Veteran Education Benefits Guide

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers military education benefits are for active duty, veterans, spouses, and dependents. But these benefits may vary, depending on your circumstances.

If you have retired or separated from military service you have options that may not be open to other applicants, or you may have benefits that active-duty servicemembers also enjoy but not in quite the same way. What do you need to know about your military education benefits to get started?

Veteran Education Benefits: An Overview

As someone who has retired or separated from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Space Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, your options for education assistance may include:

  • Education benefits from the Department Of Veterans Affairs
  • Education benefits from state or local governments
  • Private military education programs and grants

Typically, guides like these start with the best-known programs and work their way down the list to the least well-known options.

If you are recently retired or separated, you may know some of your VA options already thanks to final-out processing briefings and seminars. In this guide, we’ll list some of the more obscure options first to help you quickly find resources you might not have thought of initially.

Private Veteran Education Programs, Grants, and Scholarships

The best-known veteran-friendly agencies such as the DAV, VFW, and American Legion often offer scholarships, grants, or other financial assistance for qualifying veterans.

Some of this assistance may be offered to those with qualifying service-connected medical issues, some may be offered to those who served during specific eras such as the Gulf War or the Vietnam War.

Other assistance may be offered to any qualifying applicant on a first-come, first-served basis regardless of a medical condition, eras of service, etc. Some examples of these privately-funded opportunities for veterans include:

  • AMVETS offers educational assistance for veterans who want to attend an accredited college, university or technical school. You must have no convictions for drug-related offenses and you are required to complete an essay to apply.
  • The American Legion has in the past offered financial assistance to members of the society who are veterans pursuing undergraduate studies at an accredited college or university.
  • The Pat Tillman Foundation offers financial assistance to veterans and active-duty military who can meet both merit-based and eligibility-based criteria. This college education assistance for veterans requires the submission of two written essays in addition to the other criteria.

Veteran assistance with VA benefits may be offered by Veteran Service Organizations such as

  • Vietnam Veterans Of America
  • Voluntary Service Overseas
  • Navy Mutual
  • AmVets
  • Blinded Veterans Association
  • Veterans Of Foreign Wars (VFW)
  • Disabled American Veterans (DAV)
  • The African American Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Association
  • American Legion

You can find a large directory of Veteran Service Organizations at the VA official site. Not all VSOs offer education benefits, but many do.

Read more: What Is A Veteran Service Organization?

Military Aid Societies

Military aid societies are generally private, non-profit, tax-exempt organizations working on behalf of their members. These societies include tuition assistance and college fund options for qualifying applicants.

Not all programs offer the same options, and not all of them offer financial aid for veterans. Options may change depending on funding issues, mission demands, program changes, or federal regulations. The following are all good examples of relief societies that may offer or have offered veteran financial aid in the past.

  • The Air Force Tuition Assistance Program
  • The Navy College Fund
  • The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society
  • The U.S. Army’s Survivors and Dependents Assistance Program

This is by no means a comprehensive list–there are too many privately-funding programs to list here. One important resource to use in your search for such programs? Your state-level veterans’ affairs office.

You can find this on your state government’s official site and these pages often list state and local-level education resources for veterans as well as typical pages listing state government services, locations, etc. Find your state’s Department of Veteran Affairs office.

Read More: Military Aid Societies And Education Benefits

State/Local Veteran Education Programs

Every state in America has an official site that lists programs, services, and other help for those who need to deal with state government. Many cities and municipalities have official sites, too.

These websites may have valuable information about veteran education grants, scholarships, in-state tuition options for veterans attending from out-of-state, and more. You will typically find these benefits (at the state level) at the official page for that state’s Department of Veterans Affairs (not the federal agency found at VA.gov).

This entity may be known as a Division of Veterans Affairs, the Office of Veterans Affairs, or simply as the Department of Veterans Affairs (again, a state entity and not the federal one). A short sampling of such official sites includes but is definitely not limited to:

As mentioned above, you can find your state Department of Veterans Affairs office at the VA official site.

Each state will have its own official site and typically has a veterans resources page including any current education benefit or links to those benefits. State benefits vary greatly. Some states are incredibly stingy in their veteran education benefits while others are fairly generous.

Vermont, for example, offers education benefits to members of the National Guard but at press time no other options seem to be available directly from the state. For all others, the state official site (at press time) refers veterans to a third-party private entity, the Vermont Student Assistance Program.

Compare that with the Illinois Veterans Grant which pays for tuition and fees for qualifying applicants who lived in Illinois when they entered military service or who have become state residents since leaving (a time limit for relocation to the state may apply.)

This grant can be used in conjunction with the GI Bill or on its own and may be useful for saving or extending the GI Bill benefit. It’s not the only state-level grant of its kind but your experience may vary depending on which state you live in or entered military service from.

Read More: 10 Careers with Education Programs Under One Year

Education benefits From the Department Of Veterans Affairs

For veterans, there are many options to choose from; some choices are made while still serving (Montgomery GI Bill or Post 9/11 are choices some vets have had to make while still serving) and some are options that may be open to you depending on the nature of the education and training you seek.

Not everyone wants a traditional four-year degree; there are options for technical training, pilot training, OJT, apprenticeships, and much more, as we’ll discover below.

  • The GI Bill including the Post 9/11 and the Montgomery GI Bill.
  • Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) also known as Chapter 31 helps veterans learn about their employment, education, and training options.
  • Educational and career counseling through Chapter 36 benefits includes free educational and career counseling if you are leaving active duty.
  • “Other educational assistance” programs offered by the VA.

Read More: Do I Qualify For VA Education Benefits?

Montgomery GI Bill Benefits

The Montgomery GI Bill is an option for those who entered active duty after June 30, 1985 and opted into the program. This version of the GI Bill offers 36 months of basic VA education benefits depending on how long you served, the type of education you seek, and the category of your military service. Different lengths of service may qualify for pro-rated Montgomery GI Bill benefits.

The Montgomery GI Bill features no housing stipend, has no ability to transfer the benefit to a spouse or dependent, and is generally more limited than the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Those who qualified for this option were offered the chance to switch to the Post 9/11 version; once a choice has been selected it cannot be undone but many did opt into the Post 9/11 GI Bill instead once the option was available.

The Montgomery GI Bill came in multiple versions including one for active duty and one for Guard/Reserve members. Even though the active duty version is identified as such, a veteran who no longer serves on active duty uses the active duty version of the program; Reservists who have retired or separated use the Reserve component version of the GI Bill.

The Montgomery GI Bill is closed to new applicants; those serving today are enrolled in the Post 9/11 GI Bill. It is not possible to apply for this benefit at press time.

Read More: The Montgomery GI Bill

Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits

The Post 9/11 GI Bill provides 48 months of education benefit for those who served on or after September 10, 2001. This program includes payment of tuition and fees, a housing stipend paid while you attend classes, and the ability to transfer your GI Bill benefit to a spouse or dependent school age children.

Some of your benefits are paid based on your attendance as a fulltime student, half-time student, etc. You apply for these benefits through the VA official site, or in person at any VA Regional office

You may qualify for this program if one of the following applies:

  • You served at least 90 days on active duty on or after September 11, 2001;
  • You received a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001 and received an Honorable discharge;
  • You served for at least 30 continuous days and received an Honorable discharge and have a service-connected disability;
  • You’re a dependent applying for transferred VA benefits under the Post 9/11 GI Bill program.
  • You were in the Reserves and lost education benefits when the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) ended in November 2015-restoration of benefits may be possible.

Some qualify for both the Post 9/11 and Montgomery GI Bill. You are allowed to use only one of these programs for your qualifying period of military service.

GI Bill benefits may expire depending on when you joined. For example, if you retired or separated before January 1 2013 you have 15 years to use your Post 9/11 GI Bill. If you retired or separated on or after January 1 2013 your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits do not expire.

Read More: Veterans and Predatory Student Lending

How to Apply for the Post 9/11 GI Bill

You can apply for Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits online by filling out the questions under “How Do I Apply on the VA official site.” You will be taken to the appropriate online form based on your answers to the questionnaire. You may also apply by mail. Call 888-442-4551 and ask that the VA send a GI Bill benefit application to you. Once you complete the form, mail it to the VA regional claims processing office closest to your selected school.

You can find a list of VA regional claims processing offices in the United States.

You can also get in-person help at any of these offices, work with an admissions representative at your school, or get help from a Veteran Service Office (see above).

Read More: GI Bill Facts and Fiction

A Word About The Forever GI Bill

The Forever GI Bill is legislation that changed the nature of the GI Bill program; it is NOT a standalone GI Bill option you can choose instead of the Montgomery GI Bill or the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

Read More: How The Forever GI Bill Changed Your Military Education Benefits

The Yellow Ribbon Program

The Post 9/11 GI Bill includes an option for those with qualifying military service who are at the 100% level for their GI Bill benefit, meaning they served the entire minimum qualifying time on active duty to become eligible for the benefit.

