CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Veterans groups cheered the passage last week of legislation that would extend the amount of time service members and their families have to use education benefits that are available to them under the GI Bill.
Currently, the GI Bill helps pay for tuition, books and other costs associated with college for service members or their family members for a 15-year window after completing the military.
The new legislation, which was first passed by the US House of Representatives and given final approval by the US Senate last week, does away with the 15-year time limit and further extends the education benefits to spouses and other family members.
Curtis Chancey, who is an Army veteran and served in Iraq and Afghanistan, cheered the bill's passage. Chancey is currently enrolled as a student at UNC-Charlotte.
"A lot of veterans here and ones I've met just in the walk of life, their whole point in joining (the military) was to get the educational benefit they knew they weren't going to be able to achieve without the military service and GI Bill," Chancey said.
Chancey said he is among those who would not have been able to get a higher education without education benefits that came with his military service.
"I come from a very low income family and the skills I learned in the military are great but they do not translate very will in the civilian world," he said. "So, going to college was not an option without the GI Bill."
Congressman Richard Hudson (R-08) said he supported the legislation because he recognized the great value the education benefits are to those who serve our country.
"I want to make sure our veterans, especially the new veterans coming back, have opportunities for education and work force training," Hudson said. "It was important that we make that more flexible, that we make it easier for Guard and Reservists coming off active duty to access it, but also families and dependents."
Hudson said the new changes will also allow veterans to use the benefits to access retraining programs to change career fields and fill jobs in a growing economic sector in the future.
"We have a tremendous veterans population and I consider it one of the most sacred obligations to be their representative, to be their voice," Hudson said.
The new bill is now awaiting the president's signature.
For Chancey and his fellow veterans, the benefits will go a long way.
"It's one of the most important things for service members when you get out - outside of having health benefits and life benefits - education is second," he said. "Especially for our generation, education is a must. There's no way around it."