand to benefit.
Student Veterans of America says that only about half of the 200,000 service members who leave the military each year go on to enroll in college, while surveys indicate that veterans often outperform peers in the classroom.
"Taking care of our veterans includes empowering them with the opportunity to succeed," said Mark Lucas, executive director of Concerned Veterans for America. "We applaud President Trump for his continued dedication to helping veterans and support of meaningful reform."
The expanded educational benefits would be paid for by bringing living stipend payments under the GI Bill down to a similar level as that received by an active-duty member, whose payments were reduced in 2014 by 1 percent a year for five years. Total government spending on the GI Bill is expected to be more than $100 billion over 10 years.