If you are a veteran of the US Armed Forces, you may be eligible for significant benefits to help you earn pursue your educational goals.
The primary vehicle for federal assistance to veterans is the Montgomery GI Bill. The secondary vehicle is the Veterans Education Assistance Program, or VEAP.
This Guide provides a full explanation of your benefits under both the GI Bill and the VEAP, including eligibility requirements and application procedures.
Montgomery GI Bill
The Montgomery GI Bill is a multi-million dollar, federally funded program designed to support the reentry of veterans of the US Armed Forces into civilian life.
The largest component of the GI Bill is its provision of education benefits, although the GIB also offers assistance with medical treatment and health care, housing and other matters of veteran concern.
The GI Bill functions similar to social security: just like you pay into the social security fund as a worker, so to you must contribute to the GI Bill as an active duty solider; when you retire, you receive a social security payout, while being discharged earns you GI Bill benefits. As an active duty soldier, you must contribute a total of $1,200 to the GI Bill fund, which then underwrites your education benefits.
How much is the GIB worth?
The GI Bill benefit is currently worth just under $40,000 or $1,100 per month for full-time students, distributed over 36 months (4 years of full-time study, not including summer school). For part-time students, the award is $550/month. The amount of the benefit is adjusted every October to keep in step with increases in the cost of living and tuition.
The clock on your GI benefit starts ticking when you receive your first payment and ends after four years. Therefore, in order to get the maximum benefit, you should be enrolled as a full-time student and work to complete your degree in eight semesters (four academic years) or less.
Your VA benefit will be paid directly to you via direct deposit to your checking account, as long as you are a student in good standing. It is up to you to actually send the payment to your school to cover your tuition costs and fees.
When can I use my GIB benefit?
You can start using your GIB benefit as soon as you are discharged, as long as you are a veteran in good standing and you served at least two years in the Armed Forces. You must also have your high school diploma (or GED equivalent) at the time you apply for your GI Bill benefits.
You may use your benefit anytime within the first ten years after your last discharge. After ten years, the benefit expires. If you fail to take advantage of the benefit, either in part or in full, by that point, you lose any remaining benefits. If, for example, you are in the middle of the last year of your degree program when you have the 10th anniversary of your discharge, you will be fully responsible for paying the remaining tuition and fees.
How do I apply?
To apply for your GI Bill education benefit, you must first find a school that is VA-approved. Before applying to a school, make sure that it meets the GI Bill requirements. You can either ask your admission counselor, check with your VA representative, or use the School Finder at military.com. If you are applying to a nationally accredited college or university, it is more than likely VA-approved.
After accepting an offer of admission from a VA-approved school, you must complete the Application for Education Benefits (VA Form No. 22-1990.) You can get a copy at your school’s office of the registrar.
Ask your school to send your application, along with the paperwork they are required to process by the VA, to the nearest VA office.
You should receive a letter of eligibility from the VA within 4-8 weeks of your application. Sometimes, however, the VA will ask you to provide more information before authorizing your request. This is not uncommon, so don’t panic if it happens to you. Simply contact your VA representative immediately and proceed as requested.
After you have received your first benefit check/direct deposit, you will be required to complete an eligibility verification process every month to receive your next installment. Known as WAVE, or Web Automated Verification of Eligibility, this process is simple and can be completed either on-line or on the phone.
Additional Benefits from the GI Bill
The Federal Government has invested significant new resources in the GI Bill in recent years. Below is a brief description of some of the new programs that you should know about to enhance your veteran-eligible benefits.
Buy-Up is a Montgomery GI Bill initiative that allows active duty soldiers to contribute beyond the mandatory $1200 to the GI Bill fund, in order to earn additional education benefits upon discharge.
Soldiers can contribute up to $600 more, which will net them a total $5,400 increase in their total GI Bill benefit. This increase is equal to an additional $150 per month while enrolled as a full-time student.
The Air Force refers to Buy-Up as the “GI Bill Kicker.” For more information on this program, contact your education service officer.
The National Defense Authorization Act for FY2002 authorized service members to transfer their education benefit to a dependent. This option, however, must be approved by the individual military service. To find out if you are eligible to transfer your education benefit to your spouse or child(ren), contact your educational service officer.
The Veterans Education Assistance Program, or VEAP, is a pre-saving plan designed for older veterans. If you enlisted between January 1, 1977 and June 30, 1985, you may make contributions from your military pay to the VEAP fund, which will match your contribution $2 to $1.
Akin to a 401K retirement fund in which your employer doubles your contributions, the VEAP program then invests those funds until you are ready to withdrawal them to cover education expenses.
Depending on how much money you have in your VEAP fund, you may use it to cover the costs of up to 36 months of a degree, certificate, correspondence, or on-the-job training program. Like your GIB benefit, you have up to ten years from your release to utilize your VEAP benefits. Unlike the GI Bill, however, the balance of your unutilized VEAP fund is refunded to you after ten years.