VA Education Benefits: How Does the Post-9/11 GI Bill Work?

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The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 — commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights — may well be one of the most momentous pieces of legislation ever produced by the United States government. The GI Bill describes any Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) education benefit earned by members of the National Guard Armed Forces, Active Duty, Selected Reserve, and their families.

The purpose of the GI Bill is to help service members and eligible veterans cover the cost of obtaining an education or training for a new industry, with the goal of enhancing their career opportunities. The GI Bill has several programs, such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, but each program operates differently and depends on a person's eligibility and duty status. In 2014, the federal government spent as much as $12.2 billion to fund servicemember education and training, including Post-9/11 GI Bill online classes.

The GI Bill of Rights: A Quick History

One would find it difficult to argue against the impact the GI Bill of Rights continues to have on the nation politically, socially, and economically. Nonetheless, many pundits debated about the wisdom of the controversial bill that would pay unemployed American servicemembers $20 a week — they believed that it would take away a person’s incentive to look for employment. Other politicians believed that the idea of paying veterans to go to universities and colleges was unnecessary, insinuating that higher education was a privilege reserved for those who could afford it.

With millions of veterans returning home from World War II, Congress did not want to repeat the mistakes made with veterans returning home from World War I. Those brave men and women received only a train ticket home and a $60 allowance for their service.

With the passage of the War Adjusted Act of 1924, also known as the Bonus Act, Congress made a veiled attempt to help returning veterans from World War I. This act provided a bonus to veterans based on the number of days of service. However, most veterans would not see any money for 20 years.

In the summer of 1932, a large group of veterans marched on the nation’s capital and demanded full payment of the promised bonuses. A subsequent sit-in by the veterans resulted in a contentious standoff with U.S. troops. Many historians view this incident as one of the most deplorable acts in the history of the country, as the troops tossed the veterans out of town.

Fast-forward to the close of World War II, and the introduction of the initial draft of the GI Bill in both the House and Senate, in January 1944.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the final version of the deal on June 22, 1944. The VA received sole authority for carrying out the key provisions of the new law, which provided funding for education, training, and unemployment pay, as well as loans for homes, farms, and businesses.

By 1947, veterans made up more than 49% of persons admitted to colleges and universities in the U.S. At the time of the expiration of the original GI Bill on July 25, 1956, nearly 50% — 7.8 million of the 16 million World War II veterans — had used the benefit to attend college or training programs. Since the introduction of the original GI Bill, Congress has made two revisions, the Montgomery GI Bill — Active Duty (MGIB) in 1984, and the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2008.

Make an Irrevocable Election

Servicemembers eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill and any other GI Bill program, such as MGIB, must make an irrevocable election prior to receiving any benefits.

The servicemember must make the declaration in writing through the following ways:

  1. Send a secure email from the GI Bill website, which contains the election statement.
  2. Enter the election statement on the application for education benefits (VA Form 22-1990).
  3. Enter an election statement on the change of program or place of training (VA Form 22-1995).
  4. Send a fax with the written election statement.
  5. Visit a regional VA office in person and submit a written statement of the election.

Once a veteran or servicemember makes this election, they cannot change to another benefit program. Additional information about the forms and regulations associated with making an irrevocable election can be found on the official GI Bill website.

Post-9/11 GI Bill: The Basics

Servicemembers who have no less than 90 days of combined service after September 11, 2001, and are honorably discharged, are eligible for benefits within the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Veterans discharged because of a service-connected disability qualify if they served for at least 30 days at the time of the discharge.

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Similar to the MGIB, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides servicemembers up to 36 months of benefits. The VA pays tuition based on the creditable active-duty service after September 10, 2001. For instance, a servicemember with 20 months of active service would have a GI Bill benefit tier at 70%. Attending a public school with $12,000 per semester tuition, the VA will pay $8,400 in accordance with the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

There are a few other points to consider:

  • Tuition. Starting July 1, 2015, all public schools must offer resident tuition for service members who have been out of the military for less than three years, as well as dependents, using transfer benefits. For students attending a private or foreign school, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will pay an annual maximum of $20,235.02. This amount increases to $21,084.89 on August 1, 2015.
  • Books and Supplies. The Post-9/11 GI Bill pays an annual book stipend at the beginning of teach term, up to a maximum of $1,000 per year. Paid proportionately based on the number of course load credits the student has, the VA pays the stipend at $41 per credit hour.

The VA pays tuition and fees directly to the university. The student receives the monthly housing allowance as well as the books and supplies stipend. Servicemembers have up to 15 years after active duty to take advantage of these benefits.

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The Post-9/11 GI Bill has a couple of other components unique to this program only, including the Yellow Ribbon Program and the Transfer of Entitlement Option.

  • Yellow Ribbon Program: Often, the actual tuition and fees for attending a private school or a public school as a nonresident student can exceed the amounts provided for in the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Degree-granting institutions may participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which makes additional funds available for a veteran’s education program. There is no extra charge for the entitlement.

4-2-BooksHere’s how it works: Institutions can choose to enter into the yellow ribbon agreement. The school chooses the amount of fees and tuition that it will contribute, and the VA will match that amount. The VA then issues payments to the institution.

