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GI Benefits In Limbo

GI Benefits In Limbo

If you have been attempting to use your GI Benefits lately, you might already know what thousands of Veterans are finding out – your GI Benefits just aren’t coming.

In a technological glitch and resulting nightmare, the VA is experiencing a huge backlog which started after President Trump’s signing of the Forever GI Bill last year. The 2017 legislation expanded benefits for Veterans and their families. However, with bill did not provide for a change in the system infrastructure. The result? A technological bottleneck that has delayed payments to recipients across the country. Initially, the VA was given until August 1, 2018 to put the 34 new provisions in place. That deadline was missed but the promise to hit a mid-August deadline was made. This goal was also missed.

During this week’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, Senator Johnny Isakson (R- GA) had the following to say:

“The changes that should’ve been made in information technology weren’t made. The checks and balances we have built into the system weren’t followed.”“It’s come to my attention that the [VA] has screwed up accountability and responsibility for a Forever GI Bill benefit. The changes that should’ve been made in information technology weren’t made. The checks and balances we have built into the system weren’t followed.”

The checks and balances weren’t followed and the results are nearly catastrophic.

According to the VA, at least 82,000 recipients are currently awaiting housing payments. While that number is astronomical, the true number of impacted Americans is unknown. It is estimated that the number is actually in the hundreds of thousands. All involved parties agree that this non-partisan issue needs to be rectified, Representative Phil Roe (R – TN), the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, has been quoted as saying “this is, to be kind, a train wreck.” The train wreck continues to take out more collateral damage with every passing day as an increasing number of Veterans find themselves in dire straits without the benefits that they have been promised and were expecting.

While the VA has acknowledged the problem, which first began rearing its ugly head this past summer, there is no concrete or conclusive plan in place to actually fix the debacle. Worse yet, VA officials were warned by advocates and lawmakers that this would happen prior to the system collapse.

Dr. Paul R. Lawrence, top-ranking benefits’ official for the VA, appeared in front of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Thursday and obviously struggled as he attempted to explain the situation and lack of progress. Estimates have been provided previously and remain unmet. At this time, Lawrence claimed the previous timetables were a “mistake” and the VA had no current estimate for when the technological issues might be resolved.

While outdated technology is plaguing the VA in their fulfillment of GI Benefits, it is nearly destroying Veterans who are supposed to be supported by those benefits. With just weeks left to the fall semester, many Veterans find themselves crippled with unexpected housing and academic costs. Heartbreaking stories of Veterans in crisis at the hands of the GI BIll program are popping out of the woodwork every day.

Dan Gorman, former sailor and NY National Guardsman is just one of those stories. Gorman was scheduled to graduate in May 2019, but with the current delays crippling his finances, that goal seems less and less likely every day.

“I can’t afford rent. I can’t afford groceries. It’s a lot of emotional strain and aggravation,” said Gorman.
According to Curt Cashour, VA Press Secretary, the VA has implemented 28 of the 34 changes. However, housing and tuition and reimbursement were not two of them and no estimate was given for when the remaining changes would be completed.

The most unfortunate twist in this mishap is that the VA failed to notify students of the potential pitfalls, even after they were aware. Students, like Gorman and many others, have been waiting for their checks to arrive – but they never do. Given that two of the major changes that have not been rolled out are those that impact living allowances and tuitions, Veterans find themselves unable to afford both school and day-to-day survival.
According to the VA, an additional 200 IT-based employees have been added to staff to assist with the remaining rollouts. The VA has had a year to complete the required IT upgrades and is now nearly four months past the original due date. While the additional staff and pressure from the House may help push the project to completion, it is of little consolation for those Veterans who find themselves being forced to give up their education.

The VA’s GI Bill Hotline is 888-GIBill-1 and the White House VA Hotline is 855-948-2311. If you or someone you know has received an incorrect disbursement, is missing a stipend or reimbursement, please contact these hotlines for assistance.

GI Benefits and YOU

GI Benefits and YOU

GI Benefits and YOU

 

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

It is “back to school” season across the country. Our college campuses are getting ready to welcome a new crop of freshmen students with open arms – and some are getting ready to welcome our military veterans into the ranks of their student body. Unavoidably, the cost of a four-year degree is on the rise. While there are a host of private grants, scholarships and financing available – active military, select reservists and National Guard members earn education benefits that will help make a post-service education more affordable.

Depending on where you attend school, your GI Benefits might just cover all of your expenses. For example, if you are attending a public college or university, you can expect to have your tuition covered and paid directly to your school. Additionally, the post 9/11 GI Bill provides a monthly housing allowance as well as an annual supply allowance.

