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Federal officials have just a few weeks to decide whether to go along with a court ruling giving thousands of veterans an extra year of college tuition benefits or appeal the order in hopes of reversing the potential billions of dollars in new payouts.

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims issued its final ruling on the case of “BO vs Wilkie,” letting stand an earlier decision that the Department of Veterans Affairs practice of making veterans relinquish their Montgomery GI Bill eligibility in order to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill payouts is improper.

Federal officials argued in court that the arrangement is designed to make sure veterans aren’t doubling up on their government benefits for personal profit. But the court rejected that argument, saying that instead veterans eligible for both programs should receive each set of payouts, just not simultaneously.

At issue is how VA makes students choose between the Post-9/11 and Montgomery GI Bill programs.

That means that veterans who use up their 36 months of Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits would still have access to 12 months of Montgomery GI Bill benefits if they paid into the program while they were serving. Under existing federal statute, any government higher education payouts are capped at 48 months.

VA officials appealed the ruling of a three-judge panel to the full veterans claims court, but were denied. That started a two-month clock on appealing the case to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, or allowing the ruling to stand.

Tim McHugh, an associate with the legal firm Hunton Andrews Kurth who led the legal fight against the VA, said if an appeal is accepted by the higher court, he is hopeful they could get a ruling on an expedited basis, possibly early enough for resolution before the 2020 fall semester.

“When they are looking at the timing of a case like this, it is appropriate for the court to consider the impact on not just the plaintiff but also everyone else,” he said.

Under current rules, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides 36 months of tuition assistance and living stipends to veterans (or their family members) who served at least three years on active-duty after Sept. 10, 2001. The total value of those payouts can top $20,000 a year, depending on where individuals attend school.

That benefit has largely replaced the Montgomery GI Bill as veterans’ primary education benefit. That program requires servicemembers to pay $1,200 in their first year after enlisting to be eligible for the program. Individuals who did so could receive 36 months of education payouts of nearly $2,000 last semester.

VA officials have until March 9 to appeal but are expected to announce a decision sooner than that date.

Annville, PA - The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) reminds veterans that the start of the new year is a good time to meet with a professional to ensure they are receiving the benefits they have earned through their service and sacrifice.

“All veterans should occasionally check with an accredited veteran service officer to see if changes in a veteran’s circumstances or changes to benefit policies may have modified the programs they are eligible to receive,” said Joel Mutschler, director, Bureau of Veterans Programs, Initiatives, Reintegration, and Outreach. “There are numerous accredited veteran service officers and veteran service organizations around the state that are eager to help, so I encourage veterans be proactive in maximizing their benefits by reaching out to them.”

Mutschler said safeguarding military paperwork, especially the DD-214, which is used to verify military service, is an important first step for securing benefits.

The easiest way to manage military documents is to make sure they are filed in a safe place immediately upon leaving the military. Veterans often find that filing their documents for free at their county courthouse of record is an easy way to secure them until needed, which can often be decades into the future. Anyone needing assistance locating their military documentation can count on assistance from the DMVA by calling toll-free 800-547-2838 or e-mailing: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Another key step, says Mutschler, is for veterans to apply for federal health care and state benefits by visiting their local county director of veterans affairs or area accredited veteran service organizations to take a look at what benefits they may be eligible for and to get help applying for those benefits.

A complete list of county directors and their contact information can be found here: County Directors of Veterans AffairsOpens In A New Window.

In addition to connecting with a county director or an accredited veteran service organization, Mutschler recommends that every one of Pennsylvania’s nearly 800,000 veterans should sign up for the DMVA Veterans Registry, an extremely helpful, free tool that electronically delivers timely information about the many state benefits, programs and services available to veterans. Veterans, family members and people who work with veterans can sign up by computer or mobile device at www.register.dmva.pa.govOpens In A New Window.

Mutschler cautions that “Veterans and their dependents should never pay for help to apply for veteran’s benefits because plenty of free, professional help is available. There are about 200 veteran service officers in Pennsylvania who work with organizations such as the DMVA, county veterans affairs offices, and several veterans service organizations. They are experienced, trained professionals who provide veterans with the best advice and assistance at no cost.”

For more about the DMVA, including information on our six veterans homes, visit us online at www.dmva.pa.govOpens In A New Window or follow us at www.facebook.com/padmvaOpens In A New Window or www.twitter.com/padmvaOpens In A New Window.

MEDIA CONTACT: Joseph Butera - 717-861-2178

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