Booker unveils legislation to extend GI Bill benefits for student veterans

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Rutgers President Robert Barchi greeted Sen. Cory Booker outside Veterans House on the Rutgers campus. With about two dozen Rutgers student veterans behind him, Booker recalled a round table discussion he led there a year ago and argued that students who return to college after separating from the military deserve a better deal.

“One of the issues revealed to me through that very discussion were the critical gaps in current U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs educational benefits,” said Booker. “Right now, student vets are running out of education benefits due to the required remedial courses they need as a foundation for continued study.”

Booker announced he is introducing legislation next week that would extend GI Bill benefits beyond the current 36 months. That would help the one-third of freshly separated veterans who need remedial work, like Matthew Kelly.

“Since the one-third of my GI bill was depleted, I had to take more classes to make the most out of my GI bill. And the typical student only takes 24 to 30 credits in a year, whereas I was taking 40. It definitely had an impact on my GPA and how that presents to employers,” Kelly said.

Booker’s bill would make it easier to transfer GI Bill benefits to as-yet unborn children and roll back a recent GI Bill penalty imposed on career military with more than 16 years of service.

“Improving the prospects for veterans improves the lives of all New Jerseyans because veterans are the backbones of our communities. They possess unique insights, they have incredible skills and veterans in New Jersey are servant leaders for life, not just the time that they were in the military,” Booker said.

Barchi said his school supports veterans.

“We had a wake-up call 10 years ago by our service alumni and our service students — told us we had to step up our game. We’ve done that. We’ve kicked into high gear in support of those who have served this country. And we’re proud right now to say that Military Times ranks Rutgers #3 in the nation,” Barchi said.

On other topics, Booker said he still strongly supports a bill that would protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump administration.

He said his role in the new Congress would include plenty of bipartisanship to get things done, but also speaking out forcefully when needed.

When asked about running for president in 2020, he said he’s still focusing on the contested races in other states from the midterms.

“I’m taking a little break right now, getting back to work. Over the holidays I’ll give some thought to whether or not I will give my thought to running for president of the United States,” said Booker.

Booker was asked whether he’d vote to confirm Chris Christie as Attorney General if President Trump were to nominate him. Booker and Christie worked well together in New Jersey. But he took a pass on that question. He said he’ll address that if and when Trump were to name Christie.