The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, also known as the Forever GI Bill, was a law created to outline a new structure for educational benefits. It’s intended not just for service members though, but also for veterans and their families.
This bill was an uncontroversial one, passing unanimously in Congress and signed into law in 2017 by President Trump. The idea was to adapt the old laws to fit the needs of service members. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has taken into account the many situations that have cropped up since the start of the law and used them to redefine what benefits should be for service members. We’ll look at the GI bill benefits and how service members can take advantage of the new laws.
You Can Use the Bill Anytime
The Post-911 GI Bill used to require beneficiaries to use their education benefits within a certain time frame. This 15-year time limit began on the last 90 days of active service. Now, veterans can use those benefits whenever they choose. (This rule applies to anyone who left the army after the beginning of 2013.)
The Department of Defense (DoD) has also stipulated that spouses receiving benefits through the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship will also receive this benefit. (Fry Scholarship recipients are meant for the spouses and children of veterans who passed away in the direct line of duty.)
Expansion of Benefits for Purple Heart Recipients
Those who received a Purple Heart on or after 9/11/01 can reap all Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, including 100% tuition coverage for an in-state public university for 36 months. They’ll also have access to stipends for textbooks and a monthly housing allowance (MHA). Previously, only members with a service-connected disability were eligible for full benefits, while all others received a portion. The rationale behind this change was that anyone who has received this distinctive honor has proven their worth to this country and have thoroughly earned these additional benefits.
STEM Degrees Are Singled Out
The STEM program has been instrumental in encouraging students to pursue the technical fields, emphasizing math, science, and engineering on a higher level. Because these degrees may take longer than four years to complete, even for full-time students, the law allows for an additional year of education. The STEM program benefit is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Eligible family members are also available for a STEM scholarship at up to $30,000 for eligible parties. These scholarships for technology courses cannot be used by people with transferred benefits, but are available to both veterans and family members of deceased service members.
Expansion of the Yellow Ribbon Program
This program is a way for the gov and schools to share costs that aren’t covered by the higher education benefits of the GI Bill. Previously, only veterans receiving 100% of its benefits (or transferred benefit dependents) were eligible for Yellow Ribbon. Now those receiving a percentage may be eligible for the reduced costs too. The program has also been expanded to include the surviving spouses and children of service members. Starting in August of 2022, it will also include active-duty service members.
Higher Portions Will Be Covered
Before the new act was created, a member who has served between 90 days and six months would be eligible for 40% of the GI Bill. Now, they’ll be eligible for 50%. Those who have served between six months and 18 months will now be eligible for 60%. Those most likely to be taking advantage of these benefits are reserve members, so this bill will be most helpful for them.
School Closures Are Being Factored In
When schools shut down in the middle of a veteran’s education, the results can be damaging to their progress. Students may find that their credits don’t transfer or that they can’t find a similar study program in a new school. The new act has restored a student’s benefits and is retroactively available to any school that abruptly closed since January 2015. It ensures that veterans can use their credits and it also provides a semester of reimbursement plus up to four months of a housing stipend.
The National Guard and Reservists May Be More Eligible for Benefits
If a National Guard or reservist member is receiving medical care or in a state of recovery, they can now count those days toward their eligibility. This is available to any member who was activated post-9/11. And for anyone who was in the Reserve Educational Assistance Program that ended in 2015, they can now credit their time in the service toward eligibility for the GI Bill program.
Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) Will Change
The government will be paying for many of the expansions not by adding more funds to the coffers, but by decreasing their housing stipends by 1%. This decrease has been slowly happening over the past few years and will continue to do so until 2022. Now, veterans can expect to see values that are closer to those that active-duty members with dependents receive at the E-5 level. Prior to this, the number would have been slightly higher for veterans on the GI Bill.
The housing stipend will be based on the area in which the student takes the majority of their classes, as opposed to where their enrollment school is located. Reservists will receive their BAH at a prorated amount for the months they were activated.
Veterans Can Transfer Benefits After Death
The Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program provides a number of benefits to dependents of service members who are either permanently or totally disabled or deceased. However, the pilot program was somewhat limited in terms of how veterans and their dependents could take advantage of the benefits.
The ways in which a veteran can arrange a transfer of benefits after death have been expanded thanks to the new act. Now, if a veteran’s dependent passes away before taking full advantage of their benefits, those benefits can be transferred to another dependent. This law applies to any death that has occurred since 2009.
The bill gives more power to the dependents and families of the deceased, allowing them to make changes to the transferred benefits when need be. Prior to this, only the service member could make changes. So if a service member had stipulated the details of the transfer to one dependent and that dependent passed away, there was no way for the family to gain access to funds that were already earmarked for them.
Education Benefits Have Changed for Family Surviving Family Members
There are two sides of the story on this change made by the Forever GI Bill. Those enrolled in the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program will get $200 more for their monthly educational stipend. However, while the program used to available for up to 45 months, the expiration date for the benefits is now 36 months. Whether a family member is pursuing high technology, a work study program, or a teaching certification, they may need to alter their course schedule to accommodate the new changes.
School Certification Will Be More Rigorous
Those who certify schools with more than 20 student veterans enrolling are now subject to additional training. This additional training may help with anything from priority enrollment to proper enforcement of the new rules.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits were undoubtedly helpful to veterans across the country. However, as situations popped up, it was clear that there needed to be some changes made to the premise of some of the regulations. .
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