Active soldiers and veterans are important members of American society: soldiers because they fight to keep the American people safe, and veterans because, additionally, they bring their past experiences and wisdom back to society–which can help catalyze better decisions surrounding war and protection in the future. In 1944, when the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (the G.I. Bill) was created, it was meant to provide benefits to World War II veterans that could help them acclimate back into life outside of fighting. Since then, the bill has grown to focus very heavily on providing subsidies and scholarships for the education and career-based training of America’s veterans. However, the G.I. Bill system has been wrought by technological instability, as well as an overwhelming influx of returning veterans seeking its benefits, resulting in late reimbursement. If you are pursuing financial assistance for higher education as a veteran from the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, there are some important things you need to be aware of as you navigate the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Military Grants for Those Who’ve Served
As part of educational benefits available to eligible veterans and service personnel, the federal government, as well as many states, offer grants for post-secondary education. For example, the G.I. Bill is a comprehensive program with many components to help repay members of the military for the sacrifices they’ve made. Grants for military service men and women, however, are the foundations on which modern education benefits programs are built.
For all intents and purposes, grants are free money. Financial need is the most common criteria for awarding an education grant, and as long as you use the money for approved educational expenses, you will not need to repay the money. The federal or state governments fund most military grant programs. A handful of private foundations, as well as colleges and universities also offer their grant and aid programs to military students.
Most military grants are need-based. Applicants must meet specific military benefit qualifications and financial need requirements in order to be eligible. Funding for such grants tends to vary from year to year — depending on the amount of money available —and actual award levels also depend on your length of service and connection to the military. Some grants, however, are not based on an amount but are simply designed to cover tuition and fees at college.
For veterans to receive military grants for college, they must meet certain eligibility requirements. The most basic of such criteria is the applicant’s veteran status or relationship to a veteran. Some need-based grants further require that you qualify for certain federal benefits, such as the G.I. Bill and most require you to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Other grants have more specific requirements. For example, the Federal Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant is only available to students who lost a parent or legal guardian to active service during the post-9/11 conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
What Kinds of Education Will the Post-9/11 GI Bill Pay For?
As you look for an educational program that best fits your interests and skills, it is very important to keep in mind that there are many academic programs the Post-9/11 GI Bill will not fund for you. The types of programs that the bill supports include:
Institutions of Higher Learning - If you are interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree from a private or public college, or a graduate degree, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will fund up to a specific amount depending on your institutional choice. The maximum reimbursement for in-state students attending public universities is full tuition and associated fees (likes books and room and board). If you pursue education at a private or foreign university, the VA will fund up to $18,077.50 per academic year (as of 2011). This maximum for private universities fluctuates if you are in certain states, like Arizona, New York, or Texas. The money is paid directly to the university you attend; your stipend for books and other living expenses is sent directly to you.
Non-College Degree Programs - If you are interested in vocational training that does not require university attendance, such as becoming a barber, EMT, or acquiring HVAC certification, the VA will provide funding. The Post-9/11 GI Bill will pay up to $18,077.50 during the academic year. You may also be eligible for housing allowances, book stipends, and a “rural benefit” for those who live far away from a training institution.
On-The-Job and Apprenticeship Training - If you are interesting in learning a trade hands-on by shadowing a professional and training while you work, the VA will fund some of your expenses. Example training areas include firefighting, hotel administration, and plumbing. The VA provides a comprehensive list of employers, by state, that participate in this program.
Flight Training - If you are interested in becoming a flight engineer, or receiving things like rotary wing or B747-400 qualification, the Post-9/11 GI Bill may help pay for your education depending on which type of flight training you are enrolled in. If you are taking flight training at an institution of higher learning, you are eligible to receive up to $18,077.50 if it is a private institution, or the full cost of tuition if it is a public school in your state of residence. If you are enrolled in vocational flight training, you will be reimbursed for whichever costs less: the cost of full training, or the current yearly limit of $10,333 beginning the day you start training. The VA does not pay for your books or housing if you are enrolled in a vocational program. You can find out if your institution of choice participates in this program here.
Independent, Distance Learning, and Internet-based Training - If you are interested in taking online courses or engaging in other independent learning, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will compensate you for the cost of those classes. Since these classes are traditionally offered by institutions of higher learning, the VA will fund you at similar rates that it would if you took on-campus classes. However, you will not receive a housing allowance unless you are enrolled in at least one classroom-based, on-campus course with your institution of choice.
Correspondence Training - If you are interested in taking learning modules that are completed through paper-based mail, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will fund whichever costs less: the cost of in-state tuition and fees, or $8,500.
National Standardized Testing Programs - If you are interested in taking national exams for academic admissions purposes, such as the SAT, LSAT, GRE, GMAT, AC, or MCAT (for a complete list, go here), the VA will reimburse you for registration fees, fees for the test itself, and any administrative fees. It will not reimburse you for things like pre-tests or other outside training not directly needed to actually take the exam.
Licensing and Certification - If you are interested in taking examinations that will allow you to acquire professional certification, the VA will provide certification for the tests (but only the tests, not for anything else).
Entrepreneurship Training - If you are interested in starting your own business, the VA will pay for programs that are affiliated with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
Work-Study Programs – If you are interested in working and earning a wage while you study, you can apply for a work-study program funded partially by the VA. The VA will work with a participating employer (which can sometimes be an academic institution) to reimburse you in the form of a paycheck, based on the hours you work. You cannot work more than 25 times the number of total weeks you are enrolled in an educational program. The VA provides examples of acceptable work on its website.
