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Can Military Dependents be Forced to Repay Their Parents’ GI Bill

old gibill

Debbie Gregory.

While the Post-9/11 GI Bill offers a very generous post-service education benefit, a special provision allows career service members the opportunity to share their education benefits with immediate family members. The Post 9/11 GI Bill is the only one which allows transferring education benefits.

Transferring GI Bill benefits to a dependent can be done once they’ve served at least six years in the military, with the caveat that they agree to serve a further four years.

But what happens when someone is involuntarily separated from the military before they’ve satisfied that requirement?

If a servicemember fails to complete that obligation, it’s as if the entire eligibility was wiped out, and the VA has to recoup all the benefits that have been paid out.

The Government Accountability Office reported that in fiscal year 2014, one in four GI Bill beneficiaries was hit with a bill for overpayments.

This amounted to $416 million owed by beneficiaries.

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.

What Makes a School Truly Veteran Friendly?

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By Debbie Gregory.

Veterans who have transitioned out of the military do so with rich veteran education benefits, especially those who have the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. In addition to tuition, the benefit covers housing, books and supplies. It’s no wonder that schools want to recruit these potential students.

But because veterans can only spend these veteran education benefits once, finding the right institution to help guarantee success is of great importance. This is achieved by finding an institution that fosters a culture which is supportive, appreciative, respectful, embracing, and inclusive of the veterans it educates. Schools that genuinely value diversity will make an active, sustained effort to attract veterans, because they recognize the value of their presence in the classroom.

Being veteran friendly also means being responsive to the unique needs of their student-veteran population.

Here are some characteristics a veteran education program should provide:

  • A veterans lounge as a designated space for the veterans to gather, study, and socialize
  • Department of Veterans Affairs resources directly on campus
  • A chapter of Student Veterans of America
  • Fully covered tuition through the G.I. Bill, and a commitment to meet any shortfalls through institutional aid
  • Exemption from standard residential housing policies since veterans are older and may have families
  • Credit for military service
  • A quality education

Military bases maintain an education office, and conduct transition assistance workshops for servicemen and women preparing to reenter civilian life.

Additional resources include:

  • The Warrior Scholar Program empowers enlisted military veterans by providing them with a skill bridge that enables a successful transition from the battlefield to the classroom. The program works to maximize their education opportunities by making them informed consumers of education, and increases the confidence they will need to successfully complete a rigorous four-year undergraduate program at a top-tier school.
  • Service to School, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that provides free application counseling to military veterans. Their goal is to help veterans win admission to the best universities possible and to help them maximize their education benefits.
  • The Posse Foundation, which forms groups of 10 veterans who all are admitted to the same college at once, and form a ready-made squad of peers who can support each other throughout their college experience and succeed as a team.

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?

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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.

Veteran’s Campaign to Make Stanford More Veteran Friendly

stanford university

By Debbie Gregory.

Adam Behrendt is on a mission. The former U.S. Navy corpsman who enrolled as a transfer student at Stanford University is trying to persuade the university to change some of their policies to make the school more veteran friendly.

Behrendt enlisted in the Navy in 2007, after several years at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, was medically retired from the Navy in March 2015. He applied to Stanford, with the game plan of attending medical school.

Unfortunately, the way Stanford applied the education benefits available through Behrendt’s Post 9/11 GI Bill did not make it financially feasible for his wife to give up her job in Wisconsin and move to California.

Fortunately for Behrendt, he was able to get assistance from Service to School, an organization that helps military veterans apply to and succeed in college. Through his relationship with the non-profit, Behrendt began mentoring other veterans to help them navigate Stanford’s financial aid policies.

Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) provides both tuition assistance and a housing and living allowance to veterans in order for them to pursue postsecondary education.

Stanford charged roughly $72,000 for an undergraduate — $47,000 in tuition, $18,000 in room and board, and about $7,000 for supplies and fees.

Under VA policy at the time, the typical undergraduate veteran at Stanford would be eligible for more than $50,000 — roughly $25,000 in tuition and fees support and another $28,000 toward housing and living expenses.

For veterans who also earned need-based funds from Stanford, the university would apply the entire $53,000 from the VA, and reduce its own financial contributions as a result. Stanford was counting the housing allowance as a resource that the student veteran was bringing to the table in calculating financial aid.

Behrend thought it was not fair for the university to take $28,000 in VA funds to cover $18,000 in room and board.

Behrendt had become an accidental advocate, and because of his efforts,  Stanford’s general counsel noted in a letter to Behrendt that the university would no longer take more than the amount of the housing costs out of the VA’s living allowance, and that the university would not use an outside donor’s funds to meet a federal requirement that institutions match VA contributions under the Yellow Ribbon program.

