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
- 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:
- Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs: https://dmva.alaska.gov/home/
- Arizona Department of Veterans Services: https://dvs.az.gov/
- Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs: https://www.veterans.arkansas.gov/
- California CalVet: https://www.calvet.ca.gov/
- Colorado Department of Military and Veterans Affairs: https://dmva.colorado.gov/
- Connecticut State Department of Veterans Affairs: https://portal.ct.gov/DVA
- Delaware Office of Veterans Services: https://vets.delaware.gov/
- Florida Department of Veterans Affairs: https://www.floridavets.org/
- Georgia Department of Veterans Service: https://veterans.georgia.gov/
- Hawaii Office of Veterans Services: https://dod.hawaii.gov/ovs/
- Idaho Division of Veterans Services: https://veterans.idaho.gov/
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 benefits 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 full-time 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;
- 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.
- 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.
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
- Volunteer or non-paid work experiences
- Post-secondary education and training
- Case management
- 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
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
- 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.
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
If Your School Closes
If you are using VA education benefits and your school closes or is removed from the VA-approved list, you may qualify to have some or all of your VA education benefits restored depending on whether you transfer college credit from the “losing” school and it is acceptable at the “gaining” school. In general, those who choose to transfer less than 12 credit hours to the new school may be approved for 100% restoration of VA education benefits. Those transferring more than 12 hours to the new school will not be approved for this restoration. Restrictions and exceptions may apply.
Read more: When Your School Closes: The Veterans Eligible to Transfer School (VETS) Credit Act
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.