New Forever GI Bill®
On August 16, 2017, President Trump signed into law the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 that passed both the House and the Senate unanimously nine days earlier. Harry W. Colmery was an American Legion Commander responsible for writing the original language that became the first GI Bill® – the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944.
Commonly known as the “Forever GI Bill,” the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 picked up its nickname due to its main provision which eliminates the current 15-year use-it-or-lose-it constraint of the Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefit. This time limitation has been one of the sticking points of the Post 9/11 GI Bill with veterans and many veteran organizations since the implementation of the Post 9/11 GI Bill back in August 2009. While removing this “feature” is important, it’ just one benefit change of many contained within the unprecedented Forever GI Bill.
GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). More information about educational benefits offered by the VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.
Understanding the Forever GI Bill
While there have been several small changes throughout the years since the implementation of the Post 9/11 GI Bill back in 2009, the sweeping changes of this Bill affect not only a large population of veterans but also spouses, dependents and active duty personnel as well. The below FAQs will help to better understand this ground-breaking legislation.
What is the Forever GI Bill?
It’s a law that implements changes with the intent of correcting several inequities that have been building up over the years to the current Post 9/11 GI Bill and even past GI Bills such as the now defunct Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP).
Who is it for?
Mainly veterans, but it also contains changes that affect spouses and dependent children having either received a Post 9/11 GI Bill transfer of benefits from a serving spouse or parent, respectively, or became eligible for the Fry Scholarship due to a serving parent dying in the line of duty. It also corrects some inequities between veteran themselves. Veterans of the National Guard and Reserves have been treated unfairly in some cases when compared to their active duty brethren even though they both served together under the same conditions.
Why was it changed?
Some of the rules of past and current GI Bills are more restrictive than they need to be. For example, as many as 2,800 veterans that had REAP–the GI Bill that provided educational benefits to Reservists and National Guardsmen serving on active duty prior to the Post 9/11 GI Bill but not currently using it–lost their entitlement eligibility due to a little-known sunset provision in that GI Bill. The VA is identifying and will be notifying those eligible individuals that their remaining unused REAP benefit will be transferred to Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement and available to use.
Their remaining education benefits unexpectedly vanished with no replacement (up to now). Another example is unused Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits that expire 15 years from the date of discharge. Many veterans throughout the years have questioned why these earned benefits need, or should have, an expiration date. The answer is they shouldn’t, but the fight has been long and hard to get the needed change. Several pieces of legislation throughout the years have been presented, but not only did none pass, most never even came up for a vote. The support for these individual pieces of legislation just was not there at the time.
What is different about it?
While other pieces of legislation included a change or two, this one contains many – 34 changes to be exact, with 15 of them major changes. The changes are focused on righting the wrongs contained in previous GI Bill incarnations.
When is it available?
Some changes were immediate because their effective date is prior to the Forever GI Bill implementation date. Other changes will be rolled out in the future. It’s important to note that some changes will not affect all veterans, because those changes are based on when the veteran got out of the military.
For example, veterans with a discharge date before January 1, 2013 will still have their Post 9/11 GI Bill educational benefits expire 15 years from their date of discharge. Those with discharge dates on or after January 1, 2013 will not have that benefit expire and they can use it for as long as they have entitlement left.
The main reason for this separation of veterans according to their discharge date is money. With the money congress allocated to the Veterans Administration for the changes it needed to make to support the Forever GI Bill, the VA had to make some limiting hard decisions, so the greatest number of veterans could be covered with the funding Congress gave to the VA.
How do eligible veterans get the benefit?
Several of the changes will be automatic and not require anything from veterans. In other cases, a form must be submitted to apply for the specific change. For example, to restore lost education benefits due to a school closure, the Education Entitlement Restoration Request Due to school Closure or Withdrawal form must be filled out and submitted online through the “Submit a Questions” website or mailed to the Regional Processing Office in charge of the veteran’s area. Also getting the STEM scholarship will require applying for it using an application process not yet implemented.
What happened in the past?
The whole purpose of the Forever GI Bill was to correct, under one piece of legislation, a group of inequities that have developed over several years. A few examples:
- The time National Guard and Reservists spent recuperating from being injured while mobilized on orders under Section 12301(h) of Title 10, U.S.C does not count toward Post 9/11 GI Bill eligibility, but that same time does count for active duty personnel doing the same thing because they fell under a different type of order. Also Selected Reservists mobilized after June 30,2008 under orders section 12304(a) and 12304(b) now count toward Post 911 GI Bill eligibility.
- GI Bill eligibility lost due to a school closure could not be restored under the old law.
- Fry Scholarship recipients (spouses and dependent children that lost a serving member in the line of duty) were not eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program (which is a feature of the Post 9/11 GI Bill – the same GI Bill the Fry Scholarship uses).
The list of inequities and unfairness in the GI Bill education benefits arena goes on. Individually, none of them could attract enough attention to warrant change, but once all of them were brought under one piece of legislation, it got the attention it deserved and passed through Congress unanimously.