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.

Post 9/11 GI Bill Overpayment Issues

GI BILL

By Debbie Gregory.

When separating from the military, service members have a number of options. For many, the best option is cashing in on their veteran education benefits via the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Unfortunately, for a number of veterans, failure to place safeguards in place can result in indebtedness to the Veteran Administration (VA).

There are several situations in which you may find yourself owing the VA for Post 9/11 GI Bill overpayments. In order to avoid these pitfalls, here are a number of important points to be aware of:

  • Dropping a Class – If you drop a class of leave school, it decreases your training time. If the VA has already processed a payment for tuition and fees, an overpayment will occur and a debt is created against your account.
  • Change of EnrollmentMake note of your school’s drop/add deadline for classes. This change of enrollment can impact the amount of money paid to the school. If you drop a class, you will have to pay back any Post 9/11 GI Bill money you received for that class including tuition and fees, your monthly housing allowance, your book stipend, and any kicker or college fund money. This might be based on needing to attend a minimum of hours too.
  • Proper Record Keeping – The Veterans Administration states that you are responsible for keeping track of your tuition and fee account balance and payments. Checking in regularly with your school’s finance department is a good way to make sure that the charges are correct and that payments and refunds are processed correctly.

If you end up owing money back to the VA for your Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefits, there are steps you can take to minimize the impact. First and foremost, determine who pays the money back, you or your school.

The VA will collect from the school if you never attended any classes for which you were certified, regardless of the reason for non-attendance, or you completely withdrew on or before the first day of the term.

The VA will collect from you if you totally withdraw after the first day of the term, or you dropped classes resulting in a reduced training time.

If you have mitigating circumstances beyond your control that prevent you from continuing in your veteran school education or that cause you to reduce credits, the VA may forgive the debt.

Mitigating circumstances include:

  • An illness or injury affecting the student during the enrollment period;
  • An illness or death in the student’s immediate family
  • Financial obligations that demand the student obtains immediate employment
  • Unanticipated active military service, including active duty for training.

Mitigating circumstances will provide the VA a one-time only opportunity to forgive up to six (6) credits the first time you drop a class or classes outside of the drop/add period.

If you receive a debt notification from the VA, address the situation immediately by contacting the Debt Management Center at 800-827-0648 or e-mail them at [email protected]

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.

Veteran Education Benefits Lost as For-profits Schools Close

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By Debbie Gregory.

More than $1 billion in Post 9/11 GI Bill veteran education benefits were lost by veterans when for-profit Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes closed their doors.

Since fiscal year 2013, veteran education benefits were being used by some 9,000 veterans pursuing their education at a school that has since shut down, according to a report released by the staff of Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

Carper and other members of Congress are urging for changes in the law so that veterans affected by the closure of a college can restore the GI eligibility they used up at a school that closed.

“It is unfathomable to me that these brave men and women, who volunteered to serve their country in a time of war, are now being left in the lurch by some of the largest recipients of Post-9/11 GI Bill taxpayer dollars,” said Carper, a 23-year veteran of the Navy and Naval Reserves. “This is shameful.”

Enacted in 2009, the post-9/11 GI Bill has provided more than $65 billion for tuition, books and housing to 1.6 million veterans and their families. Recipients can only use the benefits for 36 months of vocational or college education. If a veteran used GI Bill benefits to cover tuition at ITT Tech for two years, she would not have enough benefits left to finish up a bachelor’s degree.

For-profit colleges can only receive 90% of their funding from federal student aid programs to stay in compliance with regulations, but GI Bill benefits don’t count toward that 90%.

For-profit colleges aggressively recruit veterans because their benefits served as a stable source of revenue.

“The VA and Congress need to do more on the front end to hold bad actors accountable and ensure that we’re not continuing to send our veterans to schools delivering poor outcomes and destined for financial collapse,” Carper said.

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.

The Top Ten Financial Benefits for Military Families

benefitts

By Debbie Gregory.

Are you taking advantage of some of the best financial benefits afforded to military families? A quick review of the following list will help you answer that question:

