Information, resources and expert advice on higher education funding and scholarship for veterans.
Jeffrey Anderson earned a degree in English from V.M.I. As an officer in the Marine Corps, he became an expert in the benefits available to active-duty service members, veterans and dependents. He now works as a freelance researcher and writer specializing in higher education for military veterans.
Ron retired with 36 years of military service. His assignment as Supervisor of Military Personnel Services (including the Education Benefits Section) provided him with a wealth of knowledge, training and experience working with the GI Bills, scholarships, grants and loans for post-secondary education. His last assignment was the 34th Infantry (Red Bull) Division Command Sergeant Major/E-9.
Every day, brave men and women join the United States Armed Forces to preserve our peace. But when they come back to civilian life, they face unique challenges, especially concerning higher education.
Those who choose to enter the military come out of it with a strong skill set, but without the college degree that many employers require in order to move up in the ranks of the private sector. Several of them are also getting a late start; according to Student Veterans of America, 85 percent of them are 24 years of age or older, and 47 percent of them have a family.
In addition, military personnel often live on set wages while in the service, which can make saving money for college difficult, especially if they have a family to support. When you add up the cost of tuition, fees, books, and other costs, some military veterans might see college as a dream that is just out of reach.
Fortunately, there are many programs that can help, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Yellow Ribbon Program and the MGIB. There are also scholarships and grants specifically created for those in the military or their dependents. This article focuses on these solutions, offering dozens of great resources for those who are looking into college but aren’t sure how to pay for it.
The GI Bill has a long and reliable history. Established in 1944, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act was designed to help returning soldiers with various benefits, including low-cost mortgages, low-interest business loans, one year of unemployment expenses, and cash payments for tuition to complete high school or embark on vocational education or college.
In 2008, the GI Bill received an overhaul. Now known as the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistant Act of 2008, the Post-9/11 GI Bill expands benefits for those who have served in the military since September 11, 2001 and have an Honorable Discharge. The main provision of the act includes four years of public undergraduate tuition, paid in full at the resident rate, for those who have served at least three years in the military since 9/11/01. For those who serve or agree to serve ten years or more, the provisions can be transferred to their spouse or children. In 2010, the Bill was changed to include members of the National Guard who have served for at least 90 days on a Title 10 Order in support of a contingency operation, such as Iraq or Afghanistan.
If I live in West Virginia and want to go to college in Georgia, will the Post-9/11 cover my tuition?A:
A common misconception is that the Post-9/11 GI Bill pays full tuition at public schools, regardless of location. In fact, the Bill pays only up to the in-state tuition level, at the aforementioned “resident level”. Students interested in attending college out-of-state can use the GI Bill to cover the in-state cost, and then look to the Yellow Ribbon Program to help make up the out-of-state tuition difference — but ONLY if that college is a part of the Yellow Ribbon Program, the student qualifies for the YRP, and makes the school’s quota. For more details, see the Yellow Ribbon section below.Q:
Are my GI Bill benefits taxable?A:
No. According to IRS Publication 970, payments received for education, training or subsistence (e.g. tuition and BAH) administered by the VA are tax-free and should not be reported as income on your federal tax return.Q:
I am enrolled in school and classes are starting, but I have not received my benefits. When can I expect them?A:
As soon as you’re enrolled, the school sends confirmation of enrollment to the VA. As soon as your enrollment is entered into the VA’s system, your funds will be delivered to the school. Because the VA can get very overwhelmed at the start of a semester, it can take up to 6 weeks for benefit delivery.Q:
If I’m a part-time student, how does the VA calculate my housing allowance?A:
Student veterans enrolled greater than halftime (51%) qualify for monthly housing allowance equal to that of an E-5 with dependents for the zip code of the school. Your exact housing allowance is then calculated using your “rate of pursuit”, or the percentage of credits you’re taking in a semester compared to a full load. For example, if a school considers 12 credits to be full-time, and you are taking 7 credits, you qualify for half (58%) of the full monthly amount. If you are taking 8 credits, you qualify for two-thirds (67%) of the full amount. If your tier percentage is less than 100%, this amount is then multiplied by your percentage.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill promises to pay the cost of a public undergraduate tuition for four years; due to residency rules, some students might not receive the full cost of tuition for the school of their choice. In addition, the Bill only allows for $19,198.31 per year to pay for tuition to a private institution. This means that students who choose a private school might pay out-of-pocket for much of their educational expenses.
