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Here’s What You Need to Know About the Forever GI Bill

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By Debbie Gregory.

The “Forever GI Bill,” a sweeping expansion of GI Bill education benefits, is on its way to the Oval Office.

Passed by both houses of Congress, the bill will increase veteran’s benefits by more than $3 billion over the next decade.

One important change, reserved for those who become eligible after January 1, 2018, is the removal of the 15-year limit on using their GI Bill benefits, which offers them more flexibility.

Additionally, the Forever GI Bill boosts education assistance for National Guard and Reserve troops, Purple Heart recipients and for the dependents of fallen troops.

Reservists called to active duty under sections 12304(a) and 12304(b) are now eligible. Previously, only reservists called to active duty by presidential order as a result of a national emergency were eligible. This applies to all reservists mobilized after Aug. 1, 2009, but reservists can receive payment only for classes that start after Aug. 1, 2018.

Reservists who were receiving REAP payments may now be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Currently, there are less than 4,000 people eligible for this benefit.

Purple Heart recipients will get the full GI Bill amount, regardless of how long they served on active duty.

For veterans who were caught up in the collapse of for-profit schools Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech, the legislation would fully restore their GI Bill education benefits.

Of course, all of this comes with a price tag, and the expansion will be paid for by reducing the increases in housing allowances paid under the GI Bill to new beneficiaries. As of January 1, 2018, the GI Bill housing allowance will decrease an average of $100 a month. Active-duty BAH is also affected, decreasing each year by 1 percent every year from 2015 to 2019,  so that by 2020, BAH will only cover 95 percent of a military member’s housing cost.

The housing allowance for GI Bill students will now be based on the campus location where classes are attended, not necessarily the main campus.

Effective August 1, 2018, Dependent’s Education Assistance (DEA) monthly payments will increase by about 50 percent, but the maximum number of months that a dependent can get DEA decreases from 45 to 36.

Also effective August 1, 2018, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs are eligible for the “Edith Nourse Rogers Scholarship” which will pay veterans up to $30,000 if they have used up all their GI Bill benefits and have at least 60 semester/90 quarter hours credit toward a STEM degree. It also will pay those who already have a STEM degree and are working on a teaching certification.

The High Technology Pilot Program, scheduled to start in the spring of 2019, covers the full cost of high technology training offered by a company versus a school.

MilitaryConnection.com has a comprehensive education area, and we invite you to check out the numerous education resources at https://militaryconnection.com/education.

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.

Proposal to Cut Housing Stipends For Dual-Military Couples

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By Debbie Gregory.

When it comes to finding ways to save money, the last place Congress should look is at military families, especially when both spouses are active duty service members.

The Senate Armed Services Committee is considering a proposal that would require dual military couples to receive Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) stipends at the “without dependents” rate, regardless as to whether or not they have children.

Currently, dual military couples without dependents each receive their respective BAH.  In dual military families with dependents, the higher ranking service member receives BAH at the with-dependent rate and the lower ranking service member receives BAH at the without-dependent rate.

The BAH allowance is determined by geographic duty location, pay grade, and dependency status. It provides uniformed Service members equitable housing compensation based on housing costs in local civilian housing markets within the United States when government quarters are not provided. For servicemembers stationed outside the U.S. who are not furnished with government housing, there is Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA).

If enacted, this change would affect approximately 6.4% of active duty service members in dual-military marriages.

The proposed plan would save roughly $300 million over the next five years.

The Senate believes that the current BAH is too high, since the payout rates are typically higher than the cost of living in the areas where service members are stationed. But the Pentagon argues that BAH is a necessary part of military family compensation.

“While there would be some monetary savings in the BAH program achieved through implementation of a limitation of BAH payments for dual-military couples, the department objects to any limitation based solely on housing or marriage choices,” a DoD spokeswoman 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

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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 Reduces BAH for Servicemembers Who Reside Together

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By Debbie Gregory.

How would you feel if your employer cut your salary because you and a co-worker were living together?

Well, the Senate has approved a fiscal 2017 defense authorization that calls for reduced housing allowances as part of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 2943), with 85 senators in support and just 13 opposing.

The verbiage states that servicemembers who share off-base housing stateside will have the benefit cut.

The Senate wants the housing benefit for military troops to be more like the one offered to the State Department’s foreign service officers, who are compensated for actual rental or housing costs.

Beginning January 1, 2018, the Senate legislation sets the allowance for new entrants at “the actual monthly cost of housing” or an amount “based on the costs of adequate housing” for each military housing area, according to a copy of the legislation. It also states two or more service members occupying the same housing would split the allowance.

The BAH amount caps individual monthly payments to the lesser of two amounts: either what individuals actually pay to rent housing or to a local BAH maximum based on their rank and dependency status.

Last year the Senate proposed two other controversial changes to BAH. Neither survived final negotiations with the House.

The Senate committee under John McCain has said that the perception of housing allowances has become distorted from the original intent, which was to provide a housing benefit for servicemembers in recognition of the transient nature of military service, and in further recognition of the reality that civilian spouses are often unemployed and sacrifice careers of their own.

The DOD has made BAH integral to its calculation of Regular Military Compensation, which is used to compare compensation to civilian salaries and track the adequacy of military pay.

Although it’s a done-deal, what do you think? Is this fair?

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.

Military Connection: GI Bill Spared from Cuts: By Debbie Gregory

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Housing allowances for Veteran students using their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits have been spared from the cuts made by the fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The NDAA, which is essentially the defense budget, was approved this week by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. One of the most unfortunate provisions in the bill is the one percent decrease to Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for all active service members that will go into effect next year. The one percent decrease will cost service members and military families a few hundred dollars over the course of the year, but will save the DOD millions.

Earlier drafts of the NDAA originally called for a five percent reduction to BAH over three years. But the final bill as it stands was changed to only one percent due to pressure from Veteran advocacy groups on behalf of active duty service members. Many believe that lawmakers will end up getting their five percent BAH decrease by dropping BAH by one percent each year.

The housing allowance decrease was also supposed to affect Veterans enrolled in college with their Post-9/11 GI Bill. Veteran students, along with paid tuition and a book stipend, receive a monthly allowance for housing (MAH) that is currently the equivalent to the E-5 with dependents BAH rate.

A provision was inserted into the NDAA by the House Veterans Affairs Committee which exempts the Veterans from the one percent reduction in housing allowance that active-duty service members are in line to receive next year.

It is extremely unfortunate that lawmakers deemed it necessary to save money at the expense of service members. It is always important to keep track of what your elected officials are doing in Washington. If their actions are not in line with your wishes, be sure to contact them and let them know. Also, remember their actions when they are up for re-election.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: GI Bill Spared from Cuts: By Debbie Gregory