Our courageous men and women of the Armed Forces have risked their lives in exchange for the peace and freedoms that we enjoy today. To honor them, there are some federal laws in place to safeguard their future and that of their loved ones – and that includes education and training benefits provided by the government.
Education is of paramount importance, whatever career path one may choose to pursue. However, we all know that pursuing your studies without any form of support may make things more difficult.
Additionally, because of the recent events surrounding the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, many changes in our routine have taken place, especially with the way we work and study. There is evidence of a massive transition from the physical classroom to the realm of distance learning modalities, including online messaging, video conferencing, and file-sharing platforms.
Today, we will be looking into these changes and how they may affect existing Veterans Affairs (VA) education and training benefits. Check out these page jumps to navigate this article effortlessly:
VA Education and Training Programs
* Post 9/11 GI Bill
* Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB)
** Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD)
** Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR)
GI Bill Benefits
Important Updates Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic
VA Education and Training Programs
As a service member, veteran, or dependent, you will enjoy different perks and privileges that will help you get started in the future. Under VA Education and Training programs, there are multiple ways to enjoy benefits depending on one’s eligibility:
Post 9/11 GI Bill
The Post 9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) assures generous assistance in paying for the academic and professional training for current service members, veterans, or their dependents. You will be eligible for this program if you fall under one of the following:
- You served at least ninety (90) days on active duty (all at once or with breaks in between the service period) on or after September 11, 2001.
- You have continually served for at least thirty (30) days (all at once, no breaks in between the service period) on or after September 11, 2011, and was honorably discharged with disabilities connected to your duty.
- You received a Purple Heart (Badge of Military Merit) on or after September 11, 2011, and was honorably discharged regardless of the days of service;
- You are a dependent child with benefits transferred by a service member or Veteran who is eligible for the program.
- You are a member of the Reserves who lost educational benefits during the end of the REAP (Reserve Educational Assistance Program) in 2015. Under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, you may be eligible for restored benefits.
Under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the recipient will receive up to 36 months of educational benefits, which includes:
- Tuition and other school fees. Qualifiers for the maximum benefit will enjoy full coverage of public, in-state tuition, and school fees. For private and foreign schools, the amount will be capped, with updated rates published each year.
- Housing allowance. This would depend on where your college is located, or if you had to be in school more than half the time.
- Books and supplies allowance. Depending on the coverage, you can receive up to $1,000 per school year.
- Relocation allowance. There is a one-time payment of $500 to help students who live in an area that is too far to reach the school of their choice or have no other travel options other than flying. Total benefits will depend on how much active service you have rendered since September 10, 2001.
The expiry of benefits will depend on the date of your discharge from service:
- For those who have officially ended their service before January 1, 2013, you will need to make use of your benefits within 15 years after your separation date. Any benefits leftover will automatically be lost after the said time.
- For those who have officially ended their service on or after January 1, 2013, your benefits will have no expiry date because of the Forever GI Bill (Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act) signed by President Donald J. Trump.
Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB)
The Montgomery GI Bill assists service members and veterans with educational and training costs, ensuring that they receive monthly allowances. There are two main ways to receive aid under this program:
This route can help you with your school expenses as long as you have served at least two (2) years on continuous active duty.
Additional basic requirements, such as having a high school diploma, GED, or additional units, may apply depending on your category. Three main categories describe one’s eligibility for these benefits:
- Category I applicants must have a high school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit and must have enlisted for active duty for the first time beyond June 30, 1985. Additionally, the applicant must deduce $100 a month for the first 12 months of service. The service member must also have served continuously for 2-4 years (depending on the service agreement, and Selected Reserve enlistment within a year of leaving active duty).
- Category II applicants are also required to possess a high school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit. The following service requirements should be met:
- having entered active duty before January 1, 1977, or January 2, 1978 (provided that they were under the delayed enlistment program);
- served at least a day from October 19, 1984, and June 30, 1985, staying through June 30, 1988, on active enlistment and serving at least four years;as of December 31, 1989, having at least a day of entitlement left under the Vietnam Era GI Bill (Chapter 34).
- Category III applicants are required to possess the same scholastic requirements stated in the two previous categories. Additionally, they must not fall under Category I or II and had a deduction of $1,200 before separation from service. Additionally, one of the three provisions must apply:
- being on active duty on September 30, 1990, with an involuntary separation beyond February 2, 1991, or
- being involuntarily separated on or beyond November 30, 1993, or
- choosing to separate from service voluntary under one of two programs: the Voluntary Separation Incentive (VSI) program or the Special Separation Benefit (SSB) program
- Category IV applicants must also fulfill the scholastic requirements stated in the last three categories, with a military pay deduction of $100 a month (for 12 months) or a $1,200 lump sum contribution paid. Additionally, one of the two provisions must apply:
- being on active duty on October 9, 1996, with money in a Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP) account on said date, and choosing the MGIB before October 9, 1997; or
- was on full-time National Guard duty (under specific provisions) within July 1, 1985, to November 28, 1989, and choosing the MGIB between October 9, 1996, up to July 9. 1997.
Benefits under the MGIB-AD vary greatly depending on your length of service, the type of study path you choose, and your category. There are also financial considerations like a college fund qualification, or the amount paid into the $600 Buy-Up program, allowing you to get more money from your monthly payments.
You will be able to enjoy the MGIB-AD benefits up to 10 years from the last day of active duty, and may vary greatly depending on your circumstances.