The Yellow Ribbon program is designed to offset the cost of attending an approved private school with tuition above and beyond what the GI Bill program can pay for–the Yellow Ribbon program can help pay for higher out-of-state tuition, too.

Not all schools participate in Yellow Ribbon. You will need to ask your admissions counselor if the school you have selected is eligible and participates. And not everyone qualifies for this program. In general, you must meet one of the following:

  • You served at least 36 months on active duty with an Honorable discharge;
  • You received a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged;
  • You served 30 continuous days on or after September 11, 2001, and were discharged for a service-connected disability;
  • You’re a dependent transferred benefits;
  • You’re a Fry Scholar;
  • You’re an active-duty service member who qualifies at the 100% level as of August 2022;
  • You are a spouse using transferred GI Bill benefits.

Yellow Ribbon benefits are limited depending on the school; you may find the program is administered at your institution of higher learning on a first-come, first-served basis, and applying early may be best. You will need to speak to an admissions representative at your chosen school to learn if that institution participates in the Yellow Ribbon program.

The participating school, not the VA, decides if new applicants can be admitted and how much Yellow Ribbon funding is available to use in a given semester or term.

Read More: The Yellow Ribbon Program

 

Find Yellow Ribbon Schools and more at CollegeRecon!

 

VA Dependent Education Program (VA DEA)

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers the DEA program to qualifying dependents and surviving spouses of military members who have died, are missing, or are prisoners of war. The formal name of this program is the VA Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program, it is also referred to as Chapter 35 benefits and is offered to those who meet VA criteria. Dependent children qualify if they meet the following:

  • Typically must be between the ages of 18 and 26
  • If the dependent joins the military they may not use this benefit on active duty.
  • Dependents may have their eligibility extended due to military service, but that extension typically won’t last beyond age 31.

For spouses:

  • DEA benefits start on the date of the Veteran’s death or as the VA determines the start date. They will last for 10 years.
  • If the Veteran is VA-rated as permanently and totally disabled, “with an effective date that’s 3 years after discharge from active duty” a spouse may qualify for benefits for 20 years.
  • If the service member died on active duty, VA DEA benefits end 20 years from the date of death.

DEA benefits are available to most who start using them today for up to 36 months. Those who started using VA DEA before August 1, 2018, had 45 months of benefits.

Read More: The VA Dependent Education Program

Veteran Readiness and Employment (Chapter 31)

Veterans who have a service-connected disability that limits the ability to hold a job or seek employment may qualify for the Department of Veterans Affairs Veteran Readiness and Employment program also known as Chapter 31 benefits or VR&E. You can apply for VR&E through the VA official site. Typically this benefit is for veterans but under certain circumstances, you may qualify for VR&E while still on active duty as we’ll examine below.

To qualify for VA VR&E benefits and services, you must not have received a Dishonorable discharge, and you have a VA disability rating of at least 10%.

In some cases you may have a time limit to use this VA benefit program; if you left active duty before January 1 2013 you have 12 years to use VR&E benefits from either your separation date or the date you received your first VA disability rating.

Your VR&E eligibility may qualify for an extension if you have what the VA defines as a “serious employment handicap”

VR&E applicants who left active duty on January 1, 2013, and after do not have a time limit for VR&E benefits. Some applicants may still serve on active duty while applying for VR&E benefits and services as long as they mee3t certain criteria:

  • You have a 20% or higher pre-discharge VA disability rating known as a memorandum rating and are due to retire or separate;
  • You’re waiting to be discharged because of a service-connected medical issue that happened on active duty.

VR&E Services

You may be entitled to the following VR&E services under the program:

  • A job skills/interests evaluation;
  • Professional or vocational counseling for employment;
  • Employment services such as job training and resume development,
  • Special employer incentives
  • VR&E “job accommodations”
  • On-the-job training
  • Apprenticeships
  • Volunteer or non-paid work experiences
  • Post-secondary education and training
  • Case management
  • Counseling
  • Medical referrals
  • Independent living services

If you’re participating in a VR&E program and you qualify for the Post 9/11 GI Bill (you only need a single day of remaining entitlement to qualify for this) you may be offered the GI Bill subsistence rate instead of the Chapter 31 subsistence allowance rate. This is true when you have at least one day of remaining GI Bill entitlement left AND you are still within any applicable GI Bill eligibility period. Expect to be required to “officially choose” the GI Bill subsistence rate to take advantage of this benefit.

Using VR&E benefits does not count against your GI Bill benefits.

You can apply for VR&E benefits online, in person at a VA office, by calling the VA, or you can use a Veteran Service Organization (see above) such as the DAV, AmVets, etc. to help you apply. If you apply online you will take a survey that will direct you to the proper online form for your needs.

Apply by mail with VA Form 28-1900, Application for Vocational Rehabilitation for Claimants with Service-Connected Disabilities, and mail it to:

Department of Veterans Affairs
VR&E Intake Center
PO Box 5210
Janesville, WI
53547-5210

Educational and career counseling (VA Chapter 36 Benefits)

VA Chapter 36 benefits, also known as Personalized Career Planning and Guidance offer help and resources for veterans who qualify for VA education benefits.

If you have left active duty within the last 12 months you may qualify for career counseling, educational counseling to help you select a school, and readjustment counseling to help you transition from the military to civilian life. You can also get help with your resume and career goals using Chapter 36 benefits.

You can apply for these benefits in person at a VA office, online using VA Form 28-8832, or you can apply online at the VA official site via Login.gov. Applying online means using an initial questionnaire to determine the proper form for you as a veteran, active duty service member, etc.

Once you apply for Chapter 36 benefits, the VA will contact you to set up a meeting with a VA Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor “to find out if you have an employment handicap and if you’re eligible for VR&E benefits and services” according to the official site..

The VA definition of an employment handicap includes conditions where “your service-connected disability limits your ability to prepare for, obtain, and maintain suitable employment” that does not make the condition worse and is in line with career goals, skills, etc.

Read More: MySECO: 4 Reasons Military Spouses Need to Take Advantage

Other VA Educational Assistance

The Department of Veterans Affairs has other educational benefits including the Edith Nourse Rogers Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) Scholarship. This scholarship can help extend Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits for those working toward STEM-related degrees or a teacher’s certification. You may qualify for this program if:

  • You are enrolled in an undergraduate STEM degree program;
  • You are enrolled in a qualifying dual-degree program;
  • You’ve earned a post-secondary degree in an approved STEM field and are enrolled in a covered clinical training program for health care professionals;
  • You earned a graduate degree in an approved STEM degree field and are enrolled in a covered clinical training program for health care professionals;
  • You’ve earned a post-secondary degree in an approved STEM degree field and are working toward a teaching certification.

You can use this benefit to pursue programs including, but not limited to:

  • Agriculture science
  • Natural resources science
  • Biological science
  • Biomedical science
  • Computer and information science
  • Engineering, engineering technologies, or an engineering-related field
  • Health care or a health-care-related field
  • Mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Medical residency (undergraduate only)
  • Physical science
  • Science technologies

Apply online for this program using the VA online questionnaire to direct you to the proper digital form.

VET TEC

There is a Department of Veterans Affairs program called Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC)  which offers benefits to help you start or continue a high-tech career if you qualify for the GI Bill.  You may qualify for VET TEC if all of the following apply to you:

  • You aren’t on active duty OR;
  • You are within 180 days of separating from active duty, and
  • You qualify for the GI Bill, and
  • You have at least one day of unexpired GI Bill benefits, and
  • You are accepted into an approved program

VET TEC does not count against your GI Bill entitlement. You can apply for VET TEC online using Login.gov or ID.me. You can also get help from a Veterans Service Organization.

There is an alternative to the Montgomery GI Bill called the National Call to Service program offering alternative VA education benefits to those who completed boot camp and any required advanced training and then “continued to serve on active duty for 15 months in a military occupational specialty designated by the Secretary of Defense”.

In addition to that requirement, applicants must also have served an additional enlistment or commission (service commitment times may vary) OR agreed to serve an extra two years in the Selected Reserve on active status.

If you qualify for the National Call To Service Program you may be eligible for ONE of the following benefits:

  • A cash bonus of $5,000,
  • Repayment of a qualifying student loan up to $18,000, or
  • Educational assistance equal to the 3-year monthly rate of the Montgomery GI Bill paid for 12 months, or
  • Educational assistance equal to 50% of the ”less-than-3-year monthly MGIB rate” according to the VA. This is payable for 36 months.

You can apply for these benefits via Login.gov. This is a program administered by the VA on behalf of the Department of Defense.

Read More: Managing Your VA Benefits Online

 

 

 

The Yellow Ribbon Program

The Yellow Ribbon Program is a partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs and participating schools. It helps qualifying veterans and dependents who must pay higher out-of-state tuition, or higher private school, overseas school, or graduate tuition and fees. This program is offered to those who are eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Not all schools participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, so your first step as a prospective student is to learn whether or not the option is available to you.

Who is Eligible For The Yellow Ribbon Program?

