The Supreme Court just quietly handed a huge win to veterans

Courts Supreme Court 022515 AP J. Scott Applewhite

The Supreme Court recently decided on a case you might not have heard about. Its underreported landmark ruling about the GI Bill could have a massive positive effect on America’s veterans, our communities and our nation for years to come. 

Earlier this month, the highest court in the land issued a 7-2 ruling that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) improperly calculated GI Bill benefits for retired Army Captain James Rudisill, who now works in federal law enforcement.

Like so many others before him, Rudisill had separated from the military and wanted to use the educational benefits that we all earn while serving our country. However, Rudisill earned his benefits under two different versions of the GI Bill — the one applied to those who served before the 9/11 attacks, and the one that applied to those afterward.

Rudsill had served both before and after that awful day in our history, yet the VA told him that he gave up his benefits under the old version when he chose to use the ones he accrued under the post-9/11 version. This ruined his plans to go to Yale Divinity School and pursue a job as a military chaplain.

Rather than capitulate to the VA, he sued it, fighting all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor. This ruling is life-changing news for many veterans who are looking to expand their career opportunities after the military. It’s great news for me personally, because I was one of those veterans who will now become eligible for additional GI Bill benefits.

After I graduated from high school in Southern California, I had the privilege to serve in the world’s greatest Navy, where I spent more than 10 years on several deployments and worked as a tech with multiple countries’ special forces and the Naval Special Warfare community. My time in the Navy was tough; it was humbling, and it was an absolute honor to serve. After multiple injuries, my military career was cut short, and my dream of retiring from the military after a full 20 years ended. 

I needed to take the next steps for my career. However, I became completely lost in the VA bureaucracy and desperately needed help navigating it.

Fortunately, because of the GI Bill and other VA benefits, and the people who helped me navigate them, I was able to go to attend a local community college. That education lead to the opportunity of a lifetime. It allowed me to obtain a job in the House of Representatives as a caseworker, which meant that I could help my fellow veterans navigate the extremely confusing intricacies of paperwork and the unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles that stand between them and benefits that are rightly theirs. 

The Supreme Court’s ruling on this matter now could affect some 1.7 million service men and women who have built up benefits under both the Montgomery and the 9/11 GI Bills. 

I can attest that that number is a lot more than just a statistic. What we’re talking about are almost 2 million horizons that could be expanded for veterans, and almost 2 million different stories of people who will now be even more empowered to take their invaluable military experience, combine it with a higher education, or skilled labor training or technical school, and strengthen our economy by giving back to American communities. The access to these additional benefits will significantly improve not only their own quality of life, but that of their families as well.   

The Supreme Court made the right decision in this case for veterans, for the Constitution and for the betterment of our country as a whole. 

Tommy Marquez is a Board Member of The Pipe Hitter Foundation, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, and a former senior staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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