Veterans benefits can change lives. Indeed, many scholars believe that in the middle half of the 20th century, the GI Bill played a critical role in building the middle class. College became accessible to people who might never have otherwise considered it. Today, VA education benefits can also play a critical role in launching the life you want, whether you’re leaving the military now or have long held a civilian job. Here’s what you need to know to get the benefits you worked so hard for.
What VA Education Benefits Am I Eligible for?
Post-9/11 GI Bill
To be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you must have 90 days of aggregate service after September 10, 2001, and must have either been honorably discharged or still be on active duty. People awarded a Purple Heart are eligible for this benefit no matter the length of their service, and Reservists who lost education benefits when REAP ended in November 2015 may also be eligible.
Under the program, veterans are eligible for up to 36 months of benefits that may cover:
- Fees and tuition. You can receive funding for tuition at public universities for which you are eligible for in-state tuition. If you choose a private school or an out-of-state option, you may receive fewer benefits based on a variety of factors. The government directly pays the school to cover tuition and other fees.
- Housing. The bill covers housing for students in school more than half-time. Housing awards are based on the average cost of housing in the region where you attend school.
- Books and supplies. Veterans are eligible for up to $1,000 per academic year to cover supplies and books.
- Moving assistance. The Post-9/11 GI Bill states: “you may qualify for this one-time payment of $500 if you live in a county with 6 or fewer people per square mile and you’re either moving at least 500 miles to go to school or have no other option but to fly by plane to get to your school.”
The specific amount of the financial award, including funding for tuition and fees, depends on the length of your service since 2001.
Montgomery GI Bill
The Montgomery GI Bill, sometimes called Chapter 30, offers educational benefits to service members with at least two years of active duty service. This legislation allows armed forces members to buy into the program to gain more benefits. The specific rates per month and the benefits for which a veteran is eligible are a complex calculus of time served, the specific type of education a veteran pursues, and the payments the veteran made to the program.
You’ll be eligible for benefits up to 10 years after leaving the service. The program may cover tuition and fees, as well as other expenses, and the government pays the money directly to the student. Unlike other benefit programs, payments come in the form of a monthly benefit. The maximum benefit as of 2019 was $2,050.
Other Support Programs
The following programs can help you access quality education, pay for school, and navigate the challenges of leaving the military:
- The Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP) is a type of savings program that allows service members to direct a portion of their pay to an educational savings fund. The government matches these funds two-to-one, effectively multiplying the contribution threefold. You can use these funds up to 10 years after leaving the military.
- The National Testing Program helps fund the costs of academic tests, such as the ACT and SAT. The government reimburses veterans for most fees associated with these tests, including registration fees, fees to take special tests, and administrative costs.
- The National Call to Service Program allows service members and some other people who have volunteered for public service to select a specific educational benefit in lieu of applying for Montgomery GI benefits. You may choose from repayment of student loans valued at up to $18,000, a cash bonus of $5,000, or various forms of educational assistance that can cover some portion of tuition and fees similar to that covered by the Montgomery GI Bill.
A wide range of organizations also offer scholarships and grants to veterans and their children. You must apply to each individual program and meet specific eligibility requirements. For a list of available scholarships and grants, click here.
Benefits for Veterans’ Dependents and Survivors
Survivors and dependents of veterans also make sacrifices in the service of the country. The government offers two key programs to fund their education.
Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship
The Fry Scholarship offers money to the dependents and children of service members who died in military service after September 10, 2001. Recipients may receive up to 36 months of benefits to cover 100 percent of their tuition and fees if they attend public schools and are eligible for in-state tuition. Private school attendees are limited to $24,476.79 per academic year as of 2019.
Survivors and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program (DEA)
DEA is a benefit program for the survivors and dependents of veterans who were disabled or killed in the service of their country. Like other programs, the fund covers up to 36 months of schooling, though the specific funding rate varies. Unlike some other programs, DEA covers a wider range of training options, including apprenticeships and professional certifications. Monthly payments are made directly to the student, and the current monthly limit for full-time training is $1,224.
Other Benefits to Consider
Veterans whose full educational costs are not covered by the GI Bill or a related program are often eligible for additional sources of aid. The process begins with filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) through the U.S. Department of Education. The FAFSA helps students apply for:
- Federal student loans. Subsidized loans, which are need-based, prevent interest from accruing while students are in school. Unsubsidized loans accrue interest, and so the debt accumulates faster. Interest rates are fixed, which means the debt will not suddenly balloon, though the specific rate you’ll pay varies depending on the type of loan you receive. Interest rates for these loans are typically lower than those of private loans.
- Grants. Students with demonstrated financial need are eligible for some federal grants, including the Pell Grant.
- Federal work-study. Students can use the federal work-study program to receive compensation for tuition, fees, and other school expenses while working at an eligible job.
In addition to federal aid programs, students may also be eligible for:
- Merit-based aid, such as scholarships. Visit SNU’s Office of Financial Aid for help finding scholarships for which you may be eligible.
- Grants from local organizations or private companies. For example, your employer might offer grants to returning learners, or a civic organization in which you participate may help fund tuition.
- Private loans. Private loans are unsubsidized and are similar to most other loans. You’ll need to apply for the loan through a bank or credit union. The loan amount is based on your credit and demonstrated ability to repay the money.
Applying for Benefits
The GI Comparison Tool can help you compare various programs and select the ones for which you are eligible. The tool also provides a link to application documents. The Department of Veterans Affairs allows students to apply online, and can direct you to the specific form for the benefit program you are interested in here. Additionally, veterans can get in-person application assistance at a local VA office or at the SNU Office of Financial Aid.
SNU believes that everyone deserves a path to a gratifying career. We help our students find meaningful jobs doing work they love. We also understand the many triumphs and tragedies of serving your country. We work with veterans to help fund their education, transition to civilian life, and translate military skills to jobs in the community. We can help you explore your benefit options and weigh your options for a rewarding career path. Contact us or visit our Office of Veteran Services to learn more!