The Yellow Ribbon Program

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.

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.

 

 

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