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.

Info on VA Streamline Home Loans

irrl

By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) strives to help  servicemembers, veterans, and eligible surviving spouses obtain home loans so that they may become homeowners.

A VA loan provides a home loan guaranty benefit and other housing-related programs to help buy, build, repair, retain, or adapt a home for personal occupancy. These loans are obtained through private lenders such as banks and mortgage companies. The VA guarantees a portion of the loan, enabling the lender to provide more favorable terms.

A VA Streamline (also known as Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan, or by its acronym IRRL ) is a refinance opportunity that enables refinancing of a VA Loan to a lower rate, or from an adjustable rate to a fixed rate. When deciding on refinancing, it’s important to determine whether it is beneficial to do so. The general rule of thumb is that if you can refinance and reduce your interest rate by 1% then it is something worth considering. However, it’s important to consider other factors, such as closing costs and how long you plan on living in the property.

An IRRRL can only be made to refinance a property on which you have already used your VA loan eligibility. It must be a VA to VA refinance, and it will reuse the entitlement you originally used.

An IRRRL may be done with “no money out of pocket” by including all costs in the new loan or by making the new loan at an interest rate high enough to enable the lender to pay the costs. But there is no opportunity to receive any cash out from the loan proceeds.

The occupancy requirement for an IRRRL is different from other VA loans.  When you originally got your VA loan, you certified that you occupied or intended to occupy the home.  For an IRRRL you need only certify that you previously occupied it.
The loan may not exceed the sum of the outstanding balance on the existing VA loan, plus allowable fees and closing costs, including funding fee and up to two discount points.  You may also add up to $6,000 of energy efficiency improvements into the loan.

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.

Number of Veterans Studying Overseas on GI Bill is Rising

edu

By Debbie Gregory.

Thanks to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, an increasing number of U.S. military veterans are completing degrees overseas at global universities.

Part of the draw is the cheaper tuition, thanks in part to the favorable exchange rate.

The VA’s list of approved international colleges now includes around 1,800 universities or training schools in more than 100 countries.

According to VA statistics, more than 2000 Post-9/11 GI Bill students pursued degrees overseas in fiscal year 2015.

U.S. veterans interested in pursuing an international education can either use the GI Bill Comparison Tool to review the VA’s approved list of universities. The tool can also show veterans which benefits package is their best option.

If a veteran’s preferred college is not on the approved list, he or she can apply to have the school added, provided it meets the VA’s eligibility requirements.

According to the VA website, one of the main requirements for attending a foreign school under the GI Bill is that the institution of higher learning will result in a college degree or equivalent. If eligible, the VA will issue the veteran a Certificate of Eligibility, which shows the quantity and duration of benefits. Veterans should secure this certificate before enrolling at a foreign university.

The VA says the Post-9/11 GI Bill pays up to $21,000 in tuition per year at approved foreign colleges, about $1,500 per month for housing and $1,000 annually for books.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill has also opened up global education opportunities to eligible veterans’ family members. Active-duty service members must plan to complete 10 years of service to be eligible to transfer some or all of the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to a spouse or children.

If you decide to stay in the U.S. for your education, or you prefer to pursue an online degree, be sure to check out the MilitaryConnection.com directory of universities and colleges here.

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.

Number of VA Loans Sharply Increased Following the Mortgage Crisis

va loan

By Debbie Gregory.

The Home Depot Foundation, the charitable arm of home improvement giant Home Depot, partially funded a study that revealed that home loans through the Department of Veterans Affairs more than tripled in the wake of the 2007-2009 subprime mortgage crisis.

This information exemplifies the critical need for credit in order for tens of thousands of veterans to buy a house, as well as the importance of the VA program, a benefit used by millions of veterans but often getting less attention than initiatives like health care coverage and education stipends.

“This is a stable, accessible form of credit that has helped a lot of families,” said Keith Wiley, a research associate at the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) and co-author of the report. The HAC is a national nonprofit organization that supports affordable housing efforts in rural areas of the United States. It was established in 1971 to increase the availability of affordable housing for rural low-income people.

