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DOD Implements Changes to Veterans’ Education Benefits

Not your father’s GI Bill: DOD implements changes to veterans’ education benefits

U.S. Army Alaska Soldiers attend a class at the education center on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Aug. 8, 2018. The Education Center assists Airmen, Soldiers and family members in meeting their personal and professional development goals through a variety of educational, training and testing programs.

The Department of Defense issued a fundamental change July 12, 2018, to its policy on the transfer of Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits.

Effective one year from the date of this change, eligibility to transfer those benefits will be limited to service members with less than 16 years of total active duty or selected reserve service.

Previously, there were no restrictions on when a service member could transfer educational benefits to their family members. The provision that requires a service member to have at least six years of service to apply to transfer benefits remains unchanged in the policy.

“After a thorough review of the policy, we saw a need to focus on retention in a time of increased growth of the armed forces,” said Stephanie Miller, director of accessions policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “This change continues to allow career service members who earned this benefit to share it with their family members while they continue to serve.”

This change is an important step to preserve the distinction of transferability as a retention incentive, she added.

If service members fail to fulfill their service obligation because of a “force shaping” event – such as officers involuntarily separated as a result of being twice passed over for promotion or enlisted personnel involuntarily separated as a result of failure to meet minimum retention standards – the change will allow them to retain their eligibility to transfer education benefits even if they haven't served the entirety of their obligated service commitment through no fault of their own.

All approvals for transferability of Post-9/11 GI Bill continue to require a four-year commitment in the armed forces and, more importantly, the member must be eligible to be retained for four years from the date they make the transfer.

The policy affects service members in the uniformed services, which includes the U.S. Coast Guard as well as the commissioned members of the U.S. Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Additionally, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, also known as the “Forever GI Bill,” has brought significant changes to veterans’ education benefits.

The following changes were implemented Aug. 1, with more scheduled in coming years.

Entitlement charges for licensing and certification exams and national tests under the Post-9/11 GI Bill will be prorated based on the actual amount of the fee charged for the test. This lowers the entitlement charge to benefits.

The new law decreases the amount of entitlement that new eligible individuals will receive under the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance program from 45 months to 36 months.

Veterans who transferred entitlement to a dependent can now designate a new dependent if the original dependent dies. If the veteran dies, a dependent who received transferred entitlement can now designate a new eligible dependent of the veteran to transfer any of the dependent’s remaining entitlement.

The Veterans Affairs must make available to educational institutions information about the amount of educational assistance to which a beneficiary is entitled. A beneficiary may elect not to provide the information to an educational institution.

The VA will prorate the monthly housing allowance under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Currently, those who leave active duty can’t receive their housing allowance until the beginning of the next full month after being released from active duty. With this change, the student will receive housing payments effective the day of discharge.

The law requires the monthly housing allowance under the Post-9/11 GI Bill program to be calculated based on the zip code of the campus where the student physically attends the majority of classes, rather than the location of the school where the student is enrolled.

VA will develop a pilot program to provide eligible veterans with the opportunity to enroll in high-technology education programs that VA determines provides training and skills sought by employers in a relevant field or industry.

Service members and honorably discharged veterans who were awarded a Purple Heart on or after Sept. 11, 2001, will be entitled to Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits at the 100-percent benefit level for up to 36 months.

The law authorizes service by Guard and Reserve members under 10 U.S. Code 12304a and 12304b to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

The time a Reservist was ordered to active duty to receive authorized medical care, to be medically evaluated for disability, or to complete a Department of Defense health care study on or after Sept. 11, 2001, now counts as active duty toward eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Recipients of the Fry Scholarship and Purple Heart may use the Yellow Ribbon Program.

Future changes to GI Bill benefits include:

Effective Aug. 1, 2019, the VA will provide up to nine months of additional Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to eligible individuals who are enrolled in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math field program of education.

Effective Aug. 1, 2020, the 40-percent benefit level will be eliminated; the 60-percent benefit level of the Post-9/11 GI Bill will be expanded.

Effective Aug. 1, 2022, active-duty service members may use the Yellow Ribbon Program.

“Every individual’s situation is different when it comes to using educational benefits, and for many, it can become overwhelming and confusing very quickly,” said Roger Wilson, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Education Center director. “The best advice I can give our service members, veterans and their families is to speak with the Total Force Work Center, which has access to your educational records. You can also speak with an education counselor about your particular situation and needs. We’ll do all we can to guide you to effective use of your benefits.”

To learn more about GI Bill benefits or to apply, visit www.benefits.va.gov/GIBILL/ForeverGIBill.asp. The Education Call Center is available at (888) 442-4551 for questions.