Specific Military Grants
- Air Force Aid Society General Henry H. Arnold Education Grant: Children of active duty, reserve, retired, and deceased Air Force members are eligible to apply for these grants of up to $2,000. Each year, several hundred are awarded.
- Briarcliffe College Online Yellow Ribbon Grant: Briarcliffe College on Long Island, NY, offers grants to veterans and their dependents, as long as they meet all eligibility criteria for G.I. Bill veterans programs. Yellow Ribbon Grants are also restricted with respect to your ability to combine them with other school-based grants.
- Coast Guard Mutual Assistance Supplemental Education Grant: Coast Guard personnel, as well as eligible family members, are able to apply for these grants to help with non-tuition, educational expenses. While the $250 grants may not be used to pay for college credits, they can be used to purchase study guides and pay fees for credit-by-exam programs (such as the College Board’s CLEP program). The grants are awarded only once per academic year.
- Columbia College Nationwide Campus Military Grants: Columbia College, a nationwide college with several locations and an online presence, offers several grant/scholarship programs to service personnel and their families. The programs vary by grant amount, number of annual awards and eligibility requirements. Those who may be eligible included military spouses, as well as spouses of Coast Guard personnel.
- Illinois National Guard Grant Program: Men and women who have served a year or more with the Illinois National Guard are eligible to apply for as many as four years’ worth of full-time college tuition, as well as a handful of specific and fees covered by Guard Grant Program.
- Illinois Veteran Grant Program: The state of Illinois also offers a grant program for veterans. Former service personnel who performed at least a year of active duty may qualify for the program. The grants are available to cover the costs of eligible tuition and fees at two- and four-year colleges.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant: Administered by the federal government, the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant program is designed to aid with the education expenses of children with a parent who died serving in Iraq or Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
- Military Spouse Career Advancement: Military spouses who are interested in pursuing a two-year or Associates Degree, may be eligible for a MyCAA grant of as much as $4,000.
- Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society Grants: The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society grants are available to children of Navy or Marine Corps servicemen who died during active duty or after retirement. The grants can be as much as $2,000, and are renewable each academic year.
- Spouse Education Assistance Program: The SEAP offers grants of up to $350 per semester to eligible spouses of service personnel on active duty in Europe, Korea or Japan. The grants are awarded on the basis of financial need.
Are There Any Problems With the Post-9/11 GI Bill?
Due to a large volume of veterans returning home from places like Iraq and Afghanistan, there has a been a surge in applications for Post-9/11 GI Bill funding. In the spring of 2012 there were over 400,000 veterans who enrolled in classes funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which caused a monetary crisis for the department (and for the students it funded at the time). Colleges across the country have consistently reported chronically late payments from the VA, whether associated with work-study programs or housing subsidies, and when surveyed, many students between 2011 and 2012 mentioned that the VA often failed to respond to their emails and phone calls seeking late money owed to them.
It is clear that the department’s technological infrastructure and monetary payouts are significantly affected by the quantity of veterans returning home and applying for assistance. In the last two months of 2011 more than 40,000 veterans returned from Iraq alone, and 2014 is expected to see a rise both in individuals returning and in applications for GI Bill funding. The Department of Veterans Affairs claims that they have no systemic issues with payouts, but the last two years have been riddled with late payment cases nevertheless. Several universities across the United States have created “emergency scholarship funds” for veteran students who, for example, are unable to afford rent or books because of late payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
If you plan to apply for assistance from the Post-9/11 GI Bill for continuing your education, make sure you consider your financial calendar. Do you have money saved already, or will you be relying solely on the money from the VA to fund your rent and books? If so, you may want to have your own emergency fund set aside in case reimbursement payments are ever late. Anticipating these types of issues ahead of time can save you a lot of headache and hassle later on.
Why Should I Attend an Accredited College?
Currently in America there is a shortage of jobs for veterans prompted by both economic recession and a lack of qualification among returning soldiers. If you are a veteran seeking education as a means of improving your chances for employment, it is strongly recommended that you attend an institution or obtain certification that has some type of accreditation. Accreditation ensures that your education’s quality is backed by a professionally-recognized agency, which will help you remain competitive among an employee pool that is filled with people who have bachelors’ degrees. Both accredited online colleges and campus-based institutions exist today, and many exemplary veterans have found creative ways to get advanced degrees under the current unusual economic circumstances.
Since not every academic institution or certification program in the U.S. is accredited, the VA will only providing funding for students who attend schools that meet a specific set of criteria. A database of each of these schools, by state, can be found on the VA’s website. If the school you wish to attend is not on this list, you should contact the Post-9/11 GI Bill commission directly to determine if there are compromises that can be made.
Veterans Affairs Departments by State
The Post-9/11 GI Bill, from the Department of Veterans Affairs, contains a comprehensive set of information for individuals interested in funding options.
The American Legion Auxiliary offers scholarships in the amount of $2,000 to qualified candidates. The application deadline is March 1 of every calendar year.
The Daniel Drevnick Scholarship is designed to assist veterans from military service to law enforcement.
The U.S. Army Women’s Foundation Legacy Scholarship is designed to help veterans complete their degree more easily. Awards can be as high as $2,500 for study at a private university.
The Purple Heart Scholarship Program offers veterans scholarships for academic study. Graduate students are not eligible to apply.