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Virginia Army vet takes VA to Supreme Court over lost education benefits

Service members salute during an event at the Virginia War Memorial.
Patrick Larsen
/
VPM News
Service members salute at the Virginia War Memorial.

The outcome could impact the Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bills — and about 2 million veterans.

A Virginia Army veteran is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to force the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to pay him a year’s worth of education benefits.

Should the high court decide to hear the case, the outcome could affect about 2 million vets nationwide.

FBI Special Agent James Rudisill claims the VA shorted him benefits he earned under separate GI Bill programs, which caused him to forfeit an offer to attend Yale Divinity School. The decorated veteran served three separate periods of active military service between 2000 and 2011, totaling almost eight years.

Rudisill’s lawyer, David DePippo, said the VA’s interpretation of program requirements has left billions of dollars out of reach for his client and other qualifying vets.

“What it can do for your life if they’re administering the program correctly, is life changing,” DePippo said. “Not only for the people involved, but their families and their communities.”

After completing his first tour, Rudisill applied for education benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill, using 25 months and 14 days of the 36-month benefit available under that program to complete his degree.

In 2014, following a separate tour in Iraq and Afghanistan, he applied for education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill passed in 2008. Rudisill had been accepted into Yale Divinity School — with the goal of returning to active duty as a chaplain — and wished to convert to the more generous Post-9/11 benefits.

His attorneys noted that Montgomery GI benefits pay about $2,200 per month, while benefits under the Post-9/11 GI are equivalent to a full scholarship — with stipends for living expenses, books and fees.

While both GI Bills provide benefits for up to the equivalent of a four-year postsecondary education, there are key differences between the programs. Most notably, the Post-9/11 GI Bill allocates tuition funds directly to institutions as well as additional funds monthly to eligible students based on location. The Post-9/11 benefits are also transferrable to dependents.

Recipients of Montgomery GI Bill benefits receive a flat-rate monthly check directly (instead of paying directly to the institution), but no additional stipends. Benefits are also nontransferable.

Rudisill believed he qualified for 22 months of benefits under the Post-9/11 bill before he would hit the congressionally mandated cap of 48 months.

But the VA told Rudisill that he’d have to either exhaust or forfeit his remaining Montgomery benefit and would be limited to 10 months and 16 days of Post-9/11 benefits — an amount equal to his unused Montgomery GI Bill entitlement.

Denis McDonough, the U.S. secretary of veterans affairs, responded to Rudisill’s claims in a brief filed July 2022. The brief stated that federal law is clear about that policy.

“There is no dispute that veterans who wish to use all 36 months of their Montgomery benefits can do so. What Congress was giving veterans was a choice; but the fact that this choice came with consequences or fewer options than Mr. Rudisill would have preferred is not at all ‘hard to fathom,’ ... that is what Congress routinely does,” it read.

But DePippo said that doesn’t align with the way Congress has historically looked at veterans’ benefits.

“When we’ve had wartime veterans, they’ve been very generous with these benefits.,” he said. “They’ve always let veterans qualify for multiple programs since World War II, Korea, Vietnam, they’ve always let folks who have qualified for more to get more.”

Rudisill, who is now 43, is too old to be accepted into the Army chaplain program. His attorneys said the Navy has agreed to accept him into its Chaplain Corps once he finishes his degree.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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