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.

 

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.

You May Not Want To Save Your Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits for Your Kids

transfer gi bill

By Debbie Gregory.

While the Post-9/11 GI Bill offers a very generous post-service education benefit, a special provision of the program 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.

Now that the Post 9/11 GI Bill allows servicemembers and veterans to transfer their benefits to their spouse or children, it begs the question: is that a good idea?

The first consideration is the value of using the GI Bill for a parent’s education. On average, a college graduate earns about $25,000 more per year than a high school graduate. If you run the numbers, just 10 years of this increased income would yield an additional $250,000. Especially if your children are young, the extra income an adult would add over the course of a number of years would more than likely cover the cost of a child’s college education.

If you were to save your GI Bill benefits and transfer them to a dependent, you would not only have a lower lifetime income, you’d only be able to use the benefit to put one child through school on the GI Bill.

Of course if you have older children or already have a degree, this scenario doesn’t apply.

The other thing to take into consideration is possible changes to the GI Bill.  There have been a number of different versions over the years, and more than likely, it will continue to evolve over time.

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.

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.

State and Community Colleges Successful for Student Veterans

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By Debbie Gregory.

Student veterans face challenges that their civilian counterparts don’t; they are usually older than civilian students and in many cases, they are juggling college with families, jobs and service-related disabilities.

Student veterans believe that their discipline, maturity and drive aid them if facing their many challenges. But on the flip side, many of them find the less disciplined environment of a campus can be a problem for veterans used to being told what to do and when to do it

Many colleges and universities are eager to recruit military veteran students, attracted to the $10.2 billion a year in GI Bill benefits that come with them. Unfortunately, many of the large for-profit schools such as ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian (parent company to Heald College, Everest College and WyoTech) have gone out of business, leaving their veteran students hanging.

For colleges and universities looking to boost the number of veterans who will leave with a degree in hand, specialized support is key. According to the Departments of Defense, Education and Veterans Affairs, schools that don’t offer support to their student veterans have a very poor graduation percentage.

Many state and community colleges and universities with significant veteran support enjoy high levels of success. These schools will usually have some combination of a Veteran Center, dedicated veteran advisors and/or counselors, and a chapter of Student Veterans of America.

They also know how to convert military training and experience into academic credit. This can mean the difference between having enough GI Bill money to earn a degree, so that student veterans don’t have to choose between giving up or paying out of their own pockets.

According to Jared Lyon, president and CEO of Student Veterans of America and a Florida State grad, campuses that get it right are the ones “that look at the student veteran population as nontraditional students. It starts with the efforts to recruit, and there’s also a veterans resource office, a veterans center, a veterans lounge, a campus veteran success center.”

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.

Cutting the Cost of Buying Your Next Home: VA Home Loans and Disability Ratings

homeowner

By Ryan Sears, The Gertsburg Law Firm

Buying a home is the most expensive purchase most of us will ever make.  For many veterans, the VA Home Loan remains a tremendous benefit of their service that allows them to buy a home with little or even no money down.  Those same veterans, however, are sometimes unaware that part of their final costs will include a VA funding fee.  That funding fee isn’t the same for everyone.  Different rates exist for regular military versus reservists and National Guard, and those rates vary depending on what percent of the closing cost is paid for a down payment:

Type of Veteran Down Payment % for 1st Time Use % for Subsequent Use
Regular Military None 2.15% 3.3%
5% or more 1.50% 1.50%
10% or more 1.25% 1.25%
Reserves/National Guard None 2.4% 3.3%
5% or more 1.75% 1.75%
10% or more 1.5% 1.5%

The VA relies upon your Certificate of Eligibility to determine what category and funding fee applies to you.  So even if you are currently a reservist, but you had enough time on active duty prior to joining the reserves or National Guard to qualify for the VA Home Loan, make sure your Certificate of Eligibility reflects you being eligible because of your active duty service.