The Yellow Ribbon Program aims to bridge that gap in these two instances where there is a tuition shortfall by providing financial assistance to students who do not receive enough money under the Post-9/11 GI Bill to afford the college they choose to attend. Schools must enter into an agreement with the VA to share the expenses that students need covered. Students might be eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program if they meet the following criteria:
If a school is part of the Yellow Ribbon Program and I pass all the eligibility requirements, will I automatically get the funds?A:
Not necessarily. At some schools, Yellow Ribbon Program benefits are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. These schools have a maximum number of students allowed, according to their agreement with the VA. For example, if a school’s maximum for YRP funding is 25 students, and you are number 26, you will not receive YRP funds from that school at that time. Other schools, however, have opted for unlimited benefits for all student veterans who qualify. Make sure you check with your target school to see if it has a YRP cap.Q:
I just graduated from college, but didn’t know about the Yellow Ribbon Program until now. Can I get Yellow Ribbon Program benefits retroactively?A:
No. Both the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program can only be used for current studies.Q:
Can the Yellow Ribbon Program work with any other education benefit programs?A:
Only with the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and if you are 100% eligible.Q:
Can I apply for participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program before I’m accepted to a school?A:
No. You must be admitted to a school, college or university before applying to the Yellow Ribbon Program.Q:
Do I need to re-apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program every semester?A:
No. You remain eligible as long as you continue studies in good academic standing.
There are two types of Montgomery GI Bills – the Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty (MGIB-AD) and the Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserves (MGIB-SR). Because the MGIB-SR expires upon discharge from the Selected Reserves (including the National Guard), there aren’t any residual benefits from this GI Bill that veterans can use after getting out. Consequently, this section only addresses the MGIB-AD.
Introduced in 1984, the MGIB is a viable GI Bill still used by thousands of veterans today. Unlike the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the MGIB is not free. A $1,200 contribution fee must be paid to be eligible for benefits. With three years or more of active duty service, veterans can have 36 months of benefits to use within 10 years of their last discharge date or while still serving. Both the MGIB and Post 9/11 GI Bill generally cover the same courses or training programs.
How much active duty time do I need to reset my 10-year delimitation date?A:
Serving on active duty for a minimum of 90 days resets the 10-year delimitation date.Q:
How do I switch from the MGIB to the Post 9/11 GI Bill?A:
All that is required is filling out VA Form 22-1990 from the eBenefits website. Indicate in Block 9F of Part II when you want your Post 9/11 GI Bill to start.Q:
Will the MGIB pay if I want to take a Commercial Driver’s License Training Course?A:
If you take the course through a VA-approved school, yes it will pay you to take the course. You can also request reimbursement for the direct cost of taking the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) test.Q:
Is it possible to get an extension to my 10-year delimitation date?A:
The VA usually only entertains a delimitation extension request under three conditions:
What happens if I run out of benefits mid-semester?A:
If your school operates on a semester, quarter or another term basis, you’ll keep getting paid until the end of that term. If your school does not operate on a term basis and you have completed at least one-half of the program, you can continue getting paid for up to 12 weeks or until the end of the program, whichever is shorter.
Many veterans have both the MGIB and Post 9/11 GI Bills and want to know how to either choose the best GI Bill for them, or how to maximize the use of both GI Bills. For veterans buying into the Buy-Up program — the program where the veteran paid $600 while serving in exchange for $5,400 worth of additional education benefits after getting out — then using the MGIB might be a better option as the Buy-Up program is not authorized for use with the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
Also, if the veteran plans to get an advanced degree, then using the MGIB entitlement first and then switching to the Post 9/11 GI Bill would maximize both GI Bills. The MGIB provides 36 months of entitlement and the Post 9/11 GI Bill an additional 12 months for a total of 48 months.