  1. Tuition-free college-Thanks to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the cost of in-state tuition and fees at public colleges are covered for up to 36 months, or up to $21,970 per year for private colleges and foreign schools. Another added bonus is the housing stipend and money for books and supplies. Choosing a yellow ribbon school will stretch the benefit even farther.
  1. Veterans Administration loans – VA loans allow you to buy a house with no money down, and without having to purchase private mortgage insurance.
  2. Tax-free BAH- The monthly subsidy covering all or part of your monthly rent or mortgage payment as long as you’re in the military is tax-free.
  1. Low interest loans- Each branch of service has its own emergency-relief fund that offers small, interest-free loans for emergencies.
  1. Low-cost life insurance- Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance costs a mere 7 cents per $1,000 of coverage/ month. This totals $336 a year for the maximum $400,000 coverage.
  2. Legal protection- The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides special legal benefits, including an interest-rate cap of 6% on any loans you took out before you were called to active duty and the right to terminate a lease due to PCS.
  3. Guaranteed return- The military’s Savings Deposit Program lets deployed servicemembers invest up to $10,000 in the program each time you are deployed. You receive 10% annual interest, compounded quarterly; the program lasts for up to three months after your return.
  1. Tax-Free Roth IRA- Servicemembers who are receiving tax-free combat-zone pay can deposit up to $5,500 into a Roth IRA, tax-free, and earnings come out tax-free as well.
  1. Low-cost retirement savings plan- The Thrift Savings Plan charges an annual expense ratio of just 0.029% of assets — whereas annual fees and expenses for 401(k) plans average between 1% and 2%.
  2. State tax breaks- If your legal residence is in a state that has no income tax, you can be shielded from taxes if you move to another state while on active duty.

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.

Senate Legislation Affects Veterans Benefits

benefits

By Debbie Gregory.

Senate lawmakers approved the Veterans First Act,  a veterans benefits bill that expands programs by reworking the GI Bill housing payments.

The Senate bill would reduce the annual increase to the monthly housing allowance for all recipients of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, including veterans themselves, by 1 percent for five years, mirroring the payment received by active-duty service members.

The Senate package also adds new protections for whistleblowers, includes provisions intended to make it easier to fire employees who engage in wrongful behavior, and places caps on bonuses. This, in an effort to safeguard against certain issues in the VA healthcare system from repeating.

These issues include unauthorized wait-lists for veterans seeking appointments, executives manipulating the system to retain or earn bonuses or accepting gifts, and retaliation against whistleblowers who have brought problems to the attention of leadership.

The bill would expand a department program that allows seriously injured veterans to receive care in their own homes; enhance mental health care programs; and halt the over-prescribing of opioids to veterans.

The bill also would direct the VA to commence research into potential health problems of children and grandchildren of veterans who were exposed to toxins, including the chemical defoliant Agent Orange.

Other provisions included in the Senate bill include:

Expanding the VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program to all generations of veterans. Currently, only Post-9/11 veterans are eligible.

Establishing standards for the prompt payment to non-VA health care providers who treat veterans under the Choice Act.

Making it possible for mobilized reservists to earn GI Bill eligibility.

Expanding research on the potential health effects from toxic exposure to veterans and their descendants.

Strengthening programs to combat veteran homelessness.

Improving the disability claims and appeals process by requiring the VA to launch a pilot program that will cut down the massive backlog of appeals awaiting action.

The bipartisan Senate bill must still be reconciled with the House version and a final package approved by both chambers.

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, Lawmakers Oppose GI Bill Cuts for Veterans Housing Benefits

gi bill cuts

By Debbie Gregory.

Veteran advocates and House lawmakers rallied on Capitol Hill to oppose cuts to the Post 9/11 GI Bill Veterans Housing benefit for dependents that they say would break a “sacred” trust.

While the move would result in a savings of approximately $773 million over the next 10 years, Rep. Tim Walz, (D-Minn.) said, “This goes back on a promise that all of us here are unwilling to break. In the entire federal budget, there is nowhere else to fund [veterans] programs? That cannot stand.”

Officials from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) said the move goes back on a promise made to those families that the full benefit would be available when they need it, and for the first time pulls money out of the GI Bill to fund outside programs.

Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of IAVA, said, “This is about keeping a promise, investing in the future, about retention and recruiting and morale. Find the money somewhere else. Either you’re with us or against us.”

“When we ask our troops to make a promise to us to run into battle, we don’t accept it when they turn around and say, ‘You know what, now that the bullets are flying the cost is a little bit high,” Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said. “So how dare we decide years later after we’ve made this promise, after people have enlisted or stayed in the military partly partially because of this benefit, to say, ‘You know what, we decide it’s too expensive, you cost us too much.’”

But officials from Student Veterans of America (SVA) said that the issue isn’t that black and white. Derek Fronabarger, SVA’s director of policy, challenged the idea that the legislative proposal amounts to “cuts” in veterans housing benefits, saying that the cuts will impact dependents, not servicemembers.

And the savings from the change would go to pay for a host of other programs, resulting in a difficult choice, pro or con.

Walz suggested Congress instead cut bonuses to VA employees, which have been deep in scandal over wrongdoing for the past two years. But Walz said he will vote against the entire omnibus bill if the reduction in housing stipends remains.

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.