In real dollars, what does this look like?  If a first time home buyer purchases a $150,000 home with no money down, as a member of the reserves, she will pay $3600, but if she uses her active duty DD-214 to get her certificate of eligibility, she will only pay $3225.  Additionally, if that same veteran has a disability rating from the VA, she is exempt from paying this VA funding fee.  Veterans entitled to receive compensation for service-connected disabilities but are receiving retirement or active duty pay and spouses of deceased veterans who died in service or as a result of a service-connected disability are also exempt from paying a VA funding fee.

Of course, that raises the question: what if the veteran uses a VA Home Loan to purchase their home but doesn’t apply for a disability rating from the VA until after closing on the home: can they get their funding fee back?  The answer is yes!  The key is that the veteran must request the VA finds one of the conditions for which they receive a disability rating began before the closing date on their home.  If so, the veteran can send a letter, via their lender, to the VA to recoup the VA funding fee.  If the funding fee was paid for out of the initial mortgage, that amount will be reduced from the principle of the mortgage, otherwise, the veteran will be getting a check for the amount of the funding fee.

Bottom line: don’t forget about your service-connected disability when applying for a VA Home Loan or, if you get a disability rating after you get the loan, apply to get your VA funding fee back!

Resources for Veteran Business Owners

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By Debbie Gregory.

Many veterans exhibit advanced team building skills, high levels of resiliency and strong organizational commitment, traits that contribute to making them successful entrepreneurs. There are numerous resources that assist veteran business owners thrive, including the following:

VAMBOA, the Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, is a non-profit trade association that promotes and assists Veteran Business Owners, Service Disabled Veteran Owned Businesses (SDVOB) and Military Business Owners by providing networking, collaboration, mentoring, education, certification and advocacy. Membership is free.

American Corporate Partners is engaged in national corporate career counseling for returning military. The non-profit connects veterans to business leaders for mentorship and career advice.

BusinessUSA provides users with an interactive questionnaire that guides them to the most relevant federal, state, and local services, tools, trainings, and opportunities, assisting in starting or expanding a veteran owned small business.

DVBE, the Disabled Veteran Business Alliance, empowers, provides resources to, and works side-by-side with disabled veterans to promote and support them in establishing, maintaining and growing viable business enterprises.

EBV Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities offers training in entrepreneurship and business management to post-9/11 veterans with service related disabilities.

Federal Business Opportunities is a portal for all businesses, not just vet owned, looking for active federal contracting opportunities.

Honor Courage Commitment, Inc. provides resources such as grants, scholarships and a fellowship program to veteran entrepreneurs, designed to build leadership qualities.

Institute for Veteran and Military Families provides a wide variety of resources geared towards military veterans re-entering the workforce or looking to start their own businesses.

National Veteran Business Development Council (NVBDC)  is the nation’s leading third party authority for certification of veteran owned businesses of all sizes.

National Veteran Small Business Coalition supports veteran owned small businesses by promoting policies that encourage participation of veteran owned businesses in federal contracting opportunities.

Patriot Boot Camp  focuses on helping active duty military, veterans and their spouses build technology companies. The three day event provides participants with free education, training and mentorship.

Small Business Administration (SBA) provides a multitude of assistance to veterans in their local communities, including Veteran Business Outreach Centers, Boots to Business,

SDVOSBC , the National Center for Veterans Institute for Procurement, Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC), and Leveraging Information and Networks to Access Capital (LINC) .

Streetshares brings together business owners in search of funding and investors looking for both financial and social returns.

21 Gun Salute Initiative supports service-disabled veteran owned businesses with the goal of reserving 3% of contracts for service-disabled veteran owned small businesses.

VetBiz is a VA website that provides information about the Center for Verification and Evaluation’s verification process for veteran owned businesses looking to gain eligibility for the VA’s Veterans First Contracting Program.

VetBizCentral is a veteran run site that assists veteran and active duty military entrepreneurs through training and counseling, networking opportunities, mentoring and advocacy.

