There are some important things to know about using military 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, 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
Your GI Bill benefits may vary greatly depending on the “service era” you joined in. 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. 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 6 years and have committed to another 4 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 Fiction: You Can’t Get GI Bill Benefits Restored If Your School Closes
Thanks to legislation such as the VETS Credit Act, it’s possible to apply for restoration of your GI Bill benefits if your school closes or is not permitted to accept VA education benefit funds. If your school closes or is removed from the VA-approved list, you can submit VA Form 22-0989 Education Benefit Entitlement Restoration Request Due to School Closure or Withdrawal to apply for restoration.
Restrictions apply, and if you choose to transfer more than 12 credit hours to a new school you may not be approved for restored entitlement. Ask a school admissions rep or a VA representative for more information if you aren’t sure how these rules apply to your circumstances.
GI Bill Facts: You Can’t Use Your Benefits Everywhere
Some schools cannot qualify to accept the GI Bill, and 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 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.
About the author
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.