Can the GI Bill Can Help You Pay for College?

Two weeks after American forces stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944, the U.S. Congress passed the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, which soon became popularly known as the G.I. Bill. Millions of veterans have since used the G.I. Bill and its various updates to fund their education, start businesses, buy homes, and take advantage of other programs that rapidly became part of this assistance program.

Though the bill itself has changed and expanded since 1944, including the more expansive Montgomery G.I. Bill of 1985, it is still a vital element in college funding. The newest version of the G.I. Bill, the Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 (commonly referred to as the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill), has helped nearly one million eligible veterans pay for all or part of their higher education since it was signed into law. According to recent research by the Rand Corporation, veterans have been happy with the new G.I. Bill:

“Focus group participants appreciated that the benefits are more generous than those of the Montgomery GI Bill, particularly because of the market-based living allowance, which was cited as the bill’s most important new feature. Many focus group participants reported that the bill permitted them to attend school full-time without having to work — an option they could not have afforded under the Montgomery GI Bill. Others commented on the advantages of the book stipend and the fact that tuition was paid directly to institutions, thus requiring few out-of-pocket expenses for students.”

Yet, despite the positive reviews, only 36% of the total number of eligible veterans used their benefits from 2008-2011, which suggests that many veterans may not know much about these benefits or how they can use them. If you are a veteran and are interested in furthering your education, this is the information you need to know:

Eligibility for G.I. Bill Benefits

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website, t

he Post-9/11 GI Bill “provides financial support for education and housing to individuals with at least 90 days of aggregate service after September 10, 2001, or individuals discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days. You must have received an honorable discharge to be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.”

In addition, there are several other educational funding programs available to veterans and active duty service members and their families, such as the Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP), the Yellow Ribbon Program, and the Survivors and Dependents Assistance Program. Check out the G.I. Bill homepage to learn more about the different funding options that are part of the program.

Approved Uses of G.I. Bill Benefits

Many veterans mistakenly believe that they can only use G.I. Bill educational funding to earn an undergraduate degree, but nothing could be further from the truth. These funds can be used to complete an undergraduate or graduate degree, receive vocational or technical training, secure supplemental tutoring, or participate in on-the-job-training programs, correspondence courses or many other kinds of educational and career services.

Distribution of G.I. Bill Benefits

Though the administration of each program may differ, there are a few important aspects of this funding that are true for all of the programs. Military.com explains five of the most basic facts about using G.I. Bill funds for education, such as how you do not have to complete your education all at once, because you have 10-15 years to use all of your benefits, and that G.I. Bill benefits are not considered federal financial aid, so you may still be eligible for federal student loans and grants even while using your G.I. Bill benefits. In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard reminds its veterans and service members that when deciding what school or program to enroll in, it is important that you make sure the school has been approved for G.I. Bill funding. If it isn’t approved, you will not be eligible to receive any distribution of funds to pay for it.

If you are an active duty service member or veteran, you have earned these benefits, but it is up to you to take the first step toward using them. Research the websites highlighted above or contact your veterans benefit administrator for more information.