The Forever GI Bill® allows military veterans to pursue educational opportunities for life, although how it will affect you personally depends on when you were discharged.
In 2017, President Trump signed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, aka the “Forever GI Bill.” This new and improved version of the GI Bill makes educational benefits more accessible to service members, veterans, and their families. Why is it called the Forever GI Bill? It eliminated the 15-year time limit tied to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. So, if you are a recent veteran or a new military member, you’ll be able to use your GI Bill forever.
You may be asking yourself, what does the GI Bill cover, and do I qualify to get these educational benefits? Good question! Read on to find out.
Update: President approves fix to protect GI Bill benefits due to schools shifting to online classes due to the pandemic.
What’s the Purpose of the GI Bill?
The original GI Bill was signed into law in 1944 by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt and named after American Legion National Commander Harry W. Colmery, a champion for veteran’s benefits. Over the years, the GI Bill has gone through a lot of changes, but at its core, it provides educational benefits to qualified members and their spouses by helping with:
- Tuition and fees
- Money for housing (if you’re in school more than half time)
- Money for books and supplies
Am I Qualified to Get These Benefits?
It really depends on when you served. If you were last discharged or released from active duty on or after Jan. 1, 2013—you qualify. If you were discharged before that date, you’d continue to qualify for benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Who’s Affected by Changes in the Forever GI Bill?
The Forever GI Bill went into effect in August of 2018 and changed or expanded some of the rules in the Post-9/11 GI Bill that were too restrictive. The biggest changes were in eligibility and the 15-year cap. You’ll no longer be forced to “use it or lose it.”
Forever GI Bill Veteran’s Benefits
The 15-year Time Limit is Gone
If you left active duty on or after Jan. 1, 2013, you can now access your benefits when the time is right for you and your family—forever!
Increased Benefits If You Served Less Than One Year
The amount of benefits you’re entitled to depend on how long you served. The Forever GI Bill increases your benefit level, based on your time in service. Here are the benefit amounts:
- 0 to 90 days – No benefit
- 90 days to 6 months – 50% of benefits
- 6 to 18 months – 60% of benefits
- 18 to 24 months – 70%
- 24 to 30 months – 80%
- 30 to 36 months – 90%
- 36 months or more – 100% of benefits
Note: The 40% benefit level has been eliminated. Servicemembers will receive 100% benefits if served at least 30 continuous days on active duty and discharged due to service-connected disability or received a Purple Heart.
You May Get Priority Enrollment
The VA will let you know if your school has a priority enrollment system that allows certain veterans to enroll in courses earlier than other students.
Transfer of Benefits Entitlement is More Flexible
If you transferred entitlement to a dependent, you can now designate a new dependent, if the original dependent dies before using the benefit. Dependents who received a transfer of entitlement can also transfer their entitlement to another eligible dependent, if their service member or veteran who made the transfer, later dies.
There Are Now Pilot Programs for Technology Courses
The Forever GI Bill establishes a five-year pilot program that lets you train in the high-tech industry. You can find out more info on the VA’s VET-TEC webpage.
Earn While You Learn With the Work-Study Program
This entitlement is now permanent! You’ll get paid an additional educational assistance allowance for qualifying work-study activities, like providing hospital and home health care or performing service to a national cemetery or a state Veterans’ cemetery.
Monthly Housing Now Based on Where You Take Most of Your Classes
The monthly housing allowance (MHA) is now calculated based on where you attend the majority of classes, instead of the school’s location.
It Expands Yellow Ribbon Program Coverage to Active Duty Members
The Yellow Ribbon Program can help you pay for out-of-state tuition, private school, or graduate school tuition that the Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t cover. Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, active duty members have not been allowed to use the Yellow Ribbon Program. After Aug. 1, 2022, you will be able to use it while on active duty.
Purple Heart Recipients Get Benefits
If you earned a Purple Heart on or after Sept. 11, 2001, you’d get Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits at the 100-percent benefit level for up to 36 months. Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you had to have at least three years or more of service to receive benefits. Under this change, approximately 1,500 Purple Heart recipients will get full Post 9/11 GI Bill coverage regardless of the amount of time served. You are now also eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program.
It Eliminates an Exemption from DoD Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) Reduction
This BAH change to the Forever GI Bill creates two categories of students with separate rate tables. One rate table is if you started using your Post 9/11 GI Bill before Jan. 1, 2018, with an “uncapped” VA rate, the other is if you started using your Post 9/11 benefits on or after Jan. 1, 2018 at the DoD “capped” rate.
Changes for Licensure and Certification Tests
Certain licensure and certification tests, such as a test required for national (GMAT, GRE, CLEP) or state licensing, will be prorated to the amount for the actual cost of the test. You used to be charged a whole month of entitlement pay for these tests.
You Can Now Pursue Independent Study Programs
If you qualify, you can now use GI Bill benefits to pursue independent study programs at certain institutions of higher learning, such as a technical education school or postsecondary vocational school.
You Get Your Benefits Back If Your School Shuts Down
If your school closes in the middle of the semester or if a course of study was disapproved (in certain cases), you’ll get your benefits restored. The VA may also continue providing you with MHA under the Post-9/11 GI Bill program, after a permanent school closure or disapproval of a course of study.
More Benefits Are Available for STEM Programs
Enrolled in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) program? You’re now eligible for additional benefits. This program will pay you benefits for up to nine additional months, or a lump sum of $30,000. To qualify for the STEM benefits, you have to meet the following conditions:
- Are enrolled in a STEM program
- Have used all of your GI bill benefits
- Have at least 60 semester or 90 quarter hours credit towards a STEM degree
The scholarship will also be available to you if you already have a STEM degree and are working on getting your teaching certificate.
Provides Funding for GI Bill Claims Processing and Training
The Forever GI bill provides 30 million dollars in funding to upgrade technology at the Veterans Benefits Administration. This funding will let them complete their rules-based processing system for claims, and the department will provide training requirements to school certifying officers that process the paperwork.
Guard and Reservists Forever GI Bill Benefits
More Guard and Reserve Members Are Now Eligible
If you are a Reservist called to active duty when your governor requests federal assistance in responding to a major disaster or emergency, or when the DoD mobilizes reservists in support of a combatant command, you are now eligible for the GI Bill benefits.
Also, members of the Reserve who were eligible for educational assistance under the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) before Nov. 25, 2015, and lost it due to the sunset provision, can have that service credited towards the Post-9/11 GI Bill program.
Forever GI Bill Benefits for Dependents
Expanded Benefits for the Fry Scholarship Program
The Yellow Ribbon Program is now extended to students receiving GI