Only those who qualify for the Post 9/11 GI Bill at the 100% level can take advantage of Yellow Ribbon options where available. At least one of the following qualifying criteria must be true:

  • The applicant has served at least 36 months on active duty with an honorable discharge, or;
  • The applicant was awarded a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, and has an honorable discharge, or;
  • The applicant served for at least 30 continuous days on or after September 11, 2001, and was discharged or released from active duty for a service-connected disability, or
  • The applicant is a dependent using transferred benefits transferred, or;
  • The applicant is a Fry Scholar
  • Starting August 1, 2022, active duty service members are eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program if they qualify at the 100% level.

If you are approved for Yellow Ribbon funds at one school but choose to transfer to another, the new school must also take part in the program and approve you for the program. If you decide to take fewer courses, the amount of funding you receive may be adjusted accordingly.

Yellow Ribbon Program Requirements For Schools

As mentioned above, not all schools participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program. In order to do so the school must meet all the below:

  • The school participates in Yellow Ribbon
  • The school hasn’t run out of Yellow Ribbon funds for the class time specified
  • The school has certified your enrollment with the Department of Veterans Affairs
  • The school has provided the VA with its Yellow Ribbon Program information

How To Apply For Yellow Ribbon Benefits

The first step toward being approved for the Yellow Ribbon Program is applying for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. You should apply online at VA.gov, by phone at 888-442-4551, or in person at a VA Regional Office. Once you apply and are approved you will get the documentation you need to submit to your school.

You may be required to submit the documents and apply for Yellow Ribbon through a college admission office or registrar. Wherever you are directed, be sure to ask about applying for Yellow Ribbon, this financial assistance for veterans is not automatically applied for on your behalf.

There may be a waiting time while your school makes a determination about your application. One thing that creates this wait? The school must ensure it has not used up its supply of Yellow Ribbon funds. The school decides how much to offer, and will be in touch with its decision.

How Much Will I Receive?

The VA official site states that the total funds available to each student may vary from college to college; the nature of your program may dictate how much is offered. For example, some schools might offer more Yellow Ribbon assistance to graduate students than to undergrads, and more funds for those in doctoral programs than either of the other two.

Or all assistance may be offered at the same level. It all depends on the school. That is one reason to shop around for the right institution–one that has what you need academically and financially.

What To Know About Yellow Ribbon Benefits

Yellow Ribbon funds are not available to those attending school on the Montgomery GI Bill.

Those who qualify for the Yellow Ribbon program must have a 100% benefit level for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Those who did not serve enough time in uniform to qualify for the 100% benefit level are not eligible.

Yellow Ribbon money can be used to pay for “any” mandatory fees, but the actual application of your Yellow Ribbon funds may depend on the specific agreement the VA has with your school.

The VA will determine how much Yellow Ribbon money you need by reviewing any financial aid you may already have specifically for paying tuition and fees. That amount would be subtracted from the total amount charged by the college. Once that is accomplished, the school’s Yellow Ribbon contributions are calculated and the VA matches that contribution.

When you enroll in Yellow Ribbon you are automatically entered into it the following year, assuming all the following are true:

  • You must make “acceptable progress” toward completing the program based on your school’s criteria;
  • You must remain enrolled in the school without a break as per that school’s policies;
  • You must have some remaining Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

If you need assistance navigating the Yellow Ribbon Program, contact your school’s registrar or campus veterans services office.

Veterans and Predatory Student Lending

The federal government is attempting to settle a lawsuit brought against the U.S. Department of Education over predatory student lending. If “preliminary approval” is granted by a deadline issued for the end of July, it may result in the government paying $6 billion to compensate the students who were unfairly shut out of a government program designed to hold for-profit schools and other higher learning institutions accountable.

How did this all get started?

In 2021, Forbes Magazine reported on a class action lawsuit brought against the United States Department of Education regarding changes to the Borrower Defense To Repayment Program made under Trump appointee Betsy DeVos.

That program was created to offer student loan forgiveness to those who attended colleges and for-profit schools but reported being misled, defrauded, or otherwise harmed by the institution. The Forbes article states that under DeVos, the program was instead redesigned to create limits to that forgiveness that may have gutted the program.

Mass Denials Of Student Loan Forgiveness?

According to the Forbes report, DeVos may have personally approved “mass denials” of applications to the program. This, Forbes alleges, at the same time the agency was publicly claiming all applications were being reviewed accurately. National Public Radio aired an interview and update on this issue in June 2022, noting the Department of Education (DOE) is settling the lawsuit to the tune of nearly $6 billion in financial relief to affected students.

What This Means For Veterans

What does all this have to do with veterans’ benefits? There are actually two separate concerns at work. Some veterans used GI Bill benefits at schools that closed, misled students, or otherwise abused the GI Bill system. But other veterans may have applied for student loans instead. What happens to a veteran who paid for their education at a for-profit or other school that didn’t do its job?

Betsy DeVos’s actions while serving as the head of the Department of Education may have prevented these veterans from getting the full measure of the GI Bill benefits. One of those actions? Repealing a requirement that the schools show a benefit for the education money spent there.

NPR’s Quil Lawrence filed a news story on this issue which notes, “the Trump administration’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, repealed rules that required schools to prove their degrees led to gainful employment.”

The DeVos DOE And her department fought this class-action lawsuit, but it has since been settled in a U.S. District Court. That means the DOE will send “billions of dollars of automatic relief” according to NPR to some two hundred thousand borrowers who were associated in the class action lawsuit. That money is not specifically earmarked for veterans or those who used the GI Bill.

This settlement does not mean all  defrauded veterans are getting their money back–only those who participated in the class action suit may be awarded compensation. But if you are entitled to GI Bill benefits and did use yours at a for-profit school that closed, defrauded you, or otherwise misused federal GI Bill funds, you may have recourse with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Restoration of GI Bill Benefits

Those who want to use GI Bill benefits to attend a for-profit school or any other program may have the option to apply for restoration of GI Bill benefits if the school closes or is no longer approved to receive GI Bill funds.

You could qualify for full or partial restoration of the benefits, depending on circumstances. This restoration is not automatic, must be applied for, and approval of your claim is not guaranteed.

When you apply, you will be considered for restoration. If you qualify your entitlement is restored “immediately” according to the VA official site.

The VA does add a caveat; if your program stopped after 1 August 2021, you must enroll in a new program and see what hours from the old school your new one might accept. The VA will make a determination following those decisions by your new school.

How To Apply For GI Bill Restoration of Entitlement

To apply, complete the VA Form 22-0989, Education Benefit Entitlement Restoration Request Due to School Closure or Withdrawal. Submit the form online or submit by mail to:

Muskogee Regional Processing Office
P.O.Box 8888
Muskogee, OK 74402-8888

The Bottom Line

The official site of The Project on Predatory Student Lending discussed this case upon its resolution, noting, “…students who experienced fraud should not be required to pay back federal loans that should never have been made by the Department in the first place”.

The Project on Predatory Student Lending isn’t just a grass-roots student rights group; it is part of the Legal Services Center Of Harvard Law School.

The official site adds, “Since Betsy DeVos repeatedly ignored these students’ legal rights, the only way they could have their voices heard was through the courts. The students in this case continue to press the current administration to recognize their established rights.”

Those who used GI Bill funds at such colleges may or may not have had the ability to join this class action lawsuit, but those who have been defrauded of their VA education benefits do have recourse through the VA as mentioned above.

That said, veterans who feel their concerns are not being addressed may wish to contact The Project On Predatory Student Lending to see if there are any class action cases that might relate to their own circumstances.

The Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB-AD)

The Montgomery GI Bill is an education benefit offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Those who serve a minimum amount of time on Active Duty qualified for this benefit provided they opted in during basic training or in their initial enlistment.

The Montgomery GI Bill program is closed to new recruits (see below); you cannot opt in to this version of the GI Bill any longer. That said, some may still qualify to use the benefits they signed up for when the program was active.

You are required to make a choice between GI Bills if you are eligible for the Montgomery version. You are required to select the Post 9/11 GI Bill or the Montgomery version. Once you choose, the selection is irreversible.

Things To Know About Choosing A GI Bill Option

VA regulations say you are permitted to use one VA education benefit for a qualifying period of military service. The VA official site reminds those who choose the Post-9/11 GI Bill that they may be entitled to a refund of any money they paid into the Montgomery GI Bill program (MGIB). This is true if:

  • You entered active duty after June 30, 1985, or;
  • You served a combination of two years of active-duty service and four years of Selected Reserve service after June 30, 1985
  • You chose to pay $1,200 for the Montgomery GI Bill program
  • You chose to use your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits instead of your MGIB benefits and had unused MGIB benefits when you started using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits instead

Other criteria may also apply. You may be eligible for up to 48 months of GI Bill benefit under this program if you meet the criteria. There is no housing stipend for the Montgomery GI Bill, which is an important consideration to make if you need help with your living expenses while attending school.

