Massachusetts military service members and veterans have seen major changes to their pay and benefits over the past year especially changes to GI Bill rules that can have a far-reaching impact on the lives and livelihoods of military families around the world.
GI Bill and tuition assistance: Know your education benefits
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is a benefit for the latest generation of service members and veterans, as well as their eligible dependents. It includes payment of tuition and fees, a monthly housing allowance, and a stipend for textbooks and supplies.
GI Bill eligibility
The amount of time you spent on active duty determines your benefit level. In general, the higher your benefit level, the less you have to pay out of pocket for school, maxing out at the 100% benefit level, which covers full in-state tuition at public universities.
Here's what veterans who received an honorable discharge after Sept. 10, 2011, are eligible for based on the amount of time they've served:
- 100%: 36 months or more of active duty service, or at least 30 continuous days and discharged due to service-connected disability
- 90%: At least 30 months, less than 36 months.
- 80%: At least 24 months, less than 30 months.
- 70%: At least 18 months, less than 24 months.
- 60%: At least 12 months, less than 18 months.
- 50%: At least 6 months, less than 12 months.
- 40%: At least 90 days, less than 6 months.
- No benefit: Less than 90 days.
However, in August 2020, that chart will change. Individuals with at least 90 days service but less than six months will be eligible for 50 percent of the full benefit. Individuals who served at least six months but less than 18 will be eligible for 60 percent.
What it covers
You can use your benefits toward an education at a college, university, trade school, flight school or apprenticeship program.
While the benefit covers all in-state tuition and fees at public institutions, it may not have the same reach at a private or foreign school. The maximum tuition coverage for private nonprofit, private for-profit and foreign schools for the 2019-20 school year was $24,476.79. That figure is expected to increase again in August.
The housing stipends GI Bill users receive depend on the level of benefits they're eligible for, how many courses they take and where they go to class.
The rate is determined by DoD's Basic Allowance for Housing scale and is paid at the same rate an active-duty E-5 with dependents would receive in a particular area. If you are pursuing a degree entirely online, you get half of the national BAH average.
The VA has historically based the housing allowance on the location of the main campus of a school, even if the student in question is taking classes at a different branch campus that could be many miles away. The Forever GI Bill directed VA to instead base the housing allowance on the location where a student takes most of his or her classes. That change took effect last year.
Service members may transfer their benefits to a dependent, provided they have already served in the military for at least six years and agree to serve four more after the transfer is approved by the DoD.
The transfer must happen while you are still in uniform. Veterans who have already separated from the military are not eligible to transfer their benefits. Children are only eligible to start using the transferred benefits after the service member doing the transfer has completed at least 10 years of service. Spouses can use the transferred benefits right away.
- Last year, Congress eliminated rules mandating that some benefits be used within 15 years of the servicemember's separation from the military.
- A pending court case could allow veterans who are eligible for both the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill to use both benefits consecutively, essentially giving some veterans another 12 months of education benefits. A federal panel ruled in favor of the plan last fall, but the issue is under appeal.
- Active-duty troops who received a Purple Heart for combat injuries are now allowed to transfer their benefits to dependents regardless of how long they served or their ability to commit to more service.
- Starting in August 2022, active-duty servicemembers will also be eligible for the VA Yellow Ribbon program, which allows private schools to match VA benefits with their own tuition assistance.
- In December, Defense Department officials announced plans to make deployments to the U.S. southern border for guardsmen and reservists to count towards the 90-day requirement for GI Bill eligibility. The move is expected to give partial benefits to thousands of previously ineligible individuals.
You can apply for the Post-9/11 GI Bill online or by visiting a local VA regional office. If you've already chosen a school or program, arrange a meeting with the institution's VA certifying official, who can help you get started.
Service members have more education benefits available to them than just the GI Bill.
While service members can begin to use their GI Bill benefits on active duty, they can often get help paying for college from their service branches and save the GI Bill for later by using tuition assistance.
Here's how Tuition Assistance works, and what you'll need to know to make the most of it:
What it is
Tutition Assistance is a federal benefit that covers the cost of tuition, up to particular limits, for active-duty service members, as well as some members of the National Guard and reserves. The funds are paid directly to schools by the service branches.
Each service has its own requirements.
- Air Force: All Air Force officers incur a service requirement if they use TA, but there is no service-length requirement to begin using the benefit.
- Navy: Sailors must wait until they've been at their first permanent duty station for a year to use TA, unless they get a waiver. Navy officers must agree to remain on active duty for at least two years after using TA.
- Army: As of Aug. 5, 2018, there is no longer a one-year waiting period after completion of Advanced Individual Training, Basic Officer Leader Course or Warrant Officer Basic Course to receive TA. Active-duty officers incur a two-year service obligation.
- Marine Corps: After previously having to wait 18 to 24 months to use TA, Marines now have no minimum service-length requirements for the benefit. However, they must agree to at least two more years of active duty service to use the benefit.
- Coast Guard: Active-duty Coast Guard members must have been on long-term active-duty orders for more than 180 days to access TA. The Coast Guard also has unit-specific requirements and requires commanding officer approval.
- Guard/Reserve: Soldiers who are activated or on drill status are eligible under the same conditions as active-duty Army personnel. Air National Guardsmen and reservists of other branches are eligible for TA if they are activated, and the use of TA often comes with a service obligation for a certain amount of time once the last course is completed.
The Defense Department caps tuition assistance at $250 per semester hour and $4,500 per fiscal year. The Coast Guard recently decreased its annual cap to $2,250 per year, down from $4,000. The Navy and Army set limits at 16 semester hours per year.
Generally, TA funds can be used to pursue a higher degree than what you have already earned, up to the master's degree level. If you have a bachelor's degree, you can use it to pursue a graduate degree - not an associate or second bachelor's, though there are some exceptions. Some branches require you to create a degree plan or take a branch-specific course before your TA benefits are approved.
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