OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today, as part of a multistate coalition, filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a U.S. veteran’s attempt to access educational benefits to which he is entitled under the G.I. Bill. The brief urges the court to review an erroneous lower court decision denying a U.S. Army veteran’s challenge of a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs ruling that limited the veteran’s benefits. The veteran, James R. Rudisill, despite having served multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and being awarded a Bronze Star Medal, is at risk of losing a year of education benefits due to incorrect interpretation by the federal government of his entitlement to benefits under the G.I. Bill.
“Service members make incredible contributions and sacrifices for our nation,” said Attorney General Bonta. “It’s essential that we do all we can to ensure our veterans can access the benefits they need and deserve. What our veterans do not need are roadblocks in accessing the services and benefits they are entitled to. We urge the Supreme Court to review this veteran’s case and address the erroneous interpretation of federal law limiting veterans’ educational benefits.”
Members of the Armed Forces have relied on the United States’ promise to provide veterans with education benefits since the Second World War. The G.I. Bill — first passed as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act in 1944 for 16 million service members returning from World War II — helped to facilitate reentry for veterans by providing them with transformative education benefits. The G.I. Bill gave veterans the right to apply to the education and training programs of their choice, and covered tuition, books, supplies, counseling, and living allowances for education expenses. Congress has extended the G.I. Bill’s benefits several times since World War II, including in 1984 through the Montgomery G.I. Bill providing 36 months of education benefits, and again in 2008 through the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act (Post-9/11 G.I. Bill) also providing 36 months of education benefits. Overall, qualifying veterans can use up to 48 months of G.I. Bill benefits.
Rudisill relied on approximately 25 months of education benefits under the Montgomery G.I. Bill before November 2007 to obtain his undergraduate degree. He then reenlisted, was commissioned as an officer, and served for a third tour of duty from 2007 to 2011. Rudisill then attempted to serve his country a fourth time as an Army Chaplain, and gained admission to Yale Divinity School to prepare for the role. As Congress had passed the more generous Post-9/11 G.I. Bill during his third tour of duty, Rudisill attempted to access the approximately 22 months of Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits remaining from his overall 48-month balance. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs informed him, however, that it would instead limit his Post-9/11 benefits to approximately 10 months and he was unable to attend Yale Divinity School to become a military chaplain.
In the brief, the coalition argues that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ decision to deny Rudisill benefits under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill erroneously limited the veteran to 36 months of education benefits, rather than the 48 aggregate months that the veteran earned in his heroic service to his country. The coalition asks the Supreme Court to review his case, arguing that the lower court’s interpretation of the G.I. Bills deprives veterans of the expansive education benefits that Congress intended to confer them and ignores the long-recognized "pro-veteran canon," which instructs courts to interpret any ambiguity in federal laws concerning veterans benefits in favor of veterans.
Further, the decision interferes with states’ roles in helping veterans within their respective borders access critical educational benefits, which harms states' veterans. The states work with the federal government to ensure that their veterans are able to transition successfully back to civilian life. California is home to approximately 1.6 million veterans who may also receive support through state programs, including various programs offered by the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet). In 2021, 513,600 of the state’s veterans, or 37.8 percent, held a bachelor’s degree or higher, including 321,300 with a bachelor’s degree, 142,500 with a master’s, 26,000 with a professional degree (M.D., D.D.S.), and 23,800 with a doctorate (Ph.D.).
California joins the attorneys general of Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the District of Columbia in filing the brief.
A copy of the brief is available here.