New Troops Don’t Qualify For The Montgomery GI Bill

New recruits today, as mentioned above, do not have the option of selecting the Montgomery GI Bill. Instead, these recruits enroll in the Post 9/11 GI Bill which features enhancements due to the passage of a law commonly referred to as the Forever GI Bill.

Who Qualified For The Montgomery GI Bill?

There are multiple categories that qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill.

Category I

  • The applicant has a high school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit, and
  • Entered active duty after June 30, 1985, and
  • The applicant chose to contribute $100 a month for the first 12 months of service toward the Montgomery GI Bill program.
  • Applicant must have served continuously for 24-36 months depending on the agreement or;
  • Served four years if you entered the Selected Reserve within a year of leaving active duty

Category II

  • The applicant has a high school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit, and
  • Started active duty before January 1, 1977 (or before January 2, 1978, under a delayed enlistment program contracted before January 1, 1977), and
  • The applicant served between October 19, 1984, and June 30, 1985, and stayed on active duty through June 30, 1988 (or through June 30, 1987, if you entered the Selected Reserve within 1 year of leaving active duty and served 4 years), and
  • The applicant had one day or more of GI Bill entitlement left under the Vietnam Era GI Bill (Chapter 34) as of December 31, 1989

Category III

  • High school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit, and
  • The applicant does not qualify for MGIB under categories I or II, and
  • Contributed to the Montgomery GI Bill ($1,200) before retirement or separation
  • The applicant must have served on active duty on September 30, 1990, and involuntarily separated after February 2, 1991, or
  • Involuntarily separated on or after November 30, 1993, or
  • Voluntarily separated under the Voluntary Separation Incentive program or;
  • Voluntarily separated under the Special Separation Benefit program

Category IV

  • High school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit, and
  • The applicant made a $1,200 contribution toward the GI Bill
  • Applicant served on active duty on October 9, 1996, had money left in a VEAP account on that date and chose MGIB before October 9, 1997, or
  • Started full-time National Guard duty under title 32, USC, between July 1, 1985, and November 28, 1989, and chose MGIB between October 9, 1996, and July 9, 1997

How Much Money Is Available Under The Montgomery GI Bill?

The amount of GI Bill benefits you get under this program depends on the duration of your military service, the type of higher learning you want to get, and whether you qualify for other VA benefits such as a college fund kicker. In order to see if you can use the Montgomery GI Bill at a particular school you will need to see if the VA has approved your program.

The Department of Veterans Affairs advises all applicants to use the GI Bill Comparison Tool at the VA official site to see whether your school’s program is approved. Those who want to apply at a school that has not yet been approved are urged to contact the school to ask if they will request VA approval, but the VA cannot act until the school has made the request.

Applying For The GI Bill

You can apply for Montgomery GI Bill benefits by applying online with the Department of Veterans Affairs using VA Form 22-1990. You can also send that completed form to the VA by mail–fill out the form and send it to the nearest VA Regional Office to your school. You can find a list of regional claims processing offices at the VA official site. You can skip mailing the form if you want to deliver it in-person to a VA Regional Office.

You can also ask for help from your school’s VA certifying official who may work in the financial aid or admissions office. You can also get assistance claiming VA education benefits by getting the help of a trained Veteran Service Officer.

What To Know About The Montgomery GI Bill

Some who selected the Montgomery GI Bill also chose to participate in a buy-up program where the service member contributed an additional $600 toward the program to qualify for more GI Bill money when the time comes. That $600 earned those who opted in an additional $5600 in additional GI Bill benefits. The $600 buy-up option is not offered with the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

The Montgomery GI Bill does not feature an option to transfer the benefit to a dependent spouse or school-age child. The Post 9/11 GI Bill features many more options than the Montgomery version including a monthly housing stipend and the ability to transfer the benefit in exchange for a longer military service commitment.

There is also a Montgomery GI Bill for members of the Guard and Reserve, the rules and requirements for this program are different in crucial ways; if you had served on active duty but switched to the Guard or Reserve, it’s not safe to assume your benefits are the same under the Montgomery Bill-Selected Reserve version.

And finally, the Montgomery GI Bill offers financial assistance for a variety of different class types, and some overlook those listed below assuming they would not qualify. But you are permitted to use your GI Bill options to consider:

  • Remedial courses
  • Deficiency courses
  • Refresher courses

As long as you are degree-seeking, such courses could be approved for GI Bill payments.

Am I Eligible for VA Education Benefits?

Do you know whether you are eligible for VA education benefits like the GI Bill? That is not the only VA education program you may qualify for as an active duty, Guard/Reserve member, spouse, or dependent. The rules and requirements of these programs vary depending on what you seek, eras of military service, and other factors.

The length of these benefits will vary. You may qualify for up to 48 months of VA education benefits but many applicants only qualify for 36 months.

Am I Eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill?

The Department of Veterans Affairs states you may be eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits if you have been on active duty for at least 90 days after September 10, 2001. However, you should know that if you switched to the Post 9/11 GI Bill from the Montgomery GI Bill, you cannot change back.

Am I Eligible for the Montgomery GI Bill?

If you served on active duty you may qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill-AD. In general, you must have served a minimum of 24 months on active duty and meet certain requirements which include having a high school diploma or GED OR 12 hours of college credit. You must also have an Honorable discharge and meet “other requirements”.

There are multiple categories of eligibility. They include but are not limited to the following.

Category 1

  • The applicant has a high school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit;
  • Entered active duty for the first time after June 30, 1985;
  • Paid into the GI Bill at $100 a month for the first 12 months of service;
  • Served continuously for between two and four years depending on circumstances.

Category 2

  • The applicant has a high school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit;
  • Generally entered active duty before January 1, 1977;
  • Served at least a single day between October 19, 1984, and June 30, 1985, and stayed on active duty through June 30, 1988.

Category 3

  • You don’t qualify for MGIB under categories I or II;
  • You paid into the program ($1,200) before separation;
  • Applicant served on active duty on September 30, 1990, and involuntarily separated after February 2, 1991;
  • You involuntarily separated on or after November 30, 1993;
  • You chose to voluntarily separate under either the Voluntary Separation Incentive (VSI) program;
  • You chose to separate via Special Separation Benefit (SSB) program;

Category 4

  • The applicant has a high school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit;
  • Applicant contributed to the program ($100 a month for 12 months or made a $1,200 lump-sum contribution;
  • On active duty on October 9, 1996, had money left in a VEAP account on that date, and chose MGIB before October 9, 1997;
  • Full-time National Guard duty under title 32, USC, between July 1, 1985, and November 28, 1989, and opted into the MGIB program between October 9, 1996, and July 9, 1997.

Am I Eligible for the Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve?

You may qualify for VA education benefits through MGIB-SR if you’re a member of:

  • Army Reserve
  • Navy Reserve
  • Air Force Reserve
  • Marine Corps Reserve
  • Coast Guard Reserve
  • Army National Guard
  • Air National Guard

The following must all apply:

  • You have a six-year service obligation in the Selected Service OR;
  • You are an officer in the Selected Reserve serving six years (that is in addition to your initial service obligation) AND;
  • You meet what the VA calls “ other requirements” which may include finishing initial active duty for training (IADT), and you are in good standing in a Selected Reserve Unit.

Am I Eligible for Veterans Technology Education Courses (VET TEC)?

VET TEC is a VA program that offers tuition and housing funds to applicants in high-demand industries including (but not limited to) computer software and data processing, media, and information science. One of the most attractive things about this program is that it does not count against or use up your GI Bill benefits.

You may be eligible for VET TEC if you meet all of the following:.

  • You are either NOT on active duty OR are within six months of retirement or separation;
  • You qualify for the GI Bill;
  • You have one day or more of unexpired GI Bill entitlement;
  • You’re accepted into a VA-approved program.

VET TEC does not allow payment of the housing stipend to those who are still on active duty when attending school.

Am I Eligible for the DEA, the VA Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance program?

Are you the spouse or child of a veteran or service member who died, was captured or is declared missing? Are you the spouse or child of a vet or service member with disabilities? Educational help may be available to you via the DEA program. These benefits, often described as Chapter 35 benefits, require you and the recipient to meet any one of the following:

  • The veteran or active duty service member is permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected disability;
  • They died while on active duty or as a result of a service-connected disability;
  • They are missing in action;
  • They were captured or forcibly detained in the line of duty by a hostile force;
  • They are in the hospital for a service-connected permanent and total disability and likely to be given a military discharge due to the disability;
  • They are getting outpatient treatment for a service-connected permanent and total disability and are likely to be discharged

If you are the dependent child, you may qualify for benefits if you are between 18 and 26, but if you join the military you won’t be able to use this benefit on active duty. Serving may extend your eligibility to use this program but you typically can’t use it past your 31st birthday according to the VA.

If you are the spouse of a veteran or service member, the Department of Veterans Affairs will offer you benefits “on the date we conclude that you qualify or on the date of the Veteran’s death”. Your benefits will last for 10 years. Certain circumstances may qualify for a longer benefit period, you may be able to qualify for a 20-year opportunity instead.

