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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.

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.

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.

VFW UnMet Needs Program Assists Servicemembers and Recent Vets

unmet

By Debbie Gregory.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) traces its roots back to 1899, when veterans of the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection arrived home wounded or sick. There was no medical care or veterans’ pension for them, and they were left to care for themselves.

Veterans from these wars banded together and formed the VFW. As the nation’s largest organization of combat veterans, the VFW understands the challenges veterans, service members and military families can face and believe that experiencing financial difficulties should not be one of them. That’s the premise behind the VFW’s Unmet Needs program.

Unmet Needs is there to help America’s service members who have been deployed in the last six years and have run into unexpected financial difficulties as a result of deployment or other military-related activity.

The program provides financial aid, up to $5,000, to assist with basic life needs. The funds are disbursed in the form of a grant paid directly to the creditor, so there is no repayment required.

To date, Unmet Needs has distributed over $5.4 million in assistance to qualified military families, with almost half of those funds going directly toward basic housing needs.

The needs of our nation’s veterans, service members and their families should never go unmet. The VFW’s Unmet Needs program offers a hand up, at a time when finances are at a low.

Through the VFW advocacy, the organization’s voice had been instrumental in establishing the Veterans Administration, creating a GI Bill for the 20th century, the development of the national cemetery system and the fight for compensation for Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange and for veterans diagnosed with Gulf War Syndrome.

Please review the Unmet Needs eligibility criteria to see if you or someone you know qualifies for a grant through the Unmet Needs program.

If you’re eligible, APPLY TODAY.

Contact Unmet Needs at 1-866-789-6333 or by email at [email protected] with any questions.

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.

No More Unemployment for Most Veterans on the GI Bill

gibill

By Debbie Gregory.

Apparently, Congress was surprised to learn that many veterans were receiving free tuition at school, a housing allowance to pay all their housing costs, $1,000 a year book stipend from their GI Bill, AND unemployment.

This was a loophole in the law that Congress is closing up. Language inserted into the 2016 National Defense Act, approved last December, now prohibits the receipt of unemployment benefits while receiving the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

An exception was carved out for veterans involuntarily separated from the military under honorable conditions.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill pays not only tuition for student veterans but also a living stipend, equal to the Basic Allowance for Housing.

The Department of Labor is working with state and federal agencies so that they can  identify which veterans are receiving unemployment checks, GI Bill checks or both. But for now, no such central information system exists, in part because unemployment benefits are handled differently in each state.

According to the 2015 Veteran Economic Opportunity Report, when it comes to employment and income, Veterans as a whole are faring well, with employment and earnings generally comparable to the non-Veteran population. And while veterans are taking advantage of their GI Bill education benefits to pursue higher education and certification programs, there is room for improvement.

In recent years about half of all servicemembers transitioning into civilian life have faced a period of unemployment within 15 months of separation. In addition, some groups lag behind the non-Veteran population in economic outcomes (for example Veterans over 55).

The new law has not specified the timeline for enforcement of the changes, so individual  states are not required to enforce it until the new guidance from the Labor Department is released.

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.

On-The-Job Training and Apprenticeship Opportunities for Veterans

onthejobtraining

In today’s competitive job market, those seeking employment must create their own career paths by seeking out opportunities to develop skills and experience.

Both on-the-job (OJT) and apprenticeship training programs are available for Veterans using their VA education benefits, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill. These programs allow Veterans to learn a trade or skill through training on the job participation rather than attending formal classroom instruction.

The programs offered typically include a training contract for a specific period of time with an employer or union. At the end of the training, a job certification is issued or journeyman status achieved.

While most Veterans receive a salary from the training employer or union during training veterans can expect that as their skills increase, so may their salaries. GI Bill payments are issued monthly after VA receives certification of hours worked from the employer or union.

There are a wide variety of on-the-job and apprenticeship opportunities available to veterans. Unfortunately, these programs are not available to active duty service members or spouses using a transferred benefit.

Although the participation requirements are the same for all GI Bill programs, the payment amount varies depending on the program. View the payment rates for your GI Bill program.

