It’s an on-going promise to service members: Serve honorably and the government will pick up some of the tab for college. Starting with the Montgomery GI Bill after World War II to the Post 9/11 GI Bill and now to the Forever GI Bill, veterans and their families have counted on this benefit to put higher education within reach. The new GI Bill, officially called the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, has some important changes to consider for veterans and their families.
There is no time limit if the service member became eligible on or after January 1, 2013. This means that veterans and eligible dependents–including children and spouses of deceased troops–can use this benefit forever. This increases the time that beneficiaries have to use the benefit and allows for unexpected life events that might derail continuous study.
Currently, full-time students enrolled in schools located in US territories rate the Overseas Housing Allowance for an E5 with dependents. Students enrolled more than half-time (seven or more credits) rate a percentage of OHA for the school’s location based on their enrollment status, rounded to the nearest ten percent. For example, a student enrolled in 8 credits would be enrolled at 66 percent (8 ÷12=.667). This would be rounded up to 70 percent. This student would receive 70 percent of OHA for an E5 with dependents based on their location. If the full OHA amount is, for example, $1000 per month, the student enrolled at 66 percent would receive $700 per month in OHA.
Under the Forever GI Bill, students would receive the monthly housing allowance based on the location where they are physically attending classes. If this location is different than the school’s official location, such as a satellite campus, the monthly housing allowance calculation could result significant changes to the amount students receive.
This change applies to those who first enroll on or after August 1, 2018. Those who enroll before then will follow the current rules for determining housing stipends. Those who enroll on or after January 1, 2018 will follow the DOD’s reduced BAH rates. Students who first enroll or are currently enrolled before January 1, 2018 will follow the DOD’s non-reduced OHA rates and current rules for determining housing stipend amounts.
These changes will potentially reduce monthly housing allowances for many students using the GI Bill.
There are approximately 4,000 reservists using Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) who may now be able to use the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Reserve troops mobilized to respond to a natural disaster by their governor or to support a combatant command can now use this time to toward the GI Bill. This change affects all reserve troops who were mobilized after August 1, 2009 and opens up the GI Bill to more service members; however, these changes apply only to coursework started after August 1, 2018.
More money at more college or universities will be available to more eligible troops and authorized dependents. This expands access and opportunities.
All Purple Heart recipients now rate 100 percent of the maximum payable benefit. The same is true for troops who were discharged for a service related disability after 30 continuous days of active duty service. Beneficiaries will receive no less than 50 percent of the maximum payable benefit. The 40 percent category has been eliminated. Those serving at between six and eighteen months now qualify at the 60 percent level.
An additional nine months of GI Bill benefits are available to beneficiaries who enroll in certain science, math, medical, healthcare, or technology programs. To be eligible, students must be about to exhaust their Gi Bill benefits and have completed 60 semester (or 90 quarter) hours of coursework toward a degree or certificate. Those who have earned a degree in one of these fields and are also currently pursuing a teaching certification are also eligible.
This will expand the opportunity of those seeking to enter teaching in a science, technology, engineering, or math field. It will also increase benefits for those enrolled in often lengthy programs in the science and medical professions.
This benefit can be authorized up to $30,000 with priority given to 100 percent eligible beneficiaries and those with the most credit hours needed. Yellow Ribbon funds are not available under this program and these benefits cannot be transferred. The expanded program begins on August 1, 2019.
Dependents and spouses
Dependent children, spouses, and families of troops killed on active duty who become eligible on or after January 1, 2013 also no longer have the 15-year time limit.
Students attending college under the Yellow Ribbon Program will receive the lower of either the national maximum per academic year for a private school or the actual tuition and fees for the school of their choice.
The Yellow Ribbon Program will also be available to active duty troops beginning August 1, 2022.
The Dependents’ Education Assistance program will be shortened from 45 to 36 months, while also increasing payments available for eligible courses. For full-time coursework, the allowance would increase to $1224 per month; $967 per month for three-quarter enrollment; and $710 for students who attend half-time. The decrease in available months takes effect August 1, 2018. The increased monthly allowances take effect October 1, 2018. Those who enroll before then fall under the previous rules.
The new provisions offer some protection for families who experience an unexpected loss or need to change how the GI Bill is allocated. Veterans who previously transferred GI Bill benefits to a dependent can now select a new dependent if the original designee passes away. The same is true for dependents who received GI Bill benefits, but only after the service member or veteran dies. This applies only to deaths on or after August 1, 2009. The new dependent beneficiary would not be able to use GI Bill funds until August 1, 2018 or after August 1, 2018.
If your school closes or a needed course is not approved, GI Bill beneficiaries can now have some or all of their benefits restored. This is especially important for students at colleges that have closed or who have not received credits for their chosen course of study. This change takes effect on November 14, 2017. It includes courses that were discontinued on or after August 1, 2015.
There will be more opportunities to use GI Bill funds at technical or vocational schools that are not institutes of higher learning. To be eligible, a program must be accredited and provide post secondary education and training in a career or vocation. This change went into effect August 16, 2017.
The VA will also be creating a program to assist veterans in enrolling into high quality technical training programs that are needed in today’s workforce. This change will begin in early 2018.
The VA is working with colleges and universities to provide better information to veterans about preferential enrollment. It will be easier for veterans and eligible dependents using the GI Bill to tell if their college or university offers early enrollment.
The VA has also committed to better inform colleges and universities about total GI Bill benefits using a secure system. Accounts would be updated regularly to reflect funds used by the student. Beneficiaries could also opt out of disclosing this information to their school.
What This Means For You
Overall, there has been an expansion and increase in GI Bill benefits to include more troops and their designated beneficiaries. The elimination of the 40 percent tier increases funds available to many veterans. Removing the time limit also expands the time that designees and veterans have to use these funds.
Opportunities at training programs are now available with the inclusion of vocation and technical training programs. Additionally, the expansion of the Yellow Ribbon Program means that more veterans and eligible dependents can attend the college or university of their choice.
Protecting and reinstating benefits lost, through no fault of the student, due to a school closing will help students stay on track toward their degrees. However, changing from the current DoD BAH rates to the reduced rate schedule while also potentially changing the location used to determine the housing stipend has the potential to significantly decrease student’s available housing resources.
In general, these changes will create more opportunities for higher education and professional training.
By Meg Flanagan