In order to qualify for GI Benefits, you need to have served at least two years of active duty and have completed high school (or have a HS equivalency certificate). During your first year of active duty, your contribution needs to be $100 per month. You can also quality under VEAP (Veteran’s Educational Assistance Program). Once you have served and contributed the minimum to qualify, you are eligible to apply for benefits through the VA. Your initial application may take as long as 10 weeks, so allowing for enough time is critical.

Everyone’s life path is different – so while some soldiers look to enroll as soon as they are no longer serving, some may have other plans in mind. The GI Bill protects these plans as well, as veterans have 15 years to apply for benefits after their most recent period of active duty. Once your application is submitted, your benefits will cover up to your first 36 months of school.

There are so many options when expanding an education. Some higher learning institutions pride themselves on working with military personnel and veterans. St. Bonaventure University in New York boasts a strong ROTC program – but it also makes it easy for active personnel to put a degree on hold to serve overseas.  Columbia Southern University in Alabama boasts an extensive selection of online degree programs as well as open enrollment, catering to the hectic schedules and unpredictable nature of military scheduling.

Colorado State University has a devoted team of advisors dedicated to assisting military personnel and veterans. So much that they even have a special “Military and Veteran Student Visit Day” next month. Drexel, in Philadelphia, PA, has a unbeatable online degree and course offering. Don’t forget to check out Touro University Worldwide – an online program that makes obtaining a degree easier for those of us who need to move around.

Between the GI Benefits and the institutions who are actively trying to work with veterans, now is a fantastic time to start a pursuit of a degree!

Touro University Worldwide- Educating Those Who Serve

 touro updated logo 2018

The GI Bill is one of the most amazing benefits offered to those who serve. By using this benefit, veterans can earn a degree or vocational certificate, get paid while in school, and jump-start their post-military lives.

Touro University Worldwide (TUW) understands the importance of educating our country’s active military students and veterans who are preparing to enter the civilian workforce. To that end, in addition to government funding options, TUW offers discounts to to those who serve, past and present, as well as extending the benefit to their families.

Many Touro academic staff members are also veterans, and since they have walked the walk, they can provide support and guidance through the military aligned students’ academic journeys.

While there are thousands of schools throughout the country that would like to be on the receiving end of the tuition funding that military and veterans bring via the GI Bill, TUW has a tradition of commitment to their military and veteran students.

Make this the year that you get started earning the degree that will give prepare you for an exciting career in business, psychology or health and human services.  Apply the skills and knowledge you acquired in the military to a bachelor’s or master’s degree with in-demand concentrations like: Cybersecurity Management, Global Management, Nonprofit Management, Human Resources Management and many more!

You’ve always risen to the challenge, make this the year that you pursue and complete your degree!

For more information, visit www.tuw.edu

Will VA Scrap Ethics Law That Safeguards Veteran Students?

va seal

Debbie Gregory.

Statute 38 U.S.C. 3683 is an ethics law that prohibits Department of Veterans Affairs employees from receiving money or owning a stake in for-profit colleges.

But the VA is now pushing back, claiming that the 50-year-old statute is redundant due to the other conflict-of-interest laws that apply to all federal employees and provide sufficient safeguards.

You may be wondering why this is important.

Veteran advocacy groups believe that doing away with the law would make it easier for the for-profit education industry to exploit veterans with their rich GI Bill benefits.

There is mounting concern that suspending the statute would make it possible for high-ranking agency officials to enact policies that benefit for-profit schools in which they have a financial interest.

“The statute is one of many important bipartisan reforms Congress implemented to protect G.I. Bill benefits from waste, fraud, and abuse,” said William Hubbard of Student Veterans of America. “A thoughtful and robust public conservation should be had to ensure that the interests of student veterans is the top of the priority list.”

“Congress enacted a zero tolerance for financial conflicts of interest for VA employees precisely because Congress uncovered massive fraud by for-profit colleges targeting veterans.”

“Student veterans were already facing an aggressive rollback of their protections under the Trump administration’s Education Department,” said Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success.  The non-profit group works to protect and defend the integrity and promise of the GI Bill and other federal education programs for veterans and servicemembers.

The law already provide measures for any employee that it covers to receive a waiver if they can prove that there is no conflict of interest and that whatever arrangement they have or had will not be a detriment to veterans.

The VA proposal is set to go into effect on October 16 unless the agency “receives a significant adverse comment” by or on that date.

Unfortunately, to date, no such comments have yet been submitted nor have any public hearings been scheduled.

What do you think?

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

GI Bill for On-the-job Training

otj training

By Debbie Gregory.

When separating from their military service, there are many newly-minted veterans who aren’t desirous of attending a traditional college or university to cash in on their veteran school benefits.  A better fitting veteran education option for them might be on-the-job (OJT) training or an apprenticeship program.

Both OJT and apprenticeship programs are available for veterans using their VA GI Bill education benefits, one of the most valuable veteran benefit.