Veteran Entrepreneur Portal provides access to a number of business tools and services, from business education to financing opportunities.

Veteran Fast Launch Initiative provides mentoring and training, along with free software and other services, to military veteran entrepreneurs.

Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship  provides resources, courses and mentorship to female veterans who have started businesses or are looking to do so.

Vetrepreneur Mentoring provides mentoring services to help veteran entrepreneurs with everything from contractor registration to website creation.

Victory Spark is an accelerator program focused on startups led by U.S. military veterans. The program includes a 12-week mentor-driven Lean LaunchPad Program, along with grant funding for entrepreneurs who complete the 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.

Congress May Start Charging Troops for their GI Bill Benefits

GI Bill

The Post-11 GI Bill has been the most valuable Veteran education benefit for those who serve in history. Billions of dollars have been paid in these veteran education benefits. Veteran students are provided thirty-nine months of tuition, a housing allowance that is equivalent to an E-5 with dependents for the zip code of the school that the student veteran is attending and a $1,000 stipend toward books and supplies..

A major revamping of Veteran education benefits is happening with $3 billion in new spending is planned over the next decade. It is being referred to unofficially by Veteran advocate organizations and congressional staffers as “GI Bill 3.0”.   Some of the components are quite controversial too.

The major issue of debate is charging new troops $2,400 making them essentially having to buy in to their GI Bill benefits.   This will also create two classes with some troops contributing and others not paying anything. Some Veteran advocates believe this plan amounts to a new tax on the lowest-paid service members.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn, introduced the bill, known unofficially as the “Lifetime GI Bill Act.” The bill also contains other changes to current Veterans education benefits. The bill would also expand eligibility for wounded troops, families of deceased service members, and some reservists currently excluded from the current benefits.

Veteran advocate groups are divided with some against this bill and additional costs to soldiers and others taking the position that it would improve and protect the education benefit over the long haul. Some feel that it would be harder to decrease these valuable Veteran education benefits if service members were paying into them and that having skin in the game might be an added incentive to those who use their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.

“Ensuring veterans are able to successfully transition back to civilian life after military service is a cost of war, and not a fee that Congress can just pass along to our troops,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander Brian Duffy .“Charging incoming troops is absolutely a deal-breaker,” one Washington, D.C.based Veterans’ advocate with knowledge of the effort said. “We’re not going to stand for them taxing troops for their benefits.”
This proposed legislation would deduct from new enlistees$100 from their basic pay each month for two years for a total of $2,400, for them to receive Veteran education benefits. It should be noted that the lowest paying soldiers would be the ones being charged. The Post-9/11 GI Bill created in 2009 does not require service members to pay into it, but an earlier version of the benefit, the Montgomery GI Bill mandated recipients to pay $100 per month for one year.
Student Veterans of America feels that paying in will protect Veterans’ education benefits. “It’s infinitely more difficult to get rid of or cut the GI Bill if troops have paid into that benefit,” said Will Hubbard, Vice President of Government Affairs for Student Veterans of America. “This is about how we can make the GI Bill protected and buffered against budget fights for years to come.”

This is a complicated and heated issue. Both sides have expressed arguments with merit. Tell us what you think by emailing us at: [email protected]

GI Bill Overpayments Questions and Answers

overpayment

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 put safeguards in place can result in indebtedness to the VA.

There are several situations in which you may find yourself owing the VA for 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, you decrease 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 Enrollment

Make note of your school’s drop/add deadline. 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 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 you received.

Record Keeping

The VA says that you are responsible for keeping track of your tuition and fee account balance and payments. Checking in regularly with the school’s financial is a good way to ensure 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 ony 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 afflicting the student during the enrollment period; an illness or death in the student’s immediate family; immediate family or financial obligations that demands the student obtain immediate employment; unanticipated active military service, including active duty for training.

Mitigating circumstances gives the VA a one-time only opportunity to forgive up to 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.