Veterans planning on going to school after their military career is over sometimes don’t realize they have more resources available to them in the form of financial aid besides the GI Bill. There are many resources you can use to extend your GI Bill benefits, and some resources may allow you to wait to use your GI Bill until later in your academic career if that’s what you need to do.
And it’s not just veterans who benefit from some of these additional resources–dependents and spouses can also apply for certain programs to help pay for education expenses, saving money on the family budget.
Financial Aid For Veterans: The Basics
The first thing you should do is to call or make an appointment to discuss your VA education benefits with a VA representative or an organization that serves as a Veteran Service Organization.
You’ll want to ask questions about any other education benefit open to you and/or your dependents besides the GI Bill. Naturally if there are things about the GI Bill you do not understand, it is a good idea to discuss those issues first, but be sure to ask about federal and state-level benefits you may have access to.
Not all states offer the same financial aid, and not all colleges participate in some forms of student financial aid such as the Yellow Ribbon program. You may need the help of a college admissions professional to determine what is available to you at that institution of higher learning.
Some benefits may be dependent on the nature of your military discharge, and some may not. If you do not have a military discharge characterized as Honorable, you may have recourse in some cases by applying to have your case reviewed by a Discharge Review board, but these proceedings can take more time than you realize, so it’s best to start early and before you have made a commitment to a specific school
Financial Aid Options For Veterans
Options such as the Yellow Ribbon G.I. Bill Education Enhancement Program are offered in conjunction with the GI Bill to qualifying veterans. But what if you are attending college and choose not to use your GI Bill option yet?
The first thing to do is NOT to assume you do not qualify for other student financial aid–it is best to fill out the Free Application For Federal Student Aid to see what you may qualify for in the form of federal assistance.
What do you need to remember about FAFSA? That your military education benefits are viewed as resources and not as income. This can make a big difference in whether you qualify for federal or even state-level financial aid and it’s a bad idea to assume you cannot qualify without applying.
Some financial aid is offered to veterans at the federal level because they are going into critically staffed careers such as teaching. The grants and other options offered to these students include Troops To Teachers, which helps helps current and former members of the Armed Forces “transition into second careers as K-12 teachers upon separation from military service” according to the program’s official site.
Legal Protections=Financial Aid?
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides some protections for certain veterans–if you left active duty service and joined the National Guard, for example, or joined the Guard without going Active Duty first, you have protections against interest charges on direct loans with dispersal occurring on or after Oct. 1, 2008.
No interest can be charged on such loans for qualifying service members for up to 60 months while serving on an active duty capacity or have qualifying National Guard duty during a war or other military operations.
That may not seem like direct financial aid, but 60 months’ worth of interest rate savings is nothing to take lightly. Another form of such “indirect” financial aid associated with the SCRA is applicable to those who serve on active duty or perform qualifying military service as a Guard member.
Some veterans qualify for a deferment on repaying federal financial aid loans and for those with service including dates on or after Oct. 1, 2007 the deferment may be extended an additional 180 days for each period of qualifying military service.
Most states have veteran-friendly financial aid resources and programs that help offset the cost of attending colleges. You will find these resources listed at your state government’s official site, and/or your state-level Division of Veterans Affairs, or a similarly named agency.
The most basic financial aid in this respect comes with a waiver for out-of-state tuition charges for veterans. Most states waive the requirement for you to be a state resident to attend school at the resident rate if you have qualifying military service.
But some states feature grants for service members that may offset some or all of your tuition expenses, and you should research whether or not your state offers such a program. Some programs are funded on a first-come, first-served basis and suspend applications when the budget is exhausted for that year. Ask early and be prepared to apply early for such options.
By “private” we mean, “not sourced from the government.” Remember being encouraged earlier in this article to contact a Veterans Service Organization for help with federal and state level financial aid options?
These same organizations often feature certain grants, scholarships, awards, or other programs intended to help vets with qualifying military service to get financial help for school The programs are not limited to the servicemember in some cases–dependents and spouses may also qualify depending on the program and the nature of your military service.
Another good source of private assistance? State or local foundations, non-profit agencies, and other organizations that are veteran-focused. Contact your local non-profit to learn if there are programs or options available.
Some non-profits don’t offer direct education assistance but do provide need-based assistance for qualifying veterans. These resources, too can help you protect your budget and your financial bottom line and keep you in the classroom.
Some private agencies that provide this help include the Semper Fi Fund, the Bob Woodruff Family Foundation, and the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation.
And then there are the colleges themselves–be sure to ask an admissions counselor about any veteran-focused work-study programs, employment preferences, or even more lenient payment arrangements for veterans where applicable. You may also find that some schools actively court veterans to apply and earn degrees, you never know what perks or benefits are open to you as a vet, especially if you have qualifying service-connected disabilities.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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