Post-9/11 GI Bill recipients. The payment rates are as follows:

  • You will receive 100 percent of your applicable MHA during the first six months of training in these increments: •80 percent of your applicable MHA during the second six months of training
  • 60 percent of your applicable MHA during the third six months of training
  • 40 percent of your applicable MHA during the fourth six months of training
  • 20 percent of your applicable MHA during the remainder of the training
  • Post-9/11 GI Bill recipients will also receive up to $83 per month for books and supplies.

All other GI Bill programs. For all other GI Bill programs, the payment rates are as follows:

  • 75 percent of the full-time GI Bill rate for the first six months of training
  • 55 percent of the full-time GI Bill rate for the second six months of training
  • 35 percent of the full-time GI Bill rate for the remainder of the training program

Employers interested in participating in this program should review the Understanding On-The-Job Training & Apprenticeship Approval Guide. Employers can also contact their local State Approving Agency to determine which programs Veterans should enroll in to maximize their VA educational benefits.

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 Student Tips for Using GI Bill Benefits

post 911 gi bill

By Debbie Gregory.

The GI Bill program provides the most generous school benefits paid to veteranss since the original bill was enacted in 1944. But many veteran students are getting off to a rocky start when it came to pursuing a college degree.

For-profit colleges have been popular among veterans, in part, because of offerings in skilled trades and flexibility such as online classes. But many of these schools have been called out for their treatment of veteran and active-duty military students, as well as their aggressive recruiting tactics.

The for-profit sector has among the highest student loan default rates and lowest graduation rates in higher education.

So for potential veteran students, there are three steps you should take when considering a for-profit school:

Make use of the GI Bill Comparison Tool: Veterans and active-duty military looking to understand how their benefits will apply to college costs can plug their information into the GI Bill Comparison Tool.

The GI Bill Comparison will let the student know if their potential college, university or vocational is a for-profit, public or private university, how much it costs, whether it meets the required guidelines to receive federal funding, how many GI Bill students there are, whether there is a student veteran group, a VetSuccess on campus, etc. For students worried about predatory practices at an institution, the school summary page includes the number of complaints against the institution and “caution flags,” which indicate that the school is under increased regulatory or legal scrutiny.

Be vigilant when it comes to any paperwork related to education benefits and any other financial aid. If something is promised, get it in writing. Be sure to know the different funding options, and what is a gift, and what is a loan.

Ask, ask ask! Don’t be shy to ask what percentage of their students find jobs in their chosen fields, if your units will transfer, what resources are available to veteran students, etc.

Your GI Bill benefits are just that; YOURS. Make sure you get the most out of the benefit that you worked so hard and risked so much to secure.

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 Students Who Drop Out May Owe Repayment

debt

By Debbie Gregory.

Veteran students who attend school on the GI Bill may be facing monetary consequences if they fail to complete classes.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is trying to recoup more than $200 million that was overpaid when veterans dropped classes or failed to complete them, thus becoming ineligible for the tuition and living stipends.

And this information comes as a complete surprise to many of these students.

When a veteran enrolls in school, the government sends money for tuition and fees to the school, and sends housing and living stipends to the veteran. In theory, if the student drops or fails to complete a class, the VA scales back the benefits accordingly, and the student becomes responsible for any overpayments

In 2014, about one in every four GI Bill beneficiaries, or about 225,000 veterans, incurred an overpayment debt, averaging about $570. And in most cases, the veteran students are responsible for repaying the debt. The VA does not require veterans to verify their enrollment each month, causing a “significant time lapse” between when veterans drop courses and when the government learns about the enrollment change and can reassess payments.

VA officials have recouped more than half of the overpayments from fiscal 2014, but another $110 million from previous years is still uncollected, most of it from veterans.

While the VA has taken steps to address processing errors through technology improvements, quality assurance reviews, and training, the VA still needs to find better ways to communicate its policies to individual veterans. If more veterans are made aware of how the system works, chances are they would be more aware of how to avoid the pitfall. And when they do have the issue, the VA should notify them more promptly when an overpayment occurs, and also improve its system for verifying enrollment.

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.