This route can help you with school fees as long as you are a reserve member of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps/Coast Guard, Army National Guard, or Air National Guard.
The initial requirement includes one of the following: (a) that you agree to serve six (6) years in the Selected Reserve; or (b) are currently an officer in the Selected Reserve, and agree to serve an additional six (6) years on top of the current service obligation.
Eligible members will get up to $384 per month, payable for up to thirty-six (36) months. The benefits end as soon as you leave the Selected Reserve program.
Like the Post 9/11 GI Bill, both programs under the Montgomery GI Bill will pay for up to thirty-six (36) school months of tuition and school fees, with payments given straight to the student.
GI Bill Benefits
You can use the GI Bill benefits through the following study paths:
- Getting a degree. Different facets of the GI Bill will make it easier for eligible applicants to finish their undergraduate and graduate degrees. This includes paying for tuition fees, books, and housing needs at accredited 4-year universities, community colleges, or graduate institutions. Foreign programs (tuition and housing at schools located outside of the US) are also eligible for funding. Moreover, tuition assistance top-ups (when your school fees exceed the agreed-upon terms) and tutorial assistance provisions fall under this category.
- Training for specific trades and industries. Do you need skills training for a specific industry? Do you feel that the traditional academic route does not meet your career goals? The GI Bill programs also cater to non-college degree programs, flight training, and vocational-technical programs. For licensing and certification examinations and training courses, you can also request for reimbursement. Moreover, if you need financial aid during your on-the-job training (OJT) and apprenticeship, you can ask for support to help cover any costs incurred for books, boarding, and supplies.
- Studying while working. If you choose to work while pursuing your studies, you can do it through two methods and still be eligible for VA educational support. You can choose to do co-op training at your chosen college or university. This entails getting full-time work experience while schooling full-time. Being part of a co-op would also mean getting help paying off some costs, like school and other miscellaneous fees. Additionally, you can opt for the work-study program. Under this program, you get paid at a part-time job related to VA work, such as a VA Facility or in any higher learning institution under a VA-related position while you complete your studies.
- Studying at home. If your present circumstances would not allow you to enroll in a brick-and-mortar institution, you can opt to pursue your studies at home. Depending on the modality you choose, different provisions may apply. This is a very timely option, especially in the light of a global health crisis. You can choose between correspondence training (or having coursework, modules, and other requirements completed through online channels and mail/messaging platforms) or other independent/distance learning modalities.
Additionally, VA benefits may include assistance in paying for the following (may be subject for approval):
- Remedial courses that may serve as a prerequisite to mainstream programs (such as basic math, reading, or language courses, before being admitted to their main college courses).
- Lacking courses that the student may need to take up as prerequisites before getting admitted to their target colleges/universities.
- Refresher courses that may prove beneficial to the student’s study path, such as review courses on a particular subject area, or other brief courses related to their planned degree/non-degree programs.
If you are qualified for more than one VA education and training program, note that you will have to decide what to apply for, and which one you will avail. You cannot receive multiple benefits at a time. Additionally, you cannot change your mind once you are already granted eligibility in one of the programs mentioned above.
Important Updates Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Due to the events surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools in the US have been forced to shut down as federal health and safety protocols have ensured personal distancing and control of movement in different states to uphold the safety of everyone.
For veterans and their families, this may mean a possible interruption of their GI Bill benefits (aside from their school and other related fees). Thanks to the second GI Bill fix (HR322) issued in April 2020 entitled “Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020,” these beneficiaries will continue to receive their usual educational and training support from the government. Gaining bipartisan support, the Bill aims to provide our brave men and women with some certainty and peace of mind, even in the middle of a health crisis.
This would even cover VA programs that would have been reduced or stopped due to the pandemic, allowing student veterans and dependents to continue with their schooling without undue worry and stress about losing these benefits.
Below are the most important points that HR322 would address:
- Even in the middle of school closures, veterans will still have the chance to make additional housing allowance payments. This is particularly important if they live out-of-state and do not have anywhere else to go.
- If your school closes temporarily due to quarantine restrictions in place, you will be receiving up to four weeks of GI Bill payments (or until the end of term, whichever comes first).
- Student veterans and dependents who are under different work-study programs will be entitled to receive payments throughout the semester, despite any possible difficulties that they may encounter reaching the workplace due to COVID-19 business closures, county and state laws.
- Allowing student veterans and dependents to have their benefits restored or be entitled to an extension in case of campus closures or any other valid reasons that may force them to withdraw due to the pandemic.
- If your school decides to change their grading system (from letter grades to pass/fail), this will not affect the remittance of future GI Bill payments.
Due to the closure of different brick-and-mortar institutions, there has been a record-breaking transition from physical classrooms to distance learning modalities such as online classrooms and video instruction. This sudden switch to online learning would have meant a disruption of certain benefits, including housing stipends reserved for students who attend class on-campus. However, because of HR322, the Veterans Affairs office has officially waived this restriction due to the pandemic, to give students a helping hand during these trying times.
If your school switches from physical classes to online-learning only, the emergency law dictates that it will be paid for as if they were conducted in-person. This is good news, specifically because VA programs tend to favor in-person instruction more in terms of premiums. However, if these programs remain virtual by the next year, beneficiaries will receive reduced payments.
Remember that the VA must first approve academic programs for online instruction before receiving full benefits – without it, you will be losing benefits once online classes begin.
With the recent events, the passage of this bill fix is a very important step towards safeguarding the welfare and future of student veterans and their families. To apply for different GI Bill programs, click here.