WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Congressmen Brian Mast (FL-18) and Scott Peters (CA-52) yesterday introduced H.R. 1379, a bipartisan bill to extend benefits under the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Post-9/11 Educational Assistance Program to all honorably-discharged Purple Heart recipients regardless of duration of service. Today, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs passed the bill, which will now head to the House Floor for final passage.

“When my tour of duty was cut short following my injuries, I was fortunate to be able to use funding from the Post-9/11 GI Bill to get my degree at Harvard. Without it, I may not be a Member of Congress right now. But there are still Purple Heart recipients that aren’t able to take advantage of this critical program for our veterans,” Rep. Mast said. “If you’ve risked life and limb for our country, and come home with the scars to prove it, our country owes you a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid. Providing a high-quality education to these heroes is the least we can do, which is why I’m proud to lead this effort to ensure that every single Purple Heart recipient who is honorably discharged is eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill funding.”

Currently, Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits are only available if a veteran completes at least 36 months of active duty service or is medically retired; however, some Purple Heart recipients are honorably discharged before either of those qualifications are attained, making them ineligible for full payments. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that each year, between 1,200 and 1,500 Purple Heart recipients are unable to receive full educational benefits because of the 36-month active duty service requirement. This bill would allow Purple Heart recipients to access the benefits they earned.

“Purple Heart recipients have made some of the most tremendous sacrifices in service to our nation. They earned these benefits through their service and this critical fix helps us fulfill our promise to our nation’s heroes,” Rep. Peters said. “Whether veterans use these benefits to fund college classes, vocational school, or on-the-job training, this bill will make it easier for them to get the skills and training they need to transition to civilian life.”

Prior to his election to Congress, Rep. Mast followed in his father’s footsteps by serving in the U.S. Army for more than 12 years, receiving numerous medals including a Purple Heart. While deployed in Afghanistan, he worked as a bomb disposal expert under the elite Joint Special Operations Command. The last improvised explosive device that he found resulted in catastrophic injuries, which included the loss of both of his legs. Using Post-9/11 GI bill funding, Rep. Mast subsequently received a bachelor’s degree in extension studies, with a concentration in economics and minors in government and environmental studies, from Harvard.