Wiley’s report found nearly 9 percent of all home mortgages in America in 2014 were backed by VA, up from 2 percent a decade earlier.

Before the mortgage crisis, those loans totaled around 140,000 a year. Today, those numbers are closer to 510,000, making them the third-largest home loan type in the country.

“There has been a VA home loan in nearly every county in America,” said Moises Loza, HAC executive director, in a statement. “There are more than 100 counties where VA loans make up 20 percent of the loan population. … The military community truly relies on the VA Home Loan program to provide a home for their families.”

The mortgage crisis was triggered by a large decline in home prices after the collapse of a housing bubble, leading to mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures and the devaluation of housing-related securities.

Declines in residential investment preceded the recession and were followed by reductions in household spending and then business investment. Spending reductions were more significant in areas with a combination of high household debt and larger housing price declines.

Researchers said they did not see a significant drop in the rejection rate of loan applications as the total mortgage count rose in recent years, another sign they say indicates stability and accessibility for veterans.

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.

Not All Reservists Getting GI Bill Credit During Deployments

marine reservists

By Debbie Gregory.

Some 300 Marines reservists returned home from a 7-month long deployment in Central America without something that most were counting on; due to a relatively new and obscure deployment code, the reservists did not accumulate seven months of GI Bill benefits.

By law, reservists involuntarily mobilized under Title 10, section 12304b, do not receive credit for the GI Bill while they are activated.

Nearly a million reservists have deployed since Sept. 11, 2001, according to data from the Pentagon’s Defense Manpower Data Center.

Marine Sgt. William Hubbard, a reservist who also happens to be the vice president of government affairs at Student Veterans of America, said fellow Marines are stunned by this news as word has spread through the ranks.

“Reservists serve their country like any other component, and they have to balance civilian employment, education and the military,” Hubbard said. “And to say they don’t rate the full benefit? It doesn’t add up.”

The exception has fueled the belief that reservists are not afforded the same benefits as active duty troops.

The issue of the 12304b authority starts with the Pentagon. As combat deployments slowed, the Pentagon looked to create mobilization authorities that would fill operational needs worldwide, but also trim the budget.

The 12304b authorization was included in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act and stripped most mobilization and deployment benefits, including the accumulation of GI Bill benefits.

The post-9/11 GI Bill benefit pays part or all tuition and a housing stipend based on a sliding scale of active duty time, and was designed as a recruitment and retention tool.

Hubbard sees two possible solutions to the issue: Although highly unlikely, President Barack Obama could direct the Department of Veterans Affairs through an executive order to waive the exemption. The other option would be for the authorization to be modified through a law passed by Congress.

The National Guard 12304b Benefits Parity Act bill would grant GI Bill benefits to reservists along with health care and retirement benefits, but it has not moved from the Senate’s Armed Services Committee since its introduction.

“The men and women who serve our country lay everything on the line to protect us, and in return, they deserve access to the support and benefits that they’ve rightfully earned,” said Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who along with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, proposed the legislation.

A joint letter from Franken and Cornyn sent to Defense Secretary Ash Carter last April highlighted the issue.

“Upon their return from duty, they applied for educational benefits only to learn that the Department had directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to issue a denial for active service under Section 12304b,” the letter stated.

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

gibilllllll

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 Advances Proposal to Help Veterans with Mental Trauma

dishonrable

By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Senate recently passed, on a voice vote, a proposal by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., to help make sure traumatized veterans retain their G.I. benefits.

Peters, along with Steve Daines, R-Mont., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C, had requested the measure as an addition to the annual National Defense Authorization Act. The proposal is aimed at helping veterans who may have been erroneously given a less than honorable discharge from the military due to negative behavior resulting from mental traumas such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

If the proposal becomes part of the final law, it would require Discharge Review Boards to consider petitions to change the discharge status of service members if they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental trauma linked to their military service.