Forever GI Bill Provisions
There are 34 changes included in the Forever GI Bill. Here are 15 changes having the greatest impact on the largest number of people and the effective dates of each change:
1. Eliminates the 15-year limitation on the use of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.
While a major feature of the Forever GI Bill, this provision removes the 15-year expiration date known as a delimitation date for veterans separating from service after January 1, 2013. Unfortunately, veterans discharged before that date will still have their benefits expire 15 years from their date of discharge. Effective date: Immediately.
2. Restores lost GI Bill entitlement due to school closure.
Over the last few years, some schools, such as Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech, closed unexpectedly or lost their accreditation. Veterans going to the affected schools at the time could not get credit for the classes taken so they could transfer to another school, nor was there any way to get their GI Bill entitlement restored that they used for the classes. While not comprehensive, students affected after January 1, 2015 will be able to get their lost entitlement restored. Effective date: Immediately.
3. Expands benefits to Purple Heart recipients.
Previously, Purple Heart recipients on or after September 11, 2001 and without a service-connected disability, did not receive full Post 9/11 GI Bill coverage unless they had at least 3 years or more of service. Under this change approximately 1,500 Purple Heart recipients will get full Post 9/11 GI Bill coverage regardless of the amount of time served. Effective date: Immediately.
4. Includes Yellow Ribbon Program coverage to Fry Scholarship and Purple Heart recipients.
Before this change, Purple Heart recipients with less than 3 years of service were not covered under the Yellow Ribbon program, because it could only be used by veterans at the 100% tier level, which requires at least 3 years of service. Also Fry Scholarship recipients – surviving spouses and dependent children of a servicemember killed in the line of duty – were not eligible for the Yellow Ribbon program even though they had full Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. Congress felt that was not the intent of the Fry scholarship program when written into law and included this change in the Forever GI Bill. Effective Date: August 1, 2018.
5. Expands Yellow Ribbon Program coverage for Active Duty members.
Since the implementation of the Post 9/11 GI Bill on August 1, 2009, active duty members have not been authorized to use the Yellow Ribbon feature of that GI Bill. After the effective date, they will be able to use it when using the Post 9/11 GI Bill while on active duty. Effective date: August 1, 2022.
6. Changes the entitlement use for licensing and certification tests.
One feature of the Post 9/11 GI Bill is reimbursement for certain licensing and certification costs. But up to the change implementation date, veterans are being charged one month of entitlement use regardless of how much (or how little) they received back in reimbursement. Once implemented, the amount of entitlement charged will be pro-rated based on the amount reimbursed. Effective date: August 1, 2018.
7. Reduces the amount authorized for Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH).
For every give, there must be a take. To help pay for the other provisions in the Forever GI Bill, the Post 9/11 GI Bill’s Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) will now fall in line with the BAH rate used on active duty. In 2015, that rate began a 1% decrease per year for 5 years, however up to now, the MHA was exempt from that reduction. Starting on the effective date, MHA recipients will receive the same amount as an E-5 with dependents on active duty. Effective date: August 1, 2018 for new GI Bill enrollees only.
8. Changes how the BAH is calculated.
Another MHA change. Right now, the BAH used to calculate the MHA is based on the zip code of the school. However, in the case of some satellite schools and with online students, the zip code used for calculation was that of the main campus. In many cases that is a lower BAH amount than where the student is living. This change now aligns the BAH rate with the cost of living rate where the student is living or attending most of their classes. Effective date: August 1, 2018 for new GI Bill enrollees.
9. Increases GI Bill eligibility for National Guard and Reservists.
As mentioned earlier, the time National Guardsmen and Reservists spent mobilized on active duty under certain order numbers did not count toward Post 9/11 GI Bill eligibility, although that same time spent did for permanent active duty personnel. In many cases, this can add up to over 1 year or more per individual. Effective date: August 1, 2018 for servicemembers ordered to duty after that date; retroactive for personnel whose service started on or after September 11, 2001.
10. Changes Post 9/11 GI Bill eligibility tiering for National Guard and Reservists.
Post 9/11 GI Bill eligibility is a tiered system based on the amount of time served on active duty. In the past, a minimum of 90 days up to 6 months on active duty earned an eligibility tier of 40%, meaning only 40% of that person’s tuition would be paid, along with that individual receiving only 40% of both the MHA and book stipend. Under the change, this will now increase to 50%. Selected Reserve personnel serving between 6 months, but less than 18 months, will see their eligibility increase from 50% to 60%. On average this will result in an increase of $2,300 more per year that will be paid in tuition by the VA for each eligible individual. The eligibility for the rest of the tiers remain the same. Effective date: August 1, 2020 for new enrollees; retroactive for current members whose service commenced on or after September 11, 2001.