If approved, the VA offers a monthly payment meant to help pay for typical college programs (degree-seeking), certificate courses, educational counseling, apprenticeships, or on-the-job training.

Can I Transfer My VA Education Benefits?

You cannot transfer Montgomery GI Bill benefits to a spouse or school-age dependent, but you may qualify to do so using the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Not everyone enrolled in the Post 9/11 program can transfer their GI Bill; the following requirements apply:

  • The service member has completed at least six years of military service;
  • The applicant agrees to an additional four years of service;
  • The dependent or spouse is enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS).

You can only transfer unused benefits to a spouse or school-age child, and once you have transferred your benefits, you cannot use them yourself.

Things To Remember About VA Education Benefits

The rules mentioned here are current at press time, but VA benefits can change due to a variety of factors including new legislation or changes in federal law, changes in the VA programs themselves, or changes at the Department of Veterans Affairs. If you have not explored your VA education options in a while, it’s a good idea to look at them now. There have been many changes in the last few years to these programs thanks to legislation like the Forever GI Bill. Review your VA education benefit options today, you may be surprised to learn what new options you might have.

 

 

The 78th Anniversary of the GI Bill

Wednesday, June 22, 2022, marked the 78th anniversary of the GI Bill, which was enacted in 1944 to support those returning home from World War Two. The Department of Veterans Affairs issued a press release in honor of the anniversary, noting its impact over the years. “The G.I. Bill has come a long way” since its debut, the press release states, adding, “VA continues to seek ways to meet the needs of Veterans and improve their G.I. Bill experience.”

The GI Bill has had a long and at times complicated history, and is still one of the most popular and important VA benefits offered today. Some 25 million veterans and their families have taken advantage of this VA education benefit.

The GI Bill got its start as a veteran-only option for those returning home from one war. Today it has been expanded to include active duty, Guard/Reserve, and even options for dependents and spouses to consider.

A Brief History of the GI Bill

The 1944 GI Bill, then known as the GI Bill of Rights, included things not found in today’s version. Those old options included loans for veteran-owned businesses, loans for farms, and the option to draw unemployment compensation.

The GI Bill of Rights was created for veterans only. No GI Bill benefits at that time were offered to those still on active duty or to dependents. The program was incredibly popular with some sources estimating about $4 billion in total GI Bill benefits offered to approximately nine million veterans in a five-year period starting in 1944.

The original GI Bill of Rights was not offered to all who served; just those who served during World War Two. When the Korean War had more service members returning home from yet another conflict, legislation called the Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966 extended the GI Bill to Korean War veterans.

Enter the 1980s

Big changes came in the 1980s thanks to the efforts of former Mississippi Congressman Gillespie Montgomery, who revamped the GI Bill of Rights to include a variety of features such as making the GI Bill an opt-in during Basic Training,

Trainees paid $100 a month for a year, after which they could qualify for a much larger matching contribution from the DoD. There was a time limit for the benefits after retirement or separation from military service, and there was no housing stipend offered.

This overhaul of the GI Bill of Rights became known as the Montgomery GI Bill after its creator and required both an honorable discharge and a high school diploma/GED. An important development of the GI Bill during this time was the creation of a Guard/Reserve version of the Montgomery GI Bill.

The VA official site says those eligible for this version had to meet certain criteria including a six-year commitment in the Selected Reserve, “signed after June 30, 1985” with additional requirements for officers.

The Post 9/11 GI Bill

When the VA official site announced the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which took effect in August of 2009, it did so knowing there was much anticipation about key features of the new VA education benefit. One of the most important of those was the ability to draw a housing stipend while attending classes, and another critical update involved the ability to transfer GI Bill benefits to a spouse or college-age dependent child.

Important features include but are not limited to:

  • Up to 36 months of education entitlement;
  • Eligible for use at colleges, universities, trade schools, on-the-job training
  • Payment of tuition;
  • Payment of certain fees;
  • A monthly housing stipend equivalent to an E-5 basic allowance for housing (BAH) payable for the zip code of the eligible school;
  • Books / Supplies Stipend ($1000 per year maximum).

This new GI Bill was intended for veterans with active duty service who served on or after September 11, 2001. The Post 9/11 GI Bill increased educational benefits above and beyond tuition alone.

The new GI Bill also included an option to switch from the old Montgomery GI Bill to the new Post 9/11 version. A choice was required, once the choice was made it was irreversible.

The Forever GI Bill

Some of the most important changes to the GI Bill program came in 2017 thanks to the passage of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act. It was promoted as the largest expansion of veteran benefits in roughly a decade, and the GI Bill benefitted from the Act in a number of ways:

  • The Forever GI Bill offers the benefit to all Purple Heart recipients regardless of time served;
  • No more time limit for using GI Bill benefits for qualifying service members discharged on or after January 1, 2013;
  • New protections for GI Bill recipients attending a school that closes before a degree program is completed;
  • New GI Bill options for Reservists such as more lenient time-in-service requirements.

Recent developments have further enhanced GI Bill benefits. Servicemembers now have the option to transfer VA education benefits to a qualifying foster child or ward thanks to the VA Transfer Of Entitlement program. In order to qualify, you must apply using  Application for Family Member to Use Transferred Benefits (VA Form 22-1990E).

You can submit this to any VA Regional Office. This is a process for those still serving on active duty. Once you leave active duty you can still submit a written request to modify a transfer via milConnect.

It should be noted that the Forever GI Bill is NOT a separate program from the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Instead, it enhances the Post 9/11 program and adds to it. You won’t apply for a Forever GI Bill option, you’ll use Post 9/11 GI Bill options that have been improved by the updated legislation.

Transferring Your GI Bill Benefits

The Post 9/11 GI Bill allows those who are still on active duty to transfer their education benefits to spouses or college-age children who are enrolled in DEERS. To qualify for the benefits transfer, the active duty member must have a minimum of six years time-in-service and must agree to a four-year military commitment. VA rules for this transfer have included the following:

  • When you meet the six-year time-in-service requirement, you are permitted to transfer some or all of your unused Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.
  • The Department of Defense or Department of Homeland Security reserves the right to limit how many months you may transferable.
  • Transferred Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits are available for spouses, one or more dependent children, or any combination of spouse and child.

A Word About The Digital GI Bill

In March 2022, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced something called the Digital GI Bill. This is the VA effort to modernize the GI Bill program including switching to a digital platform and improving benefits.

The VA official site says of this modernization effort, “…this platform will enable VA to call, email, text and chat with GI Bill beneficiaries, grant the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) immediate access to beneficiary records and respond to questions from colleges and universities instantaneously”.

It’s described as a “multi-year effort” and won’t happen overnight. That said, a VA contract for this project was awarded in March 2022 and the plan is currently underway. This effort is funded in part by some $243 million the VA received under the CARES Act during the global pandemic. Full details about the upgrades are not available at press time, but the VA says it desires feedback from students, administrators, and others who may be affected by the changes.

 

 

GI Bill Fact and Fiction

There are some important things to know about using GI Bill benefits; if you haven’t checked your benefits recently you may be surprised to learn that in the last several years, legislation has passed to enhance veteran benefit programs including the GI Bill.

Active duty, Guard/Reserve, and military dependents have all had their benefits altered by legislation in the last five years. To what extent depends greatly on the specific aspect of the law that was changed, but it’s clear the U.S. government doesn’t want these benefits to remain static.

Some of that legislation may sound familiar; the Forever GI Bill, for example, also known as the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017. That’s just one bill that improved GI Bill benefits; by the time you read this more legislation could be underway to expand, enhance, and improve veteran education programs such as the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

GI Bill Fact: You Can Use the GI Bill On Active Duty or After Separation

The most important thing you should consider when deciding whether to use your GI Bill during active duty service? Whether you’re wasting the benefit. You may be able to apply for other tuition assistance from your branch of service, from state or local programs, or even those offered when assigned to a specific military base.

You may not need to use your GI Bill benefit in such cases; talk to an admissions counselor to see what other programs are accepted by that institution–you will be very glad you did.

GI Bill Fiction: All GI Bill Benefits Are the Same

Depending on the “service era” you joined in, your GI Bill benefits may vary greatly. For example, did you enter military service in the early 1990s? Your initial GI Bill option may have been limited to the Montgomery GI Bill, which features no housing stipend and is not transferable to a dependent or spouse.

When the Post 9/11 GI Bill was introduced, all that changed. Dependents and spouses became eligible to have GI Bill benefits transferred to them, and the housing stipend aspect of the Post 9/11 GI Bill further improved the program by taking the financial burden of housing off the veteran during school attendance.

GI Bill Fact: Some Benefits Are Transferable

GI Bill benefits under the Post 9/11 program may be transferable to a spouse or dependent. Transferring means exactly what the word implies; the veteran gives up her benefit so that a spouse or child can use it.

