Washington, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that will afford Columbia student veterans the tuition benefits they were promised when they enrolled.
The Restoring GI Bill Fairness Act was passed by the Senate in May and passed by the House this afternoon in a 424-0 vote.
Concerns arose last week over whether students who had enrolled last spring would be included in the amended legislation, which specified a cutoff enrollment date of Jan. 4, 2011. That prompted the U.S. Military Veterans of Columbia University to organize a last-minute phone call and e-mail campaign to cover students who had been accepted to universities by Jan. 4.
"It's an all-inclusive bill now," said Dan Lagana, GS and MilVets member.
Columbia has the largest veterans population in the Ivy League, with about 300 enrolled.
The MilVets have been lobbying for such a grandfather clause ever since "GI Bill 2.0" was passed in December, capping tuition benefits for veterans at $17,500. This would have forced Columbia veterans, who had matriculated with the promise of full financial aid and stipends, to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 out of their own pockets.
"Last week and over this weekend, we really had to increase pressure to make sure that we didn't get sidelined again," said Marco Reininger, GS and currently a legislative fellow and spokesman at the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "Hundreds of phone calls, hundreds of emails, it was a really massive push."
The MilVets said they are mostly satisfied with the outcome. According to House Committee on Veterans Affairs spokeswoman Amy Mitchell, the Department of Veterans Affairs will interpret the legislation as such: As long as a veteran applied, was accepted, or was enrolled prior to Jan. 4, the old benefits will apply.
Mitchell said she was happy to hear of the large and active veterans population at Columbia.
"Make sure to tell all the students at Columbia 'thank you'," Mitchell said, "and make sure they graduate!"