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Congress passes expansion of GI Bill benefits

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G.I. Bill expanded by both housesFor the second time in two years, Congress has approved a major overhaul of GI Bill benefits, this time simplifying the formula for college tuition payments and awarding housing stipends to students attending classes online.

The measure, which passed the House in a 409 to 3 vote Thursday afternoon, would also allow more veterans to use the post-9/11 GI Bill to pay for vocational school and on-the-job training. Veterans groups had lobbied Congress vigorously for that change, saying veterans who were not interested in college classes were too limited under the previous rules.

The Senate approved the bill earlier this week. The president is expected to sign it into law before the end of the year, but the new tuition payments and program expansions won’t go into effect until August 2011.

Two years ago, Congress passed a major overhaul of the GI Bill, offering full college tuition at state schools to veterans who served at least three years on active duty after September 2001. The move represented a tremendous financial upgrade for most veterans, increasing payments from a few hundred dollars a month to free tuition plus room and board.

But Tom Tarantino, legislative associate for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said even with the upgraded benefits, veterans advocates found gaps in tuition costs and student eligibility rules.

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