VA official responds to GI Bill concerns

Many questions have been raised about the Post-9/11 GI Bill since it went into effect Aug. 1. Keith Wilson, VA’s director of Education Services, provided some answers while addressing The American Legion National Convention in Louisville on Aug. 24.

Wilson said VA began accepting eligibility requests May 1 and has received about 200,000 so far. Processing has been completed for 136,000 of them, but 3,000 more arrive each day. So far, more than $12 million in benefits has been paid out.

“Unfortunately, there are lots of ins and outs on this program,” Wilson said. “It really is a paradigm shift in education benefits that VA is administering. But it’s not always the best benefit for everybody. Make sure that the individual makes an informed decision before they elect to receive benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, because it’s an irrevocable election.”

Wilson said that veterans need to consider several variables before signing up for the new GI Bill (Chapter 33) or staying with the Montgomery GI Bill (Chapter 30). For example, veterans need to determine which educational benefit will pay them more money, given their individual circumstances.

“Are they receiving other aid?” Wilson said. “For instance, there are several states who do not charge tuition to most veterans.

“If the tuition and fees are already being paid by the state, and that individual is not paying out of pocket, they could be receiving more under the Montgomery GI Bill than they would receive in the housing allowance under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. They have to take into account the other education benefits, especially non-VA benefits, they could be entitled to,” he said.

“What type of degree do they want to pursue? Are they going to pursue training exclusively online? If so, they’re not eligible for the housing allowance. Is the type of education covered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill? Is the limiting date important? Individuals have 15 years (from active-duty separation) to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill, as opposed to 10 years under the Montgomery GI Bill. Do they want those extra five years, even though they could receive a little less in payments?” Wilson said.

During his talk, Wilson cleared up the misconception that community colleges aren’t covered under the new GI Bill, and that students who receive training from trade schools may also be eligible for benefits. “A degree-granting institution includes an associate’s degree,” he said. “It has to be a degree-granting institution, not a degree program. For example, a community college offers associate’s degree, so they’re a degree-granting institution. But they also offer certificates – for instance, a truck-driving program. A veteran can use this program at a community college to pursue a truck-driving program.”

Wilson also touched on several other points:

Online coursesIf students are primarily taking online courses, but still take at least one course on-site at degree-granting institutions, they are still eligible for housing allowance. “As long as they’re taking a single class in-residence, they will qualify for the housing as long as they are ... pursuing more than half-time training,” Wilson said.

Full-time vs. part-time students“If you have two students ... one is taking seven credit hours of classes, the other taking 12 credit hours, they are going to receive the exact same housing allowance,” Wilson said. “The one taking seven credit hours is going to burn their entitlement at a slower rate, though, because the entitlement is charged at the rate of pursuit.

“So, literally, that person could end up getting the full housing allowance for a lot longer than 36 months, because they’re only using just over a half month’s of entitlements every month. Students are aware of this, and they know how to maximize their benefits.”

AttendanceIf a student on the new GI Bill stops going to class, both the student and the school are required to let VA know. “We terminate their benefits to the last day of attendance, or back to the beginning of the semester, depending on the circumstances as to why they no longer attend class,” Wilson said.

GradesWhile the new GI Bill will pay for a class that a student fails, “If a person gets an F, they’re burning entitlements,” Wilson said. “It’s a really poor way of using your entitlement. That F isn’t going to count toward that degree.”

Wilson said that the current form of the bill is a work in progress. “There are things that administratively we would like to see streamlined. There are things within the legislation that are advantages or disadvantages to certain groups of veterans,” he said. “We’re focusing right now on administering the benefit and getting the checks out timely and accurately. There’ll be plenty of time for changes.” GIBILL-1