11. Changes the transfer of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.
This change rights another wrong that has existed in the system since the Post 9/11 GI Bill began. Under the current rules, the veteran is the only individual who can revoke and reallocate unused Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. But what happens if the veteran passes away? Currently there is not a process available to change the ownership of the individual (deceased veteran, surviving spouse or dependent children) holding those remaining unused benefits to one that can use the benefits. Under this change a surviving dependent, such as a surviving spouse can transfer remaining unused benefits to another dependent child or to himself/herself in the case where the veteran dies. Effective date: August 1, 2018 however it applies only to deaths on or after August 1, 2009.
12. Reduces the number of months of coverage under the Survivors’ and Dependents Educational Assistance Program (DEA).
To bring the DEA program in line with other GI Bill programs, the total number of months of coverage in this program is being reduced from 45 months down to 36 months. Effective date: August 1, 2018.
13. Increases DEA payment structure.
While the number of months of coverage in the DEA program is being reduced, the amount paid per month to each DEA recipient will increase by $200 per month. Overall, this still results in a reduction of the total amount paid over the course of 36 months. Effective date: October 1, 2018.
14. Creates a STEM scholarship program.
For veterans in designated Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematic (STEM) 5-year programs that have at least 60 semester hours toward a STEM degree and have used up all of their GI Bill benefits, they can have their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits extended by an additional 9 months or take a lump sum of $30,000 to cover the additional year of school. It also applies to STEM degree graduates that are currently working toward a teaching certification. The scholarship program is capped at $25,000,000 for fiscal year 2019 with it eventually reaching 100,000,000 in 2023 and each year after that. The details of how the scholarships will be awarded are still being worked out at the time of this writing. Effective date: August 1, 2018.
15. Created a High Technology pilot program.
Under this 5-year pilot program, the VA contacts schools or programs and offers them higher tuition and fee payments if they include finding a job after graduating for students who are using the following GI Bills to fund their training: Chapter 30 (Montgomery GI Bill- Active Duty), 33 (Post 9/11 GI Bill), 35 (Dependents Educational Assistance – DEA), 1606 (Montgomery GI Bill- Selected Reserves) or 1607 (REAP). Effective date: No later than 180 days after August 1, 2018 (or on 1 February 2019).
In addition to the 15 most important changes within the Forever GI Bill, there are several lesser known, but still important changes:
Permanent Work Study Program Approval
Under the current law, some work study programs were set to expire on June 30, 2022. With the change, work study programs including doing outreach for an SAA, providing hospital or domiciliary care or medical treatments for veterans, or performing administrative-type work at a national or State Veterans cemetery will receive permanent approval.
VetSuccess Program Expansion
The VetSuccess on Campus program has been limited in the past and not available to all veterans. That changed under the Forever GI Bill and will now expand and made available to as many veterans as possible.
Priority Enrollment Expansion
The VA will update their GI Bill Comparison Tool that will in-turn help veterans better identify schools that offer priority enrollment to students using the GI Bill. This will allow more veterans to take classes that may otherwise fill up before they have an opportunity to enroll in them.
Mandatory Training for School Certifying Officials
Each school that accepts GI Bill students must assign a School Certifying Official to help work student GI Bill issues, but up to now training for these individuals was not required.
GI Bill Usage Data
Mandated by the Forever GI Bill, usage data must be provided to Congress by various designated agencies so that Congress can see the effectiveness of the GI Bill programs and allocate money accordingly.
To speed up payments to GI Bill students, the VA promises to use automation and electronic processing to the maximum extent possible within their means. They are spending $30,000,000 updating their IT structure to handle the Forever GI Bill changes and speed up processing.
There are several resources available pertaining to the Forever GI Bill. Below are five of the ones that provide the most diverse information about this sweeping legislation:
- Military Times
A detailed article on the 11 most important things you should know about the Forever GI Bill of the total 34 changes in this outstanding legislation that passed both the House and Senate unanimously and signed by President Trump. If you are looking for a succinct read on the major changes brought about by this Bill, this is the article.
An overview on how Congress passed the Forever GI Bill which will provide over $3,000,000 of additional benefits for veterans and their families over the next ten years.
- Student Veterans of America
A 48-page, in-depth, section-by-section “summary” of the Forever GI Bill legislative text and its regurgitation into language that can be understood by common non-legislative people. It starts out with a summary of the entire Bill and some history of the person the bill was named after – Harry W. Colmery. After that it takes each provision and breaks it down into easy-to-understand language.
- Task and Purpose
A behind-the-scenes look at the estimated $70 million it will take to not only upgrade the VA’s IT system, but to correct other issues the VA will face trying to implement those 34 overall changes created by the Forever GI Bill – like hiring 200 temporary workers to process claims by hand and getting them up to speed quickly so there is not an interruption of pay to veteran students until the VA’s IT system is capable of handling the new workload.
- VA Website
An unbiased summary on the VA website that highlights the 20 of the major provisions out of the 34 total changes in the Forever GI Bill.