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End of Semester GI Bill Update

End of Semester GI Bill Update
 
We reported a few weeks ago in GI Benefits in Limbo that GI Bill housing and tuition payments have been delayed as a result of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2017. The sections of the law, which were implemented in 2017, required a complete overhaul and upgrade of the Veterans Benefits Administration technology infrastructure. While those upgrades were to be completed by this previous August, as of November, the majority of the upgrades had yet to be made and therefore payments were delayed across the country.
Fortunately for GI Bill recipients, the VBA has made progress and was able to update the thousands of students who have been waiting on payments.
Effective last week, the VBA had put in place a plan to be able to process the Spring 2020 semester by December 2019. This includes addition staffing and support as well as the solicitation of contractor bits.
While this is something to look forward to for many students, the VBA is also making adjustments to assist the students with immediate needs. The month housing allowance rates will be set to the Department of Defence Basic Housing Allowance rates. In many cases, this rate is equal to or higher than the payments that have been received previously. Additionally, the VBA will be correcting the underpayments retroactively.
Even better news for those who happened to be fortunate enough to have received an overpayment this year, the VBA will not be collecting those overpayments. Housing payments will be paid out according to the location of the academic institution’s main campus and will be independent of the student’s actual physical address.
All of these changes will come to a close on December 1, 2019. It is expected that VBA will have developed and implemented a satisfactory IT solution for sections 107 and 501 of the “Forever GI Bill” law. Many of the changes are an attempt to make the process easier for all participants. Changes such as more easily defining training sites as school campuses when will reduce burden and work for both students and schools. VBA is expected to remain in constant contact with Veterans, service organizations and Congress on the status of the implementations and expectations throughout the process. The call for increased communication  is in response to claim levels being triple that of normal in September of this year. While VBA claims levels are back to normal, they are encouraging schools and students to get Spring submissions in early to ensure timely payment.
Secretary Wilkie said “Redesigning the way VBA calculates Post 9/11 GI Bill housing rates during a busy academic season was like flying a plane while building it, and that was unfair and frustrated to Veterans and taxpayers. That’s why we are resetting our implementation of the law for the next year to ensure we get the technology and formula right to put Veterans first. In the meantime, beneficiaries receiving Post 9/11 GI Bill housing allowances will be paid at the DoD BAH rate, which in many cases will be equal to or higher than their current payment.”
Some other important details to remember:

  • VBA timeline standards are 28 days for new enrollments, 14 days for re-enrollments
  • Spring submissions can be sent in now
  • The Education Call Center number is 888-442-4551 and is open 8am to 7pm, EST, Monday-Friday
  • If you are experiencing a financial hardship due to the fall semester delays or need other assistance, please contact the Education Call Center

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.

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.

 

Housing Benefits Available for On-The-Job Training

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By Debbie Gregory.

It’s a shame to leave hard-earned benefits on the table. In 2011, a benefit was added to the Post 9/11 GI Bill that gave living stipends to non-students who were seeking on-the-job (OJT) training or apprenticeships. Unfortunately, only about 2 percent of eligible veterans have taken advantage of it.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill was approved in 2008, covering tuition and living expenses for veterans who wanted to attend college. Three years later, Congress added the OJT and apprenticeship benefit to provide transition support for veterans who sought alternatives to education.

These programs typically involve entering into a training contract for a specific period of time with an employer or union. At the end of the training period, a job certification is issued or journeyman status achieved.According to the report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) the offer provides a full or partial housing allowance to working veterans.

So why are the other 98 percent of eligible veterans leaving this benefit on the table?

One reason might be that the Department of Veterans Affairs has the tendency to emphasize the educational components of the GI Bill, offering few details on how to access the on-the-job training and apprenticeship benefits.

Another key problem is the administrative burdens that make some employers reluctant to participate, forcing employers to fill out forms and submit them to the VA before participating veterans begin receiving checks. Employers must also agree to incrementally raise the veteran employees’ wages in accordance with the VA plan.

The VA has agreed to develop a guide for employers and apprenticeship sponsors about Post-9/11 GI Bill OJT and apprenticeship benefits.

Benefits may include a full housing allowance along with a small stipend for books or supplies for the first six months. For the second six months, the benefit is 80 percent of the housing allowance tied to the veteran’s location. For the third six-month period, the percentage of the housing allowance drops to 60 percent. For the fourth six-month period, the housing allowance is reduced to 40 percent, and any time beyond 24 months, the stipend is at 20 percent of the housing allowance.

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.