Generally, student loan programs for veterans are provided in the form of loan repayment. Veterans may apply for tuition loans from federal or private sources just like anyone else. However, veterans may be uniquely eligible to have their loans supplemented or repaid by government programs or private organizations, which may cover all or a portion of the loan amount.
To qualify for most veteran student loan repayment programs, a veteran is typically required to have been in active military service for a given amount of time and is either still serving, was honorably discharged, or was discharged due to a disability connected to their service.
Veterans will need to file proof of education and loan amounts with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). Loan repayment programs will require proof of military service and, potentially, other documentation. Loan repayment may take time to process, so veterans should be prepared to provide payment for their education until the repayment goes into effect.
VA Student Loan Repayment
Repayment of veteran student loans should ultimately be handled by the VA. However, due to particular eligibility requirements and the time it takes to process loan repayment applications, veterans often end up repaying a portion of their loans before a loan repayment program is finalized. It is important for students to consider their education costs, just as they would if they were paying for school on their own, and make sure repayment of tuition is achievable within their personal budget. For instance, the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill has certain limitations on annual repayment, so it is crucial to make sure your education expenses will not exceed the maximum amount. The rates for the 2017-2018 academic year can be found here.
Eligibility for Montgomery G.I. Bill ®
The most common form of federal assistance for veterans' educational expenses is the Montgomery G.I. Bill. It is not a loan, but rather provides monthly financial assistance for educational expenses to qualifying applicants, reducing the need for student loans for veterans. It has two components: the Active Duty program and the Selected Reserve program.
Montgomery GI Bill ® Active Duty Program
The Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty program (MGIB-AD, sometimes known as Chapter 30) provides benefits to active duty service members. To qualify, the applicant:
- must make a financial contribution while on active duty by having their pay reduced by $100 per month for 12 months; and
- is required to complete at least two years of active duty to qualify for MGIB-AD; and
- receives a monthly allowance, the amount of which is adjusted prior to each academic year, for eligible educational expenses when the benefits are used later; and
- receives benefits for a maximum of 36 months as a full-time student; and
- receives a lesser amount each month, but the maximum period of eligible time is extended, if they are a part-time student.
Montgomery GI Selected Reserve Program
The Montgomery GI Selected Reserve program (MGIB-SR) provides education and training benefits to members of the Selected Reserve similar to those provided by MGIB-AD. To qualify, the service member:
- must have at least a six-year obligation to serve; and
- must have completed initial active duty for training (IADT); and
- must receive a high school diploma or equivalency certificate before completing IADT; and
- must remain in good standing while serving; and
- is still eligible if discharged due to a disability that was not caused by misconduct.
Veteran Student Loan Repayment Programs
A range of veteran student loan repayment programs are offered in addition to the Montgomery G.I. Bill, including:
Post-9/11 G.I. Bill ®
The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is a federal loan repayment program specifically designed to supplement the cost of veteran student loans. It forgives all resident tuition and fees for public colleges and universities, an annually determined amount of tuition and fees for private higher educational institutions, and non-degree educational programs. Types of education and training approved under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill include, but are not limited to:
- Institutions of higher learning offering undergraduate and graduate degrees
- Independent and distance learning
- National testing
- Vocational/technical schools
- Licensing and training courses for trades such as truck driving, HVAC certification, EMT certification, and many more
- Apprenticeship/on-the-job training
- Tutoring expenses
To qualify for Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits, one of the following must apply to the applicant:
- must have at least 90 days of aggregate active duty service after September 10, 2001, and either still is on active duty or is an honorably discharged veteran; or
- was discharged with a service-connected disability after performing at least 30 days of continuous active-duty service following September 10, 2001.
Note that certain educational institutions participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, a provision of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which can provide additional financial assistance. A Transfer of Entitlement option also exists, which allows the transfer of unused benefits to spouses or children of veterans.
Leave No Veteran Behind
Leave No Veteran Behind is a non-profit organization which offers veteran student loan repayment in the form of "retroactive scholarships" by distributing funds donated by supporters, among other services. The organization's programs were created in response to gaps left by the Montgomery G.I. Bill and Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. It also may cover educational debt that remains from before the veteran entered military service.
Criteria for the Leave No Veteran Behind Retroactive Scholarship are as follows:
- the veteran must have completed some form of higher education; and
- the debt in question is not covered under current programs (such as G.I. Bill); and
- the veteran served honorably; and
- the veteran can demonstrate that the educational debt creates an economic hardship; and
- the veteran commits to 100-400 hours of community service.
Federal Direct Loans
Federal Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans (sometimes referred to as Stafford loans) are available to all U.S. students, including veterans, and may offer lower interest rates than loans provided by private sources and financial institutions. Veterans should confirm their eligibility and use these loans sparingly along with other federal funding, which can help make the repayment process significantly easier.
* GI Bill ® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.