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Veterans: Plan Ahead with Education Benefits

Nov 07, 2018

Veterans Day gives us an opportunity to say thank you to Veterans and their families – all of whom sacrifice so much to serve our country.   It’s also an appropriate time to review a wide variety of educational benefits available to Veterans and their families. 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and many private organizations offer benefits or assistance to veterans and their families who seek to continue their education.

Veterans, like all other students, manage college costs with a basket of funding sources. But for them, special Veterans benefits can substantially reduce the costs.  Knowing which programs work best for a particular Veteran’s situation can substantially reduce the cost of additional education.  Benefits have evolved over time and eligibility for certain programs change over time so reviewing them annually is a great way to stay current.

Veterans should work closely with the school(s) of their choice early on in the process to ensure that they have all relevant information to complete any financial aid or scholarship eligibility processing.  Particularly important is filing the FAFSA as early as possible and providing additional documents like the  DD214  – proof of retirement or discharge from the military.   Like all students, Veterans are best advised to compare financial aid awards, including any Veteran’s benefits for which they are eligible, and choose the school that will be most affordable for them based upon their expected educational outcomes.

Let’s take a closer look at current Veteran’s educational benefits as some programs have new updates affecting those planning to use them in 2019.

Post-9/11 GI Bill

The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides up to 36 months of education benefits for veterans enrolled in both degree and non-degree programs.

  • Funding includes financial support for education and a housing allowance, with eligibility dependent on length of military service.
  • All or some of Post 9/11 GI Bill funding can transfer to the veteran’s spouse or dependent children.
  • Transferability of benefits to family members is subject to processing through the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System (DEERS).  Family members must make sure they are registered and approved before certain benefits can be used towards their education.
  • Effective July 12, 2019 eligibility to transfer Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits will be limited to service members with less than 16 years of total active-duty or selected reserve service, as applicable.  Previously, there were no restrictions on when a service member could transfer educational benefits to their family members. The provision that requires a service member to have at least six years of service to apply to transfer benefits remains unchanged in the policy. See full update from the Department of Defense.
  • If your release from active duty was before January 1, 2013, there is a 15-year time limitation for use of benefits.  For individuals whose last discharge date is on or after January 1, 2013, the time limitation has been removed.

Yellow Ribbon Program

Degree-granting institutions participating in the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s Yellow Ribbon Program agree to provide additional funds for a student’s education, not counted toward the student’s total GI Bill entitlement.

“Yellow Ribbon” allows degree-granting institutions in the United States to voluntarily enter into an agreement with VA to fund tuition expenses that exceed either the annual maximum cap for private institutions or the resident tuition and fees for a public institution. The school can contribute up to 50% of those expenses and VA will match the same amount as the institution.

Before finalizing school choice, make sure to confirm participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program, as the roster is updated annually.  Schools have limits on matching contributions based on program requirements while others are unlimited, an important consideration when budgeting out costs over the degree program.

Other veterans’ programs

·      Montgomery GI Bill

    • The Active Duty program, or Chapter 30, provides 36 months of education benefits to Veterans and Servicemembers who completed at least two years of active duty and received an honorable discharge
      • Must enroll and pay $100 per month for 12 months while on active duty
      • May make a $600 buy-up while on active duty to get additional benefits
      • Usually available for 10 years after release from honorable active service
    • The Selected Reserve program provides education and training benefits for up to 36 months to eligible members of the Selected Reserve, including the Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve and Coast Guard Reserve, and the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard
      • Eligibility determined by the Selected Reserve components
      • Must have a six-year obligation to serve in the Selected Reserve, for officers and some others, longer obligations may apply
      • Must complete Initial Active Duty for Training, or IADT, and have a high school diploma or equivalency before completing IADT
      • Remain in good standing while serving in an active Selected Reserve unit.
      • Eligibility will be retained if discharged from Selected Reserve service due to a disability not caused by misconduct
      • Eligibility may be extended if ordered to active duty
      • Program eligibility normally ends the day you leave the Selected Reserve

·      Reserve Educational Assistance Program, or REAP

    • REAP provides educational assistance to members of the Reserve called or ordered to active duty in response to a war or national emergency
    • REAP ended on Nov. 25, 2015, but some individuals will remain eligible for benefits until Nov. 25, 2019
    • Post-9/11 GI Bill replaces REAP in many ways, because it also provides educational assistance benefits for Reserve and National Guard members called to active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and often provides more benefits
    • The Colmery Act, also known as the Forever GI Bill, enacted August 16, 2017, provides an opportunity for reservists who lost their REAP benefits to elect to credit their REAP eligibility toward the Post-9/11 GI Bill for more information click here

·      U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Survivors and Dependents Assistance

    • Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship, or Fry Scholarship
      • Available to children and spouses of servicemembers who died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001
    • Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program, or DEA
      • Offers education and training opportunities to eligible dependents of veterans who are permanently and totally disabled due to a service-related condition or of veterans who died while on active duty or as a result of a service-related condition
    • In most cases, you will be required to make an irrevocable election between the Fry Scholarship and DEA program when applying, visit the VA benefits website and search for “Survivors and Dependents Assistance” to compare programs

Service-Members Civil Relief Act

The Service-Members Civil Relief Act limits the amount of interest that can be charged for a student loan while military personnel are on active duty.

    • For further information click here 

Private organizations that assist veterans

Many organizations offer financial assistance for education to veterans.

Veteran’s benefits go a long way to help former service personnel transition into civilian life.   Like all students who want to further their education, Veterans are best advised to plan ahead and know the processes that will affect them.   Veterans who plan ahead and construct a plan to pay for college including the benefits they have earned will achieve their dream of college that is truly affordable.

Thanks again to all servicemembers and your families.  Your service is greatly appreciated.