Being dishonorably discharged can cost service members benefits such as being eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs home loans.

“I am pleased that the Senate passed this amendment to support brave men and women who are suffering from mental health trauma experienced during their military service,” said Senator Peters, a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve. “This amendment will help ensure veterans are treated fairly when petitioning their discharge status, and in turn, upholds America’s commitment to our men and women in uniform, who answered the call of duty in defense of our nation.”

“By continuing to overlook these cases, the Department of Defense is only amplifying the invisible wounds of war afflicting many veterans,” Senator Daines stated.  “I’m proud that this bill allows veterans to have their discharges reviewed, taking their PTSD, Military Sexual Assault or Traumatic Brain Injury into account. We’ve known there were many of our veterans who had been discharged without proper consideration. It’s a wrong we need to right.”

“So many of our servicemembers have developed PTSD and brain injuries while on active duty, many of whom were undiagnosed until long after their service was completed,” said Senator Tillis. “I am happy the Senate passed this amendment to provide a fair opportunity for these brave men and women to regain the benefits they lost as a result of conditions we now know were caused by the effects of the trauma they sustained during their service to our nation.”

“Our selfless and brave veterans should never lose out on the benefits they earned because of a health condition like PTSD or MST,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I’m pleased the Senate has passed our bipartisan amendment to help ensure that the VA is taking care of all of our veterans, no matter what their condition is when they leave the military.”

In 2014, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a memo to military records boards to provide for a consistent manner of dealing with veterans’ discharge upgrade requests related to post-traumatic stress disorder. This change from Peters and the others would effectively codify that memo.

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.

VA Home Loans Can Go as High as $625,000 in Some Counties

vahousing

By Debbie Gregory.

The Veterans Administration (VA) helps Servicemembers, Veterans, and eligible surviving spouses become homeowners. As part of their mission, the VA provides a home loan guaranty benefit and other housing-related programs to help you buy, build, repair, retain, or adapt a home for your own personal occupancy.

VA Home Loans are provided by private lenders, such as banks and mortgage companies. The VA guarantees a portion of the loan, enabling the lender to provide you with more favorable terms.

The 2016 VA loan limits remained static at $417,000, except in 235 high cost counties where they are as high as $625,000. This applies to all loans closed January 1, 2016 and afterwards.

To find out what the maximum VA housing benefit in your county is, visit https://militaryconnection.com/va-loan-guaranty. The link also displays the Regional Loan Center that services each county, which are:

Cleveland
Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Regional Loan Center
1240 East Ninth Street
Cleveland, OH 44199
http://benefits.va.gov/cleveland/regional-loan-center.asp

Denver
Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Regional Loan Center
155 Van Gordon Street
Lakewood, CO 80228
(Mail: Box 25126, Denver, CO 80225)
http://www.benefits.va.gov/denver/regional-loan-center.asp

Honolulu
Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Regional Office
Loan Guaranty Division (26)
459 Patterson Rd.
Honolulu, HI 96819
*Although not an RLC, this office is a fully functioning Loan Guaranty operation for Hawaii.
http://www.benefits.va.gov/honolulu/regional-loan-center.asp

Phoenix
Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Regional Loan Center
3333 N. Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85012-2402
http://www.benefits.va.gov/phoenix/regional-loan-center.asp

Roanoke
Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Regional Loan Center
210 First Street
Roanoke, VA 24011

Mailing Address:
116 N. Jefferson Street
Roanoke, VA 24016
http://www.benefits.va.gov/roanoke/regional-loan-center.asp

St. Petersburg
Department of Veterans Affairs
VA Regional Loan Center
9500 Bay Pines Blvd.
St. Petersburg, FL 33708
(Mail: P.O. Box 1437, St. Petersburg, FL 33731)
http://www.benefits.va.gov/stpetersburg/regional-loan-center.asp

Serving in the U.S. military offers some great benefits, including VA home loans. You’ve earned them, you should use them.

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.