Education benefits for veterans and those who are actively serving in the military are an important part of the many services and programs the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers to those who have served their country. VA education benefits help to cover some or all of the costs for educational expenses related to such things as tuition and fees, books and supplies, and housing.
According to recent data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. spent $11.9 billion for VA education benefits for more than 909,000 veterans and their families in 2019. These benefits aim not only to enable career stability and growth through the pursuit of new knowledge and skills but also to ensure a smooth transition from military to civilian life. Many different types of educational opportunities are covered by these benefits, from technical training and apprenticeships, to online or on-campus certificate programs and undergraduate or graduate degrees.
If you are interested in exploring the VA educational benefits you are entitled to, it can be somewhat overwhelming sifting through all of the information and navigating the benefit process on your own. For this reason, many colleges and universities (including UMass Lowell) have established a veterans services office staffed by a team that is dedicated to helping you understand your benefits and making sure you are able to utilize them to the fullest extent possible.
Using Your VA Education Benefits
You’ve worked hard and made sacrifices while serving your country, and the educational benefits the government provides for you and your family are a big part of the payoff for your service. Before you take advantage of the VA education benefits you’ve earned, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Using one benefit can rule out another. While there are many different education benefit programs offered by the government, it’s important to note that using one benefit could make you ineligible for other programs. For example, if you receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, you will not be eligible for Montgomery GI Bill funding.
Your VA education benefits have an expiration date. After your military service ends, you are required to use your education benefits within a specified time period. You have 15 years to use your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, for example. When exploring your available benefits, be sure you understand the established timeframe for each program.
Choosing the right school and educational program is important. When it comes to searching for a school or program that is right for you, be sure to spend adequate time researching your options. The VA website offers numerous resources to help veterans and active-duty service members compare schools and make smart decisions when it comes to paying for their college education. You might want to consider starting your search by using the VA’s Choose a School search tool to find VA-approved colleges and universities that have been authorized to receive federal funding. As part of the VA’s Principles of Excellence program, these higher education institutions have signed an agreement with the government committing to “Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members.”
VA Education Benefit Programs
Below is a brief overview of some of the many VA education benefit programs available.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the original GI Bill into law in 1944. Since then, congress has enacted six versions of the GI Bill that aim to help service members afford college and earn a postsecondary certificate or degree. If you are thinking about using your GI Bill benefits, the VA offers a GI Bill Comparison Tool to help you research approved education programs and estimate the benefit amount you’ll receive at different schools.
Montgomery GI Bill
The original GI Bill (which ended in 1956) was revamped in 1984 by former Mississippi Congressman Gillespie V. Montgomery, thereby assuring that the VA education programs the federal government first started offering to veterans in 1944 were available for the next generation of veterans. This version of the GI Bill is still active today. If you are currently serving in the military or you’re a veteran and you contributed $1,200 to this program while on active duty, you may qualify for education-related funding through this bill, depending on when you enlisted and how long you served.
Post-9/11 GI Bill
The Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, better known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, expanded education benefits for veterans who have at least 90 days of active-duty service beginning on, or after, September 11, 2001. The Post-9/11 GI Bill is the primary education benefit used by most veterans. The improved educational benefits offered through this program cover a broader range of educational expenses (including money for books), provide a living allowance and permit the transfer of unused educational benefits to spouses or children. If you are eligible, this program covers 36 months of tuition and training benefits, according to the VA website.
Forever GI Bill
Also known as the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, the Forever GI Bill includes significant changes that enhance or expand existing VA education benefits for service members, veterans and their families. These revisions include such things as assistance for students affected by school closures, changes to licensing and certification charges, Yellow Ribbon extension for active-duty service members, and consolidation of benefit levels.
Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Support
If you are a veteran with a service-related disability, the VA’s Veteran Readiness and Employment program (also known as Chapter 31) is available to help you explore employment options, address educational or training needs, prepare for a job search and find work. Benefits include financial assistance for college, technical or business school; rehabilitation assistance; employment counseling; and on-the-job training. Family members may also qualify for assistance in certain cases.
Educational and Career Counseling
If you have been discharged within the past year or your active service is scheduled to end in the near future, you may want to check out the VA’s Education and Career Counseling program (which is also referred to as Chapter 36). This program is intended to help support your transition to civilian life by providing free personalized educational and career guidance and planning.
Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance
If you are a dependent spouse or child (or a surviving spouse or child) of a veteran, you might meet the requirements for GI Bill education or training benefits offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The two main VA educational assistance benefit programs for dependents or survivors are the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship and the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program. These programs cover educational-related expenses for such things as tuition and fees, tutorial assistance, books and supplies, and certification tests, as well as housing costs for college, vocational, business or technical programs.
Yellow Ribbon Program
The VA’s Yellow Ribbon Program is intended to help cover out-of-state, private or graduate school tuition costs that are not covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. If you qualify for this program and you are enrolled at a Yellow Ribbon school, your school will contribute a certain amount of money through a grant or scholarship to help with your remaining costs. The VA will match that contribution. The Yellow Ribbon benefit amount you receive will vary depending on a number of factors including the school, the degree level and the academic program you’re enrolled in.
Technology Education and Training
If you are a member of the military or a veteran looking to gain technology-related knowledge or skills, the VA’s Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC) program could be a great fit for you. This program covers programs and training at VA-approved training providers that focus on areas such as computer programming, data processing, information science and media applications.
Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship
This STEM scholarship program is intended to help veterans, active-duty service members and military dependents who are pursuing education or training in the in-demand fields of science, technology, engineering or math (STEM). If you meet the requirements, this program may extend your Post-9/11 GI Bill or Fry Scholarship coverage by up to nine months or an additional $30,000 of benefits.
For a comprehensive list of education benefit programs offered through the VA and more detailed information including eligibility requirements, visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.
UMass Lowell is a military-friendly, Yellow Ribbon school with one of the largest veteran populations of any higher education institution in Massachusetts. For more information about the services and programs UMass Lowell offers for veteran and military students and their families, visit the Office of Veterans Services website or contact the office directly at 978-934-2461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.