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By Erienne Andvik
MoneyMix Contributor

What were you doing when you were 21 years old? Were you in school? Were you working a full-time job? Were you serving your country in the military? According to Army Times, the average military enlistment age is between 21 and 22 years of age. During these years, many young adults are pursuing higher education. Men and women who choose to serve in the military forgo traditional education at this time.

Higher education is expensive. Many veterans previously couldn't afford the time and expense to pursue further schooling after being discharged. Veterans now are eligible to receive benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which is the largest program of its kind since the original post-World War II GI Bill. 

the basics

who: Men and women who have served active duty for at least 90 days after Sept. 10, 2001—not necessarily consecutive—or those who served at least 30 days and were honorably discharged because of an injury related to service (note that active-duty service time required by Service Academy or ROTC doesn't count toward the three years required to obtain full benefits).

A new component of the bill is the ability to transfer all or part of a benefit to a dependent spouse or child.

what: Higher education reimbursement is available for tuition, housing, books, and other support for up to 36 months (equivalent to a four-year degree when assuming nine months per academic year).

when: The bill was passed in July 2008 and went into effect on Aug. 1, 2009. Veterans cannot be reimbursed for education received before this date. Veterans are eligible to take advantage of the bill until 15 years after their last discharge date.

where: Visit gibill.va.gov to see if you are eligible, and to submit an application online.

how: Some payments are made directly to the school, and some are made to the student.

the details

Calculating the amount of benefit you're eligible to receive is a little complicated, but, the gist is, the more time you served, the more your benefit will be. Participants can use benefits for undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral degrees. Programs the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers include college and university degrees and noncollege degrees, flight training, and correspondence offered at an Institute of Higher Learning (IHL). Here is a list of approved programs.



Stay up-to-date on policy changes, tips, and news:

 Calculate your benefits

 Connect with the GI Bill on Facebook

 Compare Post-9/11 GI Bill with other GI Bills

 Learn about housing benefits (BAH)

 Read the official veteran outreach letter

 Call 888-GIBILL-1 to speak with a Veteran Benefit Counselor

The amount of benefit you'll receive also hinges on where you live, and the type of degree you're working on. Those serving for at least 90 days of active duty (or 30 days with an honorable discharge due to service-related injury) are eligible for partial benefits. If you served for 36 months or more, you'll be eligible for full benefits. If you fall somewhere in between these extremes, use this chart to estimate the amount of benefit you're eligible to receive. For example, if you served for six consecutive months, you're eligible to receive 50% of the maximum benefit. 

The benefit covers up to four years of tuition—36 months—equal to the most expensive public education institution in the state where you'll attend school. This chart shows the maximum in-state tuition by state for 2009-2010. Benefits can be applied to public or private schools. As private school tuition likely will cost more than the benefit paid, you can use the money to cover part of tuition. Some private schools voluntarily enroll in the "Yellow Ribbon Program," where the school donates up to 50% of the unpaid tuition costs. The VA matches any contributions made by an institution under this program. 

Housing benefits, paid monthly, are calculated based on the basic allowance for housing (BAH) payable to an E-5 with dependents in the same Zip code as the school you're attending. In addition to tuition and housing benefits, the new GI Bill also provides some reimbursement for tutoring, and licensing or certification test reimbursement (one test, up to $2,000). 

A new component of the bill is the ability to transfer all or part of a benefit to a dependent spouse or child. To take advantage of this benefit, an individual must:

  • Be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill;
  • Have served in the Armed Forces for at least six years;
  • Enlist for an additional four years (unless the veteran is eligible for retirement—then no additional enlistment is required);
  • Ensure that dependents are registered in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System (DEERS).

If an individual has already served six years, a spouse can use the benefit immediately. Dependent children only are eligible to receive benefits after the individual has completed 10 years of service.

program implementation challenges

As you can imagine, this is a huge new program that has experienced some issues with processing the volume of applications. Payment processing averages about 35 days—the VA is working toward a 25-day processing goal. On Sept. 25, 2009, the VA implemented emergency checks of $3,000 to those who hadn't received any payments. In October, the VA hired additional contractors to speed processing of payments. The VA hopes to have a fully automated system by the end of 2010; until then, expect slow processing times. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), a service organization, offers this guidance for those applying for benefits:

  • Fill out an electronic form as soon as possible. Fill out an electronic DD-214 (Report of Separation) as well.
  • Before enrolling, check with your school about what happens if your payment is delayed.
  • After submitting your application, call your school to make sure your enrollment has been certified. Payment will not be made until you are certifiably enrolled.

The implementation of the largest GI Bill in more than 60 years has had challenges, but, looking at the long-term benefits, it will provide more financial educational assistance than was available before.

Published February 23, 2010

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