GI Bill Fact: Not All Can Transfer Their GI Bill Benefits

We have already mentioned that those who signed up for the old Montgomery GI Bill cannot transfer their benefit to another, but there are other restrictions to be mindful of. For example, you cannot transfer your benefit to someone who is not enrolled in the military DEERS system identifying those dependents. All beneficiaries must be enrolled in DEERS prior to the transfer. In addition, you can only transfer Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits if you have served a minimum of six years, and have committed to another four years of military service.

Dependents may have other VA resources they can use for education; this includes Chapter 35 benefits. You may qualify for non-GI Bill education assistance from the VA if the following applies to you:

  • You are the spouse or child of a service member who died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001, or
  • The service member is missing in action or;
  • The service member was captured in the line of duty or;
  • The service member was detained in the line of duty or;
  • The service member is in treatment for a service-connected “permanent and total disability” according to the VA and is “likely to be discharged” for it.

GI Bill Facts: You Can’t Use Your Benefits Everywhere

Some schools cannot qualify to accept the GI Bill, others may have qualified in the past but have since failed to meet VA standards. Other schools may be in the process of applying to the VA to accept GI Bill payments but have not yet been fully approved.

That means that you may need to shop around a bit more for a school to attend; depending on where you live it may be more or less challenging to find a program that is acceptable to you and that accepts the GI Bill.

Some schools may accept GI Bill funds for some but not all programs; there may not be a degree of standardization in this area. You’ll need to speak to an entrance counselor or veterans’ affairs rep at the college to learn what is possible.

GI Bill Fiction: GI Bill Benefits Are Always Paid On Time

Theoretically, GI Bill payments are supposed to be on a schedule but a number of variables including some that are under the responsibility of the school itself may factor into the timing of your payment for tuition, books, and even the housing stipend. It’s smart to anticipate delays in your GI Bill payment and plan accordingly.

Chances are good that the school you attend is quite used to these variations, but it never hurts to ask what the most current guidance is for dealing with such delays when it comes to tuition and fees.

GI Bill Fiction: You MUST Attend Full-Time

GI Bill housing stipends pay the most when you attend full-time, in person. But you can get a reduced benefit for 3/4 time or half-time attendance. You are not required to carry a full course load, but you may generally be required to enroll in a degree-seeking program or that has a specific outcome such as a certification or licensure. Just taking classes without an endgame is generally not supported under the GI Bill program.

GI Bill Fact: You Won’t Always Get Your Full Housing Stipend

Why? Because your benefits are paid based on your actual classroom attendance. If you begin winter break, summer break, or any other absence, your housing stipend is prorated and you will not get the housing payments during those down times.

GI Bill Fact: You Can Change Colleges

If one course of study is not working out for you, it’s possible to transfer to another school and keep using your GI Bill. This will depend on a number of factors including whether or not the new school participates in the program. You may need to further determine if other options such as the Yellow Ribbon Program are supported by the new school.

If you rely on the Yellow Ribbon program to offset the costs of private school attendance the GI Bill doesn’t cover, for example, and your new school does not participate, you’ll need to make other arrangements to cover that part of your tuition.

GI Bill Fact: Start Preparing Early

You may, depending on circumstances, experience delays in your GI Bill application process. It is a very good choice to begin working on your application as early as possible starting with establishing your basic eligibility for the GI Bill. College admissions deadlines may be earlier for the next school year than you realize, it is best to know your application deadlines well in advance so you don’t wind up having to try beating a deadline for paperwork.

You never know what stage your chosen school might be in with respect to the GI Bill. Are they an institution with a standing relationship with the VA? Or is the partnership new? The less experience your school has with GI Bill issues, the more delays you can realistically expect. If you need help determining what a specific school has to offer for veterans who need financial aid (GI Bill and otherwise), contact the college’s admissions department or call the Department of Veterans Affairs directly to learn if the school is currently working with the VA.

 

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How The Forever GI Bill Changed Your Military Education Benefits

The GI Bill is one of the most popular military benefits. Created to help service members returning from World War Two, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, also known as the “GI Bill of Rights” created a program with features that we know today as the GI Bill.

At press time, there are multiple versions of the GI Bill, including the Montgomery GI Bill, the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and the changes made through the Forever GI Bill.

There have been many changes to this program over the years including the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The Forever GI Bill refers to changes to the GI Bill program enacted through the Harry Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, commonly known as the “Forever GI Bill.”

Today, most who serve (Active, Guard, Reserve) become eligible for benefits through the Post-9/11 GI Bill after serving on active duty for 90 days after September 10, 2001. The clock on your GI Bill eligibility may start counting after basic training and technical training, so don’t expect to use your GI Bill benefits right away once you start your career in uniform. Much may depend on how much training you must do before you are given your first active duty assignment.

If you haven’t explored your GI Bill benefits in a while, it’s a good idea to stay current on the latest program changes, and there have been many. GI Bill benefits are more accessible than ever but knowing your entitlement is half the battle when it’s time to plan and budget for your college career. You can get help from an admissions counselor but you may also contact the Department of Veterans Affairs directly for assistance with your GI Bill benefits.

The Forever GI Bill

The Forever GI Bill is not a brand new version of the program. Instead, this legislation makes key changes to the program meant to enhance and expand certain benefits, consolidate others, and make the program as a whole more user-friendly.

One example, one change to the GI Bill made with this Act allows students to apply for restoration of their GI Bill entitlement if the school they used the benefit at closed while they were attending.

Another change that makes the entire program more user-friendly is the elimination of a 15-year time limit to use the Post 9/11 GI Bill. This applies to those who retired or separated from military service on or after January 1, 2013.

GI Bill Housing Allowance

The VA official site lists the following about who can use the GI Bill with the monthly housing stipend based on DoD BAH rates.

“Those who first use the Post-9/11 GI Bill on or after January 1, 2018, will receive a monthly housing allowance based on the Department of Defense BAH for monthly housing rates.”

Expansion Of The Yellow Ribbon Program

The Yellow Ribbon Program was created to help GI Bill users pay for higher education costs at approved private colleges, out-of-state schools, and even schools overseas. The Yellow Ribbon Program covers the “above-and-beyond” costs the GI Bill does not pay for. In general, to qualify for Yellow Ribbon funds you must be able to use the Post 9/11 GI Bill at the 100% benefit level and at least one of the following must apply to you.

  • Minimum military service of at least 36 months on active duty with an honorable discharge or;
  • You were awarded a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged, or;
  • Minimum military service of at least 30 continuous days (all at once, without a break) on or after September 11, 2001, and you were “discharged or released from active duty for a service-connected disability” or;
  • You’re a dependent using benefits transferred by a veteran or:
  • Eligibility to be a Fry Scholar

The big change to the Yellow Ribbon program? On August 1, 2022, the Yellow Ribbon Program includes expanded eligibility for active duty service members who qualify at the 100% GI Bill benefit level and for spouses using transferred GI Bill benefits of an active-duty service member who qualifies.

Forever GI Bill Changes For Dependents

Under the Forever GI Bill, GI Bill recipients who transferred their GI Bill benefits to a dependent can now designate a new dependent if the original dependent dies. In cases where the veteran dies, the VA official site states, “a dependent who received transferred entitlement can now designate a new eligible dependent” and transfer any remaining GI Bill entitlement to a different eligible dependent.

Another change; Chapter 35 DEA benefits, also known as Survivors’ & Dependents’ Educational Assistance program; a reduced entitlement for DEA users from 45 months to 36 months. This applies to anyone who uses DEA starting in August 2018; those who used DEA before this time qualify for a maximum of 45 months.

Forever GI Bill Changes For Guard And Reserve Members

Some of the important changes in this bill affect those serving in the Guard and Reserve, including authorization for GI Bill benefits under Title 10 U.S.C.

The VA loan program was changed overall to allow a prorated housing allowance for those who leave active duty service. Prior to this, those who left active duty could not draw a housing allowance until the next full month after leaving active duty.

This change is meant for all active duty including Guard and Reserve members who are called to active duty. Under the new guidelines, it is possible to receive housing stipend payments on the day of discharge.

The Forever GI Bill also allows Guard and Reserve members to be credited for any time ordered to active duty to receive medical care. This is effective for all ordered to active service, “to receive authorized medical care, to be medically evaluated for disability, or to complete a Department of Defense health care study on or after September 11, 2001.” All that active duty time now counts toward Post 9/11 GI Bill eligibility.

REAP Eligibility is now used as a credit for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. REAP, also known as the Reserve Educational Assistance Program, was closed and there were Guard and Reserve members who lost REAP benefits as a result. If you had REAP eligibility prior to November 25, 2015 and lost it due to the “REAP sunset”, you can choose to have that military service applied toward the Post 9/11 GI Bill instead.

Forever GI Bill Changes to Licensing and Certification Testing Payments

Under the Forever GI Bill, the benefit paid for those taking licensing tests or certification training is prorated to match the actual fee charged for the exam. This was intended to reduce the overall cost of providing these payments.

Forever GI Bill Options for Those Awarded the Purple Heart

Those awarded a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, may be eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits at the 100-percent benefit level for up to 36 months. There is also an extension of the Yellow Ribbon Program (see above) allowing Purple Heart recipients to use Yellow Ribbon funds.

