My take on how prominently this figures on most of the country's radar screen is admittedly skewed -- I hear people raving about this every day, but probably only because they're directly impacted by it.
Directly from the VA website:
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is for individuals with at least 90 days of aggregate service on or after September 11, 2001, or individuals discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days. You must have received an honorable discharge to be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The Post-9/11 GI Bill will become effective for training on or after August 1, 2009. This program will pay eligible individuals:
tuition & fees directly to the school not to exceed the maximum in-state tuition & fees at a public Institution of Higher Learning. see chart listing 2008 - 2009 maximum rates
a monthly housing allowance based on the Basic Allowance for Housing for an E-5 with dependents at the location of the school. To
determine the BAH for your school's ZIP code click here (link goes to a non-VA
an annual books & supplies stipend of $1,000 paid proportionately based on enrollment a one-time rural benefit payment for eligible individuals see
comparison chart for more information.
This benefit is payable only for training at an Institution of Higher Learning (IHL) (See comparison chart for more information). If you are enrolled
exclusively in online training you will not receive the housing allowance. If
you are on active duty you will not receive the housing allowance or books &
supplies stipend. This benefit provides up to 36 months of education benefits,
generally benefits are payable for 15 years following your release from active
This is a HUGE deal, because it brings back the original promise of the post-WWII GI Bill, which was the single-greatest enabler of upward mobility in the history of this country. The promise of that bill at the time was that veterans returning home from the war would be able to get a college education, paid in full by Uncle Sam. Detailed studies of that bill have since shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that that government expenditure was a great investment, as it led to a more productive, educated, and effective workforce for the rest of the 20th century.
Since that time, as we all know, college tuition costs have skyrocketed far beyond inflation. Meanwhile, the GI Bill has sort of just lagged. The version I entered into when joining the service in 2004 was a $1200 "pay-in" ($100/month for the first twelve months) for the future promise of around $1,000/month for up to three years of higher education. Nothing to sneeze at, for sure, but not enough to make a major dent in the cost of a private MBA or JD program.
As Congresswoman Tsongas said more than once yesterday, this new legislation "restores the promise," because it pays a generous housing stipend (roughly $2k/month for the Boston area) in addition to the full freight of whatever the most expensive state school in your state costs. So if you choose to go to MIT, you're still going to pay something, but it's literally a fraction of what you'd pay without it.
But here's the part that has so many senior non-coms excited -- there's a provision for transferrability to a spouse or other family member. So if you joined 18 years ago out of high school, and you either earned your Bachelor's via military courses, or you just don't see the need/point of full-time school anymore, you can offer your kid the chance to go to whatever school he or she wants to. Now, it only works for one kid (or several if you want to spread the money out), but it still makes a TREMENDOUS difference in the financial picture of many military families.