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Are You Military? Get the Most From Your GI Bill Benefits

May 12, 2011

Being a service member entitles you to some really great benefits, not least of which are opportunities to advance your education. The Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Improvements Act, passed into law in December, features many changes to existing veteran education packages. Learn how to make the most of your benefits.

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By Douglas Fehlen

An Expansion of Benefits

The original G.I. Bill, signed into law in 1944, provided education benefits to veterans returning from World War II. Over the intervening decades, the legislation has been updated to reflect the evolving makeup and mission of the U.S. Armed Forces. In 2008, the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill was passed. This legislation, often referred to as 'G.I. Bill 2.0,' opened up education benefits to individuals with at least 90 days of active service duty in the period following the September 11 attacks. Previously not covered, service academy grads and ROTC Scholarship recipients also became eligible. Benefits from the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill included:

  • 36 months of funding at highest in-state tuition rate for undergraduate programs, graduate training or vocational schooling
  • a monthly housing allowance
  • a yearly stipend of $1,000 for books and supplies
  • $500 'rural relocation' allowance

Similar to the original G.I. Bill, the duration of the education benefit was determined based on the amount of time served in active duty. For example, veterans with three years of active duty were eligible for the full 36 months of higher education. On the other hand, veterans with six months of active duty were only eligible for 50% of education benefits. Another significant change of G.I. Bill 2.0 was that benefits could be used up to 15 years after separation or retirement (rather than the 10-year time limitation from the original G.I. Bill).

veteran student military GI bill benefits

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Improving G.I. Bill 2.0

Late last year, just as many were getting used to education benefits changes brought on by the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, additional adjustments were made to G.I. Bill 2.0. Passed in December, the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Improvements Act further enhances the education opportunities extended to service members with at least 90 days of active service following the September 11 attacks. These improvements, set to go into effect August 1, 2011, include:

  • all in-state tuition at public institutions for up to 36 months, including undergraduate, graduate and vocational training
  • tuition and fee reimbursement up to $17,500 annually at private institutions (students can also take advantage of the Yellow Ribbon program at participating schools)
  • students enrolled at half-time or less can now receive college payments
  • students will be reimbursed for select licensing and certification exams, as well as for fees related to college entrance test like the SAT and ACT (including test prep services)
  • adjustments to housing benefits, including prorated allowances based on enrollment status and benefit-eligibility for those enrolled in online education programs

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Getting the Most of Your Benefits

While it is important for all veterans to note the adjustments to benefits in the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, it's especially so for individuals who also qualified for education benefits under the original G.I. Bill. Some veterans eligible for benefits under the law may be better off utilizing that package to advance their education. Generally, those who have used more than half of G.I. Bill benefits may profit from using up the remainder of their benefits under that plan. If you haven't used very many of those benefits, however, it may be best to leverage your time served for education benefits under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has a step-by-step tool for deciding which benefits package is best for you. Once education programs have been switched over to G.I. Bill 2.0., the action cannot be undone. It's thus important to be sure you're making the best decision from the outset. Contact a VA counselor if you're not sure which option is best for you. Full information on the two versions of the G.I. Bill, including recent changes to the 2.0. version, can also be found at the Department of Veterans Affairs website.

Learn about Student Veterans of America, an organization that supports veterans attending college. The group can help you navigate the ins and outs of the G.I. Bill and redeem your full benefits.

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