skip to main content

H.R. 3218 (115th): Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017

A 2008 law nicknamed the ‘Post-9/11 GI Bill’ has helped pay for more than 1 million veterans and their children to attend college or vocational school since its passage. A new law nicknamed the ‘Forever GI Bill’ updates that legislation for the modern era, expanding many provisions and changing some of the rules.

What the bill does

Among five of the law’s most notable provisions:

  • There’s no longer an expiration date for veterans to use its benefits. Previously, veterans had to utilize the benefits within 15 years of their last time in military service.
  • More veterans and children of veterans will be eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program, created in 2008 and used by 1.4 million people since its inception to help pay for college. The law will expand the program to surviving dependents of deceased service members, and also active-duty service members instead of just veterans.
  • Recipients of the Purple Heart, a military award for those wounded or killed in action, can now receive full benefits regardless of time served in the military. The Purple Heart is a military award for those wounded or killed in action, and length of time served was previously a factor in determining those recipients’ benefits.
  • If a child or dependent of a veteran dies prior to using all of their educational benefits, those remaining benefits can now be transferred to another child or dependent of the same veteran. This was not the case before.
  • The law would provide reimbursements for participants who attended college only for their school to close prior to graduation, as has happened for several major for-profit institutions in recent years.

The bill is funded in part by a reduction in housing stipends for service members, meaning service members are indirectly paying for some of these expanded benefits.

Formerly titled the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, the law has become more popularly known as the ‘Forever GI Bill.’ Harry Colmery was one the primary architects behind the the original GI Bill, the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944. About 7.8 million WWII veteransattended college or vocational school thanks to the so-called GI Bill’ of 1944, which provided stipends for tuition to veterans — almost half of all WWII veterans.

What supporters say

Supporters claim the bill will help provide those who sacrifice so much pay for an expense — higher education — which has seen skyrocketing costs in recent years.

“This important legislation will give countless veterans and their families greater access to the education and workforce training they deserve. It will provide them the opportunity to invest in their futures with fewer restrictions and time limitations,” Veterans Affairs’ Secretary David Shulkin and Education Secretary Betsy Devos said in a joint statement. “Our nation’s veterans can access lifelong learning that will help them succeed in our 21st Century economy.”


It passed the House on July 24 by a unanimous 405–0, after being introduced by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN1), Chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

It then passed the Senate on August 2 by unanimous consent, after being introduced by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

President Trump signed into law on August 16 as Public Law 115–48.

Last updated Aug 28, 2017. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Aug 17, 2017.

Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017

This bill revises education and related benefits provided to veterans, service members, dependents, and survivors.

The bill amends the Post-9/11 veterans' educational assistance program to:

remove certain time restrictions on program use; increase assistance for reservists, guardsmen, dependents, and surviving spouses and dependents; provide full eligibility for Post-9/11 Purple Heart recipients and certain reservists and guardsmen; provide an extra academic years' worth of benefits for STEM (science, technology, engineering, or mathematics) degree candidates; establish a five-year pilot program for high technology courses; restore eligibility for service members whose school closes in the middle of a semester; authorize funding to improve claims processing; permit assistance to be used at certain institutions that are not institutions of higher education; and pro-rate the housing stipend for reservists called to active duty. The bill authorizes the Edith Nurse Rogers STEM Scholarship to help veterans complete STEM degrees.

The Yellow Ribbon program is extended to Fry Scholarship recipients (surviving dependents of service members who died on active duty) and certain Purple Heart recipients. (The Yellow Ribbon program helps veterans pay for higher education tuition and fee costs not covered by the Post-9/11 program.)

The bill: (1) extends the Advisory Committee on Education, (2) increases survivors' and dependents' educational assistance, and (3) extends funding for state educational program approving agencies.

The bill provides statutory authority for the VetSuccess on Campus program, which provides veterans with on-campus educational and vocational counseling.

The Department of Veterans Affairs shall make a new determination regarding each denied veteran's claim for disability compensation in connection with full-body exposure to mustard gas or Lewisite at specified locations during World War II and resolve reasonable doubt in favor of the veteran.

For more detailed information, see Congressional Research Service Report R45205, Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-48).