However, if the veteran only plans to get a four-year degree, then switching all 36 MGIB months over to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and not getting the additional 12 months, would be the better option. Also, once the converted entitlement is exhausted, the veteran gets back his/her $1,200 MGIB contribution fee.
If the veteran still has some MGIB entitlement left and converts to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, s/he would get that same number of months under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, a pro-rated MGIB contribution fee back and not the additional 12 months.
Converting to the Post 9/11 GI Bill also makes sense for veterans who do not have enough time left to use their remaining MGIB benefits, due to the 10-year delimitation date. Switching to the Post 9/11 GI Bill “buys” them an additional five years to use up their remaining entitlement.
Is there an expiration date to convert from the MGIB to the Post 9/11 GI Bill?A:
Generally speaking, no. However, you want to convert soon enough so you have at least enough time to use your remaining entitlement before reaching your new delimitation date (15 years from your last date of discharge).Q:
If I switch with MGIB entitlement left, how many months of entitlement do I get under the Post 9/11 GI Bill?A:
Your months of entitlement will be the same as what you had left under the MGIB before switching.Q:
Can I extend the time to use my GI Bill benefits if I’m eligible for both GI Bills?A:
Yes, you can. Due to the differences between the MGIB and Post 9/11 GI Bill delimitation dates — 10 years verses 15 years, respectively –- you can convert to the New GI Bill and get an additional five years of time to use your benefits.Q:
With three months of MGIB entitlement left, when should I apply for the Post 9/11 GI Bill?A:
You can apply at any time. Just go to the eBenefits website and submit VA Form 22-1990. The tricky part is selecting an effective date in Part II Block 9f, as to when you want your Post 9/11 GI Bill to take effect. If you select a date and still have MGIB entitlement left on that date, all you’ll get in Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement is that same number of days/months as you had left under the MGIB. If you have exhausted your MGIB by that date, then you would get the additional 12 months of entitlement.Q:
If I switched to the Post 9/11 GI Bill and found out later I shouldn’t have, can I switch back?A:
No, you can’t. The VA is very explicit about informing you that converting is a one-way street. When you elect to switch to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, they have a statement on the form that says you understand your election is irrevocable and that you may not switch back.
When students attend college, they are often recipients of scholarships, grants and other financial aid. In addition to this basic assistance, there are scholarships and grants offered specifically to those who have served in the Armed Forces. Many of these are offered directly by the colleges or universities, while others might be given by local, state or private organizations. There are also numerous grants and scholarships offered for those who are the spouses or children of veterans.
Here is a resource list that can lead to potential financial help for students. Keep in mind that there are so many scholarships and grant opportunities for military personnel out there that listing them all would be impossible; be sure to check with the financial aid office of your chosen college for information that is more targeted to your particular situation.
Because the VA is the last payer when using multiple sources of financial aid, scholarships dedicated to pay tuition will reduce the amount left for the VA to pay. Non-dedicated scholarships do not affect the amount the VA pays and therefore provides extra money for the student.
Accreditation is a very important point of any school you might choose to attend. Accreditation means that a school has been reviewed by an independent body and found to meet certain criteria that determine quality of programs. These accrediting bodies are either regional or national. Each has their own rigorous standards for colleges and universities, and they are continuously evaluating educational institutions to ensure that they continue to meet the standards required.
Why does accreditation matter so much? It is a mark of quality, one that says you are getting your money’s worth in education. It is also important to remember that your education through an accredited school matters a great deal when it is time to enter the workforce, as many employers don’t consider a degree from a non-accredited school to be a “real” degree. There could also be problems with furthering your education, as most colleges will only accept transfer credits from an accredited school.
These additional resources can offer guidance for those who still need a bit more help with deciding on their college path, especially how to pay for it.