The program is only available to service members, or their designated transferees, entitled to a maximum benefit rate. This program is not available to active duty servicemembers and their spouses. Child transferees of active duty servicemembers may be eligible, but only for servicemembers who qualify at the 100% rate.

  • Transfer of Entitlement Option: This program allows veterans to transfer all or some unused benefits to their spouse or dependent children. The Department of Defense (DOD) determines whether the veteran can transfer benefits to their family and must approve the benefits for transfer. New beneficiaries can apply for the benefits with the Veterans Administration.

Generally, eligible veterans can transfer all 36 months or the unused Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit to the following persons: spouse, one or more children, or a combination of spouse and child. Family members must enroll in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) and meet eligibility requirements to receive the benefits at the time of transfer. To use the option to transfer, the veteran/service member must meet the requirements related to time served.

Veterans, servicemembers, and eligible family members can use the Post-9/11 GI Bill for a wide variety of educational programs, including:

    • Associate, bachelor, and advanced degree programs
    • Vocational/technical training, including non-college degree programs
    • On-the-job/apprenticeship training
    • Flight training
    • Correspondence training
    • Entrepreneur training

Students who elect not to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar institution can choose to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill to take advantage of more flexible and independent distance learning and online classes.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill and Online Classes

Although many veterans decide to attend a college or university in a traditional college setting, technological advances make it possible to attend educational programs held in alternative learning environments.

Some students make a decision to bypass physical facilities altogether and complete their entire educational or training program online. Generally, with a mobile device, laptop tablet, or personal computer, and an Internet connection, students can complete independent studies through distance learning and Internet courses. Online courses offer flexibility, often allowing veterans to work around their job and family responsibilities.

When considering any school, online or not, there are several ways to tell if the school is reputable:

  1. Find out if the school and program is accredited by either a regional or national accreditation association, such as Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), Middle States Association (MSA), or New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
  2. Determine if the school is a member of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC), certified by the VA, or listed by the Defense Activities for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES).

The same accreditation rules and certifications that apply to physical institutions of higher learning apply to any online institutions, so before enrolling, it’s important to make sure a program meets these guidelines in order to also be covered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Post-9/11 GI Bill: Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)

Based on the rules of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, veterans who meet several requirements qualify for a monthly housing allowance. This allowance is per the DOD’s Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), in accordance with geographic duty location, pay grade, and dependency status.

The purpose of the BAH is to provide veterans and servicemembers precise and equitable housing compensation, taking into consideration the housing costs in the local civilian housing market, and when government housing options are not available The BAH tables are released between December 15 and January 1 each year.

The VA determines eligibility for the housing allowance by computing the rate of pursuit, which measures the person’s actual course load as compared to the course load of a full-time student at 12 credit hours. Expressed as a percentage, divide the number of credits in the student’s actual course load by the number of credits considered full-time. The student must have a percentage of 50% to qualify for the housing allowance. The requirement differs according to the program level:

  • Undergraduate. Generally, students enrolled in an undergraduate degree program must have a minimum of 12 semester or quarter hours to qualify as a full-time student. The institution provides the term dates and credit hours to the VA and the VA calculates the rate of pursuit. For instance, a student with a course load of three credit hours has a 25% rate of pursuit and does not qualify to receive any BAH. The same student with a course load of seven credit hours has a 58% rate of pursuit and does qualify to receive the housing allowance benefits.
  • Graduate. At the graduate level, credit hour program requirements to qualify as full-time student vary from school to school. In this case, the institution provides the training time information to the VA, as well as the term dates and credit hours of the enrollment.

For online classes, summer enrollments, and accelerated programs held at brick-and-mortar campuses, class terms can vary. Classes might be shorter than a traditional semester or quarter. In this situation, the VA calculates weighted equivalent credit hours to account for the differences.

Once the VA determines the actual training time, it pays the housing allowance at the nearest 10% level. For example, a determination at 58% will receive 60% of the applicable housing allowance. If the student drops below the required rate of pursuit, he or she will not receive any housing allowance benefits.

Students who take advantage of Post-9/11 GI Bill online education options by enrolling in distance learning or other online courses can also receive an online housing allowance.

More About VA Education Benefits

Veterans and servicemembers have numerous educational and training benefits available to them, their spouses, and family members. Twenty-five percent of the students taking advantage of the VA educational programs are non-veterans.

In some cases, some veterans and servicemembers find out that they are also eligible for more than one benefit, or that other programs offer more benefits to certain reservists and veterans and their survivors and dependents.

Some additional programs to consider:

  • MGIB
  • Reserve Educational Assistance Program
  • Veterans Educational Assistance Program
  • National Testing Program
  • National Call to Service Program
  • Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance Program

In addition to the GI Bill benefits, many veterans and servicemembers may be eligible for other federal, state, and private education programs, scholarships, and college funds. These funds help many people meet their educational goals.

Use Post-9/11 GI Bill to Improve Career Options

Veterans and servicemembers use VA education benefits they have earned to help them prepare and qualify for new career opportunities. They understand that education and training makes them more attractive to a hiring manager or company. Combining military experience with certifications, associates, bachelors, and graduate degrees will make them more marketable when they leave the military.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill and other programs offers servicemembers and veterans the support they need to be prepared for a life and career beyond their military service.

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