Forever GI Bill Options for Those In STEM Programs

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers an additional nine months of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to those in STEM studies. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

You will need to talk to a counselor at your school to learn whether the STEM option is available at that institution, and what it may require to apply for and receive the additional nine months of benefit. You can also call the Department of Veterans Affairs to get more information on STEM options under the GI Bill. Remember, this benefit is open to those using the Post 9/11 GI Bill, you may not have the same option under the Montgomery GI Bill.

 

 

Questions and Answers About VA Home Loans

The VA home loan benefit is one of the most popular military benefits you can use. The GI Bill and VA disability benefits may compete for the most commonly used, but VA home loans are likely the best-known (and least understood) of the three.

VA home loans are available for those who have served enough qualifying time as a full-time active duty military member, a member of the National Guard or Reserve, and certain members of the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Each one of these categories may have its own unique time-in-service requirements and serving in the Guard or Reserve may require minimum full-time active duty service time that is not part of training.

In addition to the active-duty requirement for members of the Guard and Reserve, these applicants generally must have served six years minimum as Reservists or Guard members.

What do you need to know about VA home loans to get started? The most basic level of information you’ll need as a new VA borrower is connected to your eligibility for the loan program, which is only possible after serving a minimum amount of time in uniform.

How Long Do I Have To Serve On Active Duty To Qualify For A VA Home Loan?

The question above assumes you automatically qualify for a VA mortgage once you have served enough time. That is not true. You qualify to APPLY for a VA home loan once you have served the minimum, your loan approval will depend on your FICO scores, employment history, and other typical home loan qualifying financials.

How long do you have to serve to become eligible to apply? That will vary depending on when you joined as well as the nature of your military service. In general, those on active duty today have to serve 90 consecutive days of active military duty to become eligible.

Once you do become eligible your VA loan benefits are NOT automatic, you will need to apply for a VA Certificate of Eligibility in order to start the VA home loan process. Not sure how to do that? You can get the help of a participating VA loan officer to get the paperwork started, or you can use the VA online portal eBenefits to do it yourself.

What Is The Minimum FICO Score For VA Loan Approval?

Unlike other government-backed mortgages such as FHA home loans, VA mortgages have no VA-specified FICO score minimums. That is left up to the lender to determine and you’ll want to shop around for a VA lender who can work with your circumstances. Home loans in general may require FICO scores in the mid-600s for the most competitive rates and terms.

Does The VA Set Interest Rates On VA Mortgages?

No. The Department of Veterans Affairs does not set or regulate interest rates on VA loans, except to generally require that rates for these mortgages are “reasonable and customary” compared to similar home loans from the FHA, USDA, conventional mortgages, etc. from the same lender in the same housing market.

Can I Buy A Second Home With A VA Mortgage?

There is no rule saying you cannot own other property when you apply for a VA loan but there IS a rule saying you must intend to occupy the home purchased with a VA mortgage as your primary residence. You will certify this in writing in a legally binding document.

Can I Buy An Investment Property With A VA Home Loan?

If by “investment property” you mean, “a home I don’t intend to live in personally”, the answer is no, this is not permitted.

Is It Possible to Rent Out The Unused Living Units In The Home I Currently Live In?

VA loan rules permit you to rent out any unused units in the home you bought with a VA mortgage. As long as you occupy the home while paying on your VA purchase loan, you won’t be in violation of the VA loan occupancy requirements found in VA Pamphlet 26-7, the VA Lender’s Handbook.

Is It Possible To Buy A Farm Home With A VA Mortgage?

It’s possible to buy a farm home, but not a farming business with a VA mortgage. You’ll learn that the VA appraisal process for these properties only counts the residential value of the property and does not take into account any commercial use, outbuildings, equipment, or other farm business items. In short, the VA loan is for you to purchase a home and you cannot buy a business with one.

Can I Borrow More Than I Need For The Home And Take The Excess Cash At Closing Time?

No. VA loans, like most home loans, don’t allow you to apply for more home loan than is required to purchase the property, pay any included closing costs, etc. The only cash back to the borrower at closing time for VA purchase loans is generally restricted to refunds.

You may find a limit of $500 back at closing time is typical but this may vary due to state law, lender standards, or other issues. VA home loans are strict about the no-cash-out purchase loan rules, it’s smart to know your responsibilities and your rights before you apply.

Will All Of My Income Qualify For The Loan?

Not all the money you earn is countable for the purpose of approving your mortgage. It’s true your loan officer’s job is to make sure you can reasonably afford the loan but there are requirements for your income to be countable for that purpose. One of them is that the income must be likely to continue, and another is that the income must be stable and reliable.

That may rule out side hustle-type income such as selling items on eBay or Etsy, and it definitely will not include housing stipends from the GI Bill since these too have a built-in expiration and will not continue.

Active duty military housing allowances, on the other hand, do count toward your income for loan approval purposes.

How Much Can I Borrow With A VA Mortgage?

Now more than ever, this is an issue you may need to negotiate with your loan officer. That’s partly because those who have 100% of their VA home loan entitlement are eligible to apply for a VA mortgage with no VA loan limit imposed. This is a change from the previous VA home loan policy which did observe a per-county VA loan limit.

This “no loan limit” option is not available to all VA loan applicants–only those who have 100% VA loan entitlement to use for the transaction. Those with less than 100% VA loan entitlement must observe VA loan limits by county the same as any other government-backed mortgage program.

Can My Spouse Or Children Use My VA Home Loan Benefit?

Those who qualify for a VA home loan can apply with a spouse. The spouse alone cannot apply unless they are a surviving spouse of a military member who died as a result of military service. The same rules generally apply for refinance loans though a VA Streamline Refinance may be possible for a surviving spouse if they were part of a VA purchase loan prior to the service member’s death.

Surviving spouses have different application procedures than other applicants. It may be helpful to contact the VA directly or discuss your circumstances with a participating VA lender to learn what your current options are and how to prepare to apply.

Before talking to a lender or representative, it may be a good idea to gather all documents you are likely to need including the servicemember’s proof of service, report of discharge, service records, death certificate, and any other documentation to establish an identity for the purpose of applying for a VA Certificate of Eligibility.

 

 

VA Loan Rules for Mortgage Approval: Employment and Income

VA home loans are government-backed mortgages. That government backing makes it easier to qualify with FICO scores, employment history, and debt ratios. But even with the government’s guarantee to repay the participating VA lender in case of home loan default, the borrower must still financially qualify for the loan. What do you need to know about being approved for a VA mortgage?

A good portion of that information involves the lender having to find ways to justify approving your loan. If your loan officer’s job depends on making good decisions on who to lend to, the contents of a credit report and employment history become very important.

What Does It Take to Be Approved for a VA Mortgage?

Borrowers should know that unlike some other government-backed mortgage loans such as the FHA Single-Family Home Loan program, VA loan rules do not specify a minimum FICO score. This is up to the participating lender to decide. Not all lenders will offer you the same rates, terms, and fees and not all of them have the same FICO score requirements, either.

VA and FHA loan rules do have similar features in this department; both require that the FICO score and other loan approval standards be “reasonable and customary” for loans similar to it. Your lender may not have specific instructions on FICO score numbers, but a VA loan can’t have an outrageously higher or lower requirement in this area than similar loans that may be conventional, FHA, USDA, etc.

The first thing you will need to do is to compare lenders and see who is most willing to work with you and your FICO scores. If you have had a bankruptcy or foreclosure in your past this becomes even more critical, as some lenders may have more experience dealing with such issues than others. And that experience counts.

 

Get a free, no-obligation consultation regarding your VA Loan!

 

Why does this matter so much? It’s easy to assume that there will be little variation among lenders, but that’s not always true.

You’ll want to know what kind of interest rate your lender will offer based on your FICO scores, and you’ll also want to know a lender’s requirements for loan approval in terms of employment history, debt ratios, and other details.

What does it take to be approved for a VA mortgage loan? You’ll have to qualify with your FICO scores but also with your employment history, debt repayment history, and credit utilization. Here’s where the VA no-money-down home loan gets interesting.

VA loans typically require no down payment. But if you are a borrower who has FICO scores that are lower than the lender’s standards, you could offer to make a down payment as a compensating factor. Depending on circumstances, that may help the lender justify approving the loan.

VA borrowers who make a down payment also get a benefit from a reduced VA loan funding fee, so there’s a financial benefit that goes beyond the lower principal balance you get after putting money down.

Qualifying with Employment and Income

In the paragraphs above we mention that you must qualify for a VA mortgage with credit scores, repayment history, and employment. Some may ask an important question. If the VA loan program is for military people, why is employment verification even needed? Don’t all applicants for the VA loan program have active-duty military jobs?

The short answer is no. Some may be Reservists, some may work for the National Guard, and some may be military retirees or veterans who separated from the military without hitting retirement age. And then there are those who do serve but are junior enlisted and may not earn enough money yet to be able to afford the loan.

