Supreme Court ruling ensures veterans will receive education benefits

The U.S. Supreme Court building as seen on Sunday, July 11, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

An Army veteran from Virginia recently won a nearly nine-year battle with the Department of Veterans Affairs over access to education benefits accrued through his service, a 7-2 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that favors those who volunteer to fight for this country.

The VA sought to deny the vet, a 43-year-old from Richmond named Jim Rudisill, the totality for education access earned under two versions of the GI Bill. While the decision came too late for Rudisill, who now serves as an FBI agent, it could help plenty of veterans pursue their dreams following their service.


GI Bill benefits are a debt of honor owed to those who have served in the military, not something that should be subject to bureaucratic economies or lawmakers’ budgetary maneuvering. Those who have served honorably have kept their end of the bargain. The U.S. has the obligation to do likewise.

At the heart of Rudisill’s case are today’s two GI Bill programs. The Montgomery GI Bill is an update of the World War II-era GI Bill. It provides up to 36 months of educational benefits. The Post 9/11 GI Bill, which took effect in 2009, provides more generous education benefits, including housing stipends, also for up to 36 months, for those who entered service after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Rudisill served in the Army for eight years over three separate periods of service, first as an enlisted soldier and later as an officer. It’s no secret that access to higher education is one of the reasons many volunteer for service.

Rudisill used 25 months and 14 days of his 36 months of Montgomery GI Bill eligibility to get his college degree while serving. He returned to the Army as an officer, becoming eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

A Korean War-era law allows veterans to use benefits from a combination of programs for up to 48 months. Because he had separately earned his entitlements to educational benefits, Rudisill believed that he should be eligible for 22 more months of benefits under the Post 9/11 GI bill. He planned to attend Yale Divinity School, become an Episcopal priest and return to the Army as a chaplain.

But the VA maintained that Rudisill was eligible only for 10 months of Post 9/11 benefits because of its policy of “coordinating” benefits from the two programs. The VA had been making students give up eligibility for the Montgomery program when they signed up for the Post 9/11 bill.

The Supreme Court ruling rejects that position, saying that veterans who earned separate entitlements to both GI Bills cannot use education benefits from both at the same time, and they cannot receive benefits for more than 48 months, but they can use those benefits in any order up to the 48-month cap.

The favorable Supreme Court ruling came too late to help Rudisill. But other veterans who need more help from the VA as they pursue advanced education could benefit from it. The ruling means the VA may have to spend considerably more money on veterans in similar situations. Rudisill’s lawyers estimate that could include as many as 1.7 million veterans across the United States. Federal officials estimate the ruling will affect fewer than 30,000.

Whatever the number, the high court rightly says that GI Bill benefits must be paid to those who qualify. The VA already pays out more than $8 billion in education benefits yearly, so the ruling could cost the U.S. a lot of money.

But the money, while important, should be paid to honor the nation’s obligations to its service members. Our military depends on volunteers to fill its ranks and the Pentagon is already struggling to meet its recruitment figures.

What could happen if would-be soldiers learn the federal government will try to weasel out of promises made to those in uniform?

This country owes the best benefits possible to those who serve, and should be proud to pay them.