Increasing numbers of veterans are taking advantage of military education benefits and are pursuing their degrees. Here are some of the most common questions they ask Veterans Affairs certifying officials at Saint Leo University about the benefits process.
In place now for three years, the Post-9/11 GI Bill® (Chapter 33) is the most generous education benefit for veterans since the original GI Bill® became law following World War II.
More than 870,000 veterans, service members, and their families have taken advantage of this opportunity to pursue an undergraduate or advanced degree – a number veteran student services officials believe will continue to grow.
It’s a large and complex program. If you’re among those ready to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill® to start earning a degree, you undoubtedly have questions.
While there’s plenty of detailed information on the VA website, military-friendly colleges provide veterans administrators who can get you started.
Saint Leo University, for example, provides VA certifying officials for online, University Campus, and center students to serve as liaisons with Veterans Administration. They’re experts on military education benefits and guide veteran students through the application process every day.
Here’s a roundup of the most common questions VA certifying officials say students have.
1. How do I get started using my military education benefits?
Take the first step by talking with the admissions team at the university you’d like to attend and applying. You must be officially accepted into a degree-seeking program before the VA will release your benefits.
Determine your best benefit. In addition to the Post-9/11 GI Bill® (Chapter 33), you also may be eligible for another benefit program. The VA provides a concise chart comparing the different education benefit programs.
There are several things to consider in selecting the VA education benefit best suited for you, including which benefit pays more, where you will be living, and whether you will be receiving any other financial aid.
The most important consideration, however, is your educational goal – especially if you are deciding between the Montgomery G.I Bill (Chapter 30) and the Post-9/11 Bill. The reason why is that you may receive a maximum of 48 months of benefits combined, if you are eligible for more than one VA education program.
Apply for benefits. Use the VONAPP Veterans Online Applications website, download an application Form 22-1990 from the VA website, or call 1-888-GI-BILL to have a paper form mailed to you. It takes about 6-10 weeks for the VA to process your application and mail you a Certificate of Eligibility. This letter indicates the tuition reimbursement rate for which you are eligible, in addition to any other benefits you can receive, such as a monthly housing allowance, a books and supplies stipend, or a rural benefit payment.
A common misconception. The VA does not notify the school when it receives a benefits application from a veteran. Assuming that the VA does causes delays in payments because your school is unaware that your enrollment needs to be verified.
To avoid delays, send a signed copy of your application to the VA official at your school, as soon as you submit your application to the VA.
2. What do I need to do to receive my benefits?
Law prohibits the VA from paying benefits to students or their schools until it receives certification from your school’s VA certifying official that you are enrolled.
So before you can apply for benefits, you need to work with your academic advisor, determine your major, and develop an educational plan. Then, select your courses, and enroll.
In addition to your course selection, other documents and forms will be required, and your school’s VA certifying official will tell you what those are. For example, to complete this process at Saint Leo University, officials also need a copy of a student’s Certificate of Eligibility, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty (DD form 214), and the application for benefits Form 22-1990.
3. How long does it normally take the VA to process and pay benefits and what happens while I’m waiting?
From the date that the VA receives enrollment certification, it generally 6-10 weeks for you to receive payment.
That means that you could be well into your semester before your school receives payment for tuition and fees. At Saint Leo, student veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill® may wait to pay any remaining tuition balance until after the VA has submitted its portion to the university. Other universities may require that bills be covered while waiting for the VA to send tuition and fees.¹
Therefore, even if you are anticipating that the Post-9/11 GI Bill® will cover 100 percent of your tuition and fees, it’s important to also apply for financial aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by going to www.fafsa.gov. Also, consider applying for other types of scholarships available through your school or outside sources.
Remember, if you are using Post-9-11 G.I. Bill benefits, tuition and fee payments will be made directly to your school on your behalf. The monthly housing allowance and stipend for books and supplies are paid to you.
4. As an online student, am I still entitled to the monthly housing allowance benefit?
Yes. If you are pursuing a degree totally online, you are entitled to receive one-half of the national average of the basic allowance for housing, as long as you are a full-time student. To receive the full monthly housing allowance, you need to be a full-time student taking at least one on-ground class each term.
It’s important to work with your school’s VA certifying official to be certain you are taking the required number of credit hours to be considered full time.
5. Do scholarships or grants I receive from my school or other sources affect my military benefits?
Changes made to the Post-9-11 GI Bill® that went into effect in August 2011 impact how much the VA may pay toward your tuition. Since then, the VA has required that schools deduct any institutional aid such as scholarships and grants that are designated specifically for tuition and fees when certifying a student’s enrollment. This includes state grants such as the Florida Resident Access Grant (FRAG) and Bright Futures Scholarships.
This is why the amount your school bills the VA for tuition may be less than the actual tuition.
Remember, your school’s VA certifying officials are an excellent resource for answering any questions you might have about your military education benefits. They can help ensure you use these valuable and well-deserved benefits to your best advantage.
Are you using the Post-9-11 GI Bill® to fund your education? Do you have any other tips for fellow veterans getting started you’d like to share in the comments below?
¹ National Association of Veterans’ Programs Administrators in U.S. News and World Report
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs www.gibill.va.gov