All of those circumstances must be taken into account by a participating lender. So yes, employment verification and income verification are both crucial.

Your participating lender may want to see two years of employment history to approve your mortgage loan application. Anything less may require a waiver or a written explanation. In some cases, no exception can be made.

Verifiable Income

Not all income–including some military benefits–can be counted as verifiable income for the purposes of approving your home loan. For example, your basic military pay and allowances may be considered, because any pay that is “likely to continue” could be considered verifiable.

An annual clothing allowance may be included because it is a recurring payment. A one-time payment of a bonus may not qualify in the same way, and certain types of income (think commissions or money from self-employment) may be counted if there is sufficient history behind the payments.

If you haven’t been paid commission for a full year, you’re likely not going to be allowed to use that income for purposes of loan approval. If you’ve been earning it for more than two years, it may be countable depending on the lender, state law, and other variables. The lender wants to see indications that this income is going to continue into the loan term.

Some Income Just Doesn’t Count

Some income isn’t considered steady or reliable. Selling things on eBay or in an online marketplace, for example. There may be exceptions depending on the nature of your business but if you earn money selling online you will need to have a conversation with the lender about whether your specific business qualifies or not.

Some income cannot be counted even if it comes from a federal agency in the form of a military benefit. For example, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides a housing stipend for those attending college under the program. The housing payment is equivalent to the monthly housing allowance of an E-5 with dependents.

And it would be very easy to understand how you would want to use that monthly housing allowance to qualify for a home loan. Yet, VA loan rules don’t permit the use of the GI Bill as income. Chapter Four of VA Pamphlet 26-7, the VA Lender’s Handbook, instructs your VA loan officer;

“Do not include temporary income items such as VA educational allowances (including the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefit) and unemployment compensation in effective income.”

You read that correctly, unemployment also cannot be used as income to qualify for a VA mortgage. Why?

The key is the word “temporary”. The GI Bill and unemployment compensation are not “likely to continue” as they have definite expiration dates which vary depending on when you use the benefits. This expiration is what keeps this income from being used to approve your loan. You can still use that income to pay for VA loan expenses like closing costs, but you cannot have it counted toward your “official” annual income for purposes of calculating the debt-to-income ratio.

What’s Next?

Loan approval standards will vary depending on the lender and other variables. You’ll want to compare at least three or more lenders together to see who offers you the best deal. Are you worried that getting mortgage rate quotes and other details may affect your credit scores?

It’s true that certain credit inquiries can temporarily lower your credit scores but if you have multiple inquiries due to shopping around for a lender, as long as those are accomplished within a certain window of time (14 days typically but may be longer depending on the credit scoring model) those multiple inquiries will only count as one.

Loan approval depends on a variety of factors and don’t forget that in addition to all of the information above you will need to avoid applying for new credit in the meantime and work on reducing your debt ratio and account balances to get closer to loan approval. It’s not just about what;s already in your credit report, but what could be coming in that report in the days and weeks leading up to loan application time.

 

>> Interested in a no PMI, zero down payment possible home loan?  For a no-obligation, free consultation regarding your VA Loan eligibility, please go here.

 

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Financial Tips for Enlisted Military Service Members

More than the GI Bill: College Bound, Service Member Financial Tips

With a little planning you can stretch the GI Bill into a graduate degree.  Here are a few tips that should help you create a five-year plan to get you through one enlistment and in to college.  There are tips spanning those looking to join, thinking about their schooling or planning to leave the military.

Delayed Entry Program Advancement and Enlistment Bonuses

Earn a promotion before you even ship to boot camp. Recruits who spend time in the Delayed Entry Program/Future Soldiers Program can earn the rank of E-3 by completing a few tasks while hanging around the recruiting station.

The easiest way to get your first promotion to E-2 is to pass a knowledge and skills test encompassing basic military information and physical fitness.

To earn the E-3 paygrade you will have to put in a little more time and effort, but it can be accomplished a number of ways including referring other people to enlist.

Though you would automatically promote from E-1 to E-2 after six months of service, starting out as an E-2 will net you $1,200 more in earnings than an E-1 would earn in those first six months.

Monthly Enlistment Pay for Members with less than 2 Years of Service for 2020

(Defense Finance and Accounting Service)

E-1 E-2 E-3 E-4
$1,785 $2,000.70 $2,371.80 $2,829.00

Enlistment Bonuses

Additionally, each branch of the military offer enlistment bonuses that can be upwards of $50,000 for members who sign-up for certain jobs.

The jobs and payouts vary according to need, so be sure to discuss with your recruiter. Be aware that some bonuses are not paid out until you complete the requisite training and may come with lengthened service contract agreements.

Location, Location, Location

Save ~$750/mo or $9,000/yr

Feeling adventurous? Consider requesting a duty station overseas, specifically where an automobile is not required.

Places like Japan or Yongsan, Korea near Seoul have robust public transportation systems which will leave you questioning why you ever wanted to own a car in the first place.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average cost of owning and maintaining a car is around $9,000 a year including car payments, gas, maintenance, and insurance.

Many other duty stations offer up to $150 a month for being assigned there. This is called hardship duty pay. These places include areas in Alaska, Turkey, Djibouti, Diego Garcia, and more.

These assignments are not necessarily dangerous, but the quality of life may be somewhat substandard compared to the average lifestyle of Americans.

Bonuses and Extra Pay

Depending or your job and the mission you have been assigned to, the government may authorize extra pay to incentivize certain duties. Take a look at some common incentive pay the government offers. You might decide being a submariner or infantryman is worth the extra money.

Additionally, if you are deployed to a designated Combat Zone like Afghanistan or the Arabian Peninsula Area, your earnings will be untaxed.

Sampling of Various Incentive Pay

(Defense Finance and Accounting Service)

Type Base Monthly Amount/Monthly Amount
Career Sea Pay
  • E-1 with less than two years of service: $50
  • E-4 with over three years of service: $350
Submarine Duty Pay (in addition to Sea Pay)
  • E-1 with less than two years of service: $80
  • E-4 with over three years of service: $ 100
Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay (Flight Deck Duty, Parachute Jumping, etc) $150
Imminent Danger/Hostile Fire Pay $225/month
Maritime Visit Board Search and Seizure $150/month
Overseas Tour Extension Incentive Pay $80/month
Foreign Language Proficiency Bonus $100-$500, based on skill level

Life on Base

Junior enlisted spend a lot a time on base. Take advantage of this by eating balanced meals for cheap/free at the galley or mess.  Them stock up your barracks room with foodstuff from the commissary who boast a worldwide average savings of 25% compared to civilian grocers.

Utilize your post’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs and tours. MWR offers free or reasonably priced services on everything from automobile shop time to golf and movies.

Tuition Assistance

After you adjust to military life consider tackling some 100 level college courses to help jump start your degree.

Each branch of service offers its own tuition assistance program, but the general idea is that your tuition and fees will be 100% covered so long as you pass your classes.

Leaving the service with even 12 credits of classes completed will go a long way to preserve your GI Bill benefits. That would save you a semester’s worth of courses.

Be warned that taking college courses while deployed may be challenging or infeasible.

See Colleges Fully Covered By Tuition Assistance at CollegeRecon.

Post Enlistment

So, your enlistment is up. What to do now? First, sign up for your state’s unemployment benefits. This will help ease your financial burden while you wait for your semester to begin.

RELATED: UCX: Unemployment Insurance After the Military

Next, consider paying out of pocket for two years at a community college near your home of record. Tuition for two years should total about $7,000, then you can transfer those credits to a university and start using your GI Bill to earn your bachelor’s degree.

This will help stretch your benefits into a graduate degree. If you use your GI Bill wholly for undergraduate studies, you will pay out of pocket or apply for loans for your graduate degree which will be tens of thousands of dollars.

Next, research and apply to scholarships and grants. These are financial gifts you do not have to repay, so there is no harm in applying to as many as you can. There are a great variety of scholarships ranging $50 to “full ride.”

There are even veteran specific scholarships, and your state may offer education benefits as part of their veteran’s programs. Finally, be sure to apply for a Pell Grant, which is an income based federal grant.

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Then, if you are not living at home, find a roommate or two. The GI Bill pays a housing allowance while you are attending school, but splitting costs with one or two people will save thousands per year.

Rental and Housing Stipend Savings

Housing Allowance Based on E-5, with Dependents (GI Bill rate) in Philadelphia (2020 Defense Travel Management Office)

BAH: $2,049

Bedrooms One Two Three
Housing Cost  $1,200 $1,600 $2,000
Rent per Roommate $1,200 $800 $666
Cable and Internet $80 $40 $27
Utilities $150 $75 $50
Total Cost $1,430 $915 $743
Savings on Rent and Utilities N/A $515  $687
Monthly Stipend Savings $619 $1,134 $1,362

You will not get rich from the military or the GI Bill, but you can put yourself in the incredible financial position of being debt-free after college with a potential graduate degree.

 

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