These programs give veterans the opportunity to learn a trade or skill through training on the job participation rather than attending formal classroom instruction. The programs generally consist of entering into a training contract for a specific period with an employer or union. At the end of the training period, the veteran has earned job certification or journeyman status.

Usually, employers pay a reduced OJT/apprenticeship wage, which must be at least 50% of journeyman’s wage, with periodic wage increases, unless it’s a government program. By the last full month of training, the wage must be at least 85% of the wage for a fully trained employee.

In addition to the wages paid by the employer, veterans who are participating in an approved program can use their GI Bill benefit and receive a tax-free stipend equivalent to the Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) of an E-5 with dependents.  However, the stipend is reduced 20% every six months as the Veteran’s wages regularly increase until the Veteran has attained journeyman status and pay.

If traditional college/university education, OTJ training or an apprenticeship doesn’t fit the bill, one other option is available: beneficiaries can use their educational assistance to pursue accredited independent study programs at career and technical schools that provide postsecondary level education and postsecondary vocational institutions. This change went into effect August 16, 2017.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Trump Administration Wants to Legalize Payoffs to VA Officials by For-Profit Schools

for profit rip off

By Debbie Gregory.

Before taking office last year, Donald Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle multiple lawsuits claiming fraud at Trump University, his for-profit real estate school.

Last month, the Trump administration announced that Julian Schmoke Jr., a former official at for-profit DeVry University, would be in charge of a Department of Education unit that polices colleges for student aid fraud. Last year, DeVry paid $100 million to settle federal claims it misled students, including veteran education programs.

And now, the Trump administration is seeking to waive an anti-corruption law that has been on the books for 50 years. The law prevents officials who administer the GI Bill from accepting money from for-profit schools backed by taxpayer subsidies.

The waiver would allow employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs to receive “wages, salary, dividends, profits, gratuities” and services from for-profit schools that receive GI Bill funds.

Veterans’ advocates, who have battled for veteran education rights against predatory colleges, were blindsided.

“Bizarre and very likely illegal,” said Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success.  The non-profit group works to protect and defend the integrity and promise of the GI Bill and other federal education programs for veterans and servicemembers.

“There are federal laws – including federal criminal laws – that prohibit federal employees from engaging in this exact behavior,” she said.

The rule change could create conflict of interest where VA officials, who are charged with ensuring GI Bill funds are well spent, could accept payments from colleges facing scrutiny.

VA employees could also own or run a for-profit college that profits from the GI Bill.

The VA angered many veteran advocates by allowing for-profit Ashford University to continue receiving GI Bill money, this in spite of the fact that California and Iowa regulators revoked its certification from the program.

Ashford circumvented the revocation by moving its official address from Iowa to Arizona.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Would Changes to the GI Bill Impact Military Recruitment?

gibilllllll

By Debbie Gregory.

Patriotism is usually among the top three reasons people give for joining the military. So is the promise of great educational benefits provided through the GI Bill. With that said, changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill and other education benefits would probably have a bigger impact on military recruitment and retention if the recipients actually understood what they were getting.

It is common knowledge that a college education is expensive. A recent RAND report evaluating military education benefits revealed that many new recruits and service members don’t really understand what their benefits entail.

Some of the benefits you could be eligible for through the Post-9/11 GI Bill include 100% coverage of tuition and fees paid directly to a state operated college or university on your behalf, a monthly living stipend based on your school’s zip code, an annual book and supply stipend, a one-time relocation allowance, and the ability to transfer GI Bill benefits to a spouse or eligible dependent. And since 2009, servicemembers are not required to contribute to the program to access the benefits.

Veteran advocacy groups, including the Student Veterans of America, have been pushing Congress to make changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill that would expand eligibility for wounded service members and reservists.

For the report, RAND researchers polled 165 new recruits who had yet to attend boot camp, in order to ascertain how much they knew about the Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefit. While education was among the recruits’ commonly cited reasons for joining the military, many were unclear about the actual details of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The new recruits who were well informed about the benefits were generally older, more likely to have college experience and more likely to be female.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

New Forever GI Bill Unveiled

Colmery

By Debbie Gregory.

It looks like big changes may be on the horizon for the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

The “forever” GI Bill, officially titled the “Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017″ looks to be a broad, permanent bill of rights for student veterans and their families. And it has a pretty good chance of passing through Congress.

Named for Harry W. Colmery, the past American Legion national commander who hand-wrote the original GI Bill in 1944, the proposal contains reforms to benefit Purple Heart recipients, reservists, veterans’ surviving dependents, and victims of for-profit school closures.

If the bill, introduced on July 13th  by House Veteran Affairs Committee Chairman and Republican Rep. Phil Roe, is passed by Congress, it will affect veterans who become GI Bill-eligible after January 1, 2018.

Major changes would include:

  • The elimination of the 15-year “use it or lose it” time limit on veteran education benefits
  • A permanent change to the program’s name- just “GI Bill”
  • The guarantee of full veteran benefits for ALL Purple Heart recipients
  • Help for victims of predatory for-profit schools
  • Assistance for survivors and dependents by extending Yellow Ribbon eligibility to those survivors
  • Changing housing allowances for student veterans to the same BAH as similarly situated active-duty service members

The Student Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, Got Your Six, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors assisted in putting the bill together and readying it for approval.

“This beefed-up Post-9/11 GI Bill recognizes the long service and sacrifice of the one percent of Americans who have voluntarily put their personal lives on hold to fight an unimaginable multi-front war for 16-plus years,” said VFW National Commander Brian Duffy.

What do you think?

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Veterans Groups Agree on Four GI Bill Changes

GI Bill (1)

By Debbie Gregory.

Last month, thirty-five veteran groups banded together and stalled a congressional hearing.

The groups were in the U.S. Capital to weigh in on changes to the Post 9/11 GI Bill.  They want change and to close some loopholes.

While they agree on more than they disagree on, the area of disagreement concerns whether or not to charge new enlistees for their GI Bill benefit.
The areas of agreement include:

  • There should be a fix to a Pentagon deployment authorization that is unfairly preventing thousands of Reservists and Guardsmen from earning GI Bill benefits. About 4,700 Reservists and Guardsmen who deployed under Title 10, Section 12304b have been restricted from accumulating education benefits.
  • Also in agreement among veteran groups is a measure to bring the mobilization authority up to par with active-duty entitlements
  • Expanding eligibility for the Yellow Ribbon Program to surviving spouses and children of servicemembers killed in the line of duty. The program allows veterans to attend schools or enroll in programs that cost more than the GI Bill tuition cap.
  • Expanding full GI Bill benefits to all Purple Heart recipients. Currently, a veteran must be medically retired from the military or have 36 months of active-duty service to qualify.  There are approximately 1,500 Purple Heart recipients who aren’t eligible for full education benefits.  If you’ve been wounded on the battlefield, you’ve met the service requirement.
  • Assisting student veterans whose schools close. Last year, for-profit ITT Technical Institute closed its doors, and thousands of veterans who attended the campuses were unable to recover lost education benefits. The situation has also happened with other for-profit schools that have closed.

The major issue that these groups cannot reach consensus on which has divided veteran groups is the Post 9/11 GI Bill expansion and funding it.   It has been recommended by some of the veteran groups that new enlistees would pay $2,400 over a two year period to opt into this benefit.

Some Veteran groups have described this as “a tax on troops”.

There will be further discussions between veteran groups on whether to charge servicemembers for the GI Bill.

Tell us what you think and check out the multitude of educational information on our site militaryconnection.com.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Top Degrees For Veterans

Top Degrees for veterans

By Debbie Gregory.

One of the key perks to serving in the U.S. military is the GI Bill for obtaining a good education for veterans. Pre-planning how and when you will use your veteran education benefits will ultimately give you the best bang for your buck.

There are a number of degree majors while you are pursuing your veteran education that will transition more easily from your military service to your civilian career.

A career in the medical field offers numerous options for those who have served. In addition to physicians, there are great opportunities for nurses, medics, and physical therapists.

While all military personnel receive basic medical knowledge, those who specialize in nursing are in-demand, and will be for years to come. There are also numerous sub-specialties within this career path.

Serving in the military takes a toll on the body, even for those who have not suffered a specific injury. Those who work in rehabilitating the body and helping individuals return to their regular, daily lives would do well in pursuing a degree in physical therapy.

Medics who want to transition to a career as an emergency medical technician or a paramedic already know how to deal with emergency situations. Emergency medical technicians and paramedics are under constant pressure to respond to emergency situations in an effective and timely manner, so military medics will already have a head start on the competition when applying for this career.

Another career field that is a smooth transition from military to civilian career lies within the criminal justice system. A criminal justice degree can lead to a law enforcement career. And like a criminal justice degree, fire engineering/fire science degree aids in applying to law enforcement jobs, fire engineering and fire science careers. Most veterans are already physically and mentally capable of performing these jobs, and securing extra knowledge through education for veterans will only help qualify you further for these positions.

Another great option for veteran education are STEM careers- Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.   Although engineers need years of veteran education to obtain their degrees, the positions can be highly lucrative.

As the military is one of the highest users of technology, network administrators are always in demand. There are also numerous occupations within the military that require extensive computer use, such as programmers, coders, and developers.

Additionally, the need for information security professionals grows with each hack and cyber-attack. Many veterans who use their veteran education to go in to this industry are known as white-hat hackers or penetration testers.

So when considering the college for veterans you will chooses, remember to choose the one that will help you best transition for your long-term civilian career.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.