James Rudisill, who learned Monday that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up his case involving college benefits earned under the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill.

James Rudisill learned Monday that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up his case involving college benefits earned under the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill.

Julia Rendleman / Sun-Times

Supreme Court to hear decorated Army vet’s claim that VA shortchanged his GI Bill benefits

An estimated 1.7 million other vets who’ve qualified for benefits under both the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill could get more college money if James Rudisill, who’s now an FBI agent, wins.

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will hear the appeal of a decorated Army veteran who says the government shortchanged his GI Bill benefits — a case that could open up additional college money for 1.7 million long-serving vets.

The case centers on the calculation of educational benefits that service members who qualify under both the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill earn.

James Rudisill, 43, says the federal Department of Veterans Affairs wrongly cut short the number of months of college benefits he earned under both GI bills over the course of multiple periods of service in the Army.

Rudisill, who has been fighting for the benefits since 2015, had found support for his plea to the Supreme Court from Democratic and Republican attorneys general from 33 states and the District of Columbia, including Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

“I’m elated for my brother and sister veterans,” Rudisill said after hearing that the nation’s high court, which accepts few of the appeals brought before it, had agreed to consider his case.

Oral arguments most likely will take place toward the end of the year.

Rudisill, a Virginia resident, is now an FBI agent and has investigated cases involving ISIS supporters and white supremacists.

The two versions of the GI Bill involved in his case work like this: Service members pay into the Montgomery GI Bill, which provides monthly payments that typically go toward tuition. The Post-9/11 GI Bill, which took effect in 2009, is offered automatically and has more generous benefits, covering tuition and fees, housing and books.

Under federal law, veterans can get college money under both plans up to a maximum of 48 months.

That’s what Rudisill was counting on after three separate service periods and having already used about 25 months of his Montgomery benefits when he was accepted into Yale University’s divinity school.

Instead, he discovered that the VA had calculated his remaining benefits more narrowly. For veterans like Rudisill, who’d used a portion of their Montgomery benefits before choosing to tap their Post-9/11 benefits, the VA’s math essentially capped the total months of benefits at 36 months — 12 months fewer than the 48 he expected.

That scuttled his dream of attending Yale’s Episcopalian divinity school program, after which he’d hoped to return to the Army as a chaplain.

Rudisill sued to get the greater benefits — and twice won in court. But his most recent victory was overturned on appeal. Now, the Supreme Court will decide the issue.

Rudisill had a distinguished service record in the Army. He first enlisted in 2000. After getting out in 2002, he used some of his Montgomery GI Bill benefits for college. While in school, he joined the Army National Guard and eventually became a commissioned officer.

He did two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, where he was wounded by suicide attacks and roadside bombs. As a platoon leader in Afghanistan, he helped save lives by turning back a Taliban attack while directing medical evacuations under fire. He was awarded honors including the Bronze Star and reached the rank of captain.

For many veterans, education “can take them from scraping by … to actually achieving the American dream that we talk so much about,” he said.

His lawyers say Congress’ intention in creating the Post-9/11 GI Bill was to provide expansive benefits for an all-volunteer military during wartime. They say the law’s language is on Rudisill’s side but argue that, even if the VA’s rules are viewed as ambiguous, the scales of justice should tip toward veterans on the basis of the body of legal decisions collectively known as the “pro-veteran canon.”

A VA spokesman declined to comment Monday.

According to Department of Defense service records, at least 1.7 million veterans have served six or more years and earned benefits under the Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bills, Rudisill’s attorneys say.

The additional benefits could be “life-changing” for many veterans, said Tim McHugh, a former Army paratrooper and attorney in Virginia with the firm Troutman Pepper who is on Rudisill’s pro bono legal team. Misha Tseytlin, a Chicago partner with Troutman Pepper, will make the oral argument before the Supreme Court.

Misha Tseytlin stands by a window in the downtown Chicago offices of Troutman Pepper, the law firm in which he is a partner. Tseytlin is a Chicago lawyer representing James Rudisill in his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Misha Tseytlin, a Chicago partner at Troutman Pepper.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

A spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars — which along with the VFW Auxiliary counts 1.6 million members — said it hopes Rudisill “is successful in securing his full Montgomery GI Bill and Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits that he earned and paid into” and that other post-9/11 vets “who have been shortchanged on their entitlement . . . receive all that was promised to them when they enlisted and finally be able to reach their educational goals.”

Rudisill has aged out of the Army’s chaplain program but still wants to attend seminary so he can help vets suffering from post-traumatic stress and facing challenges in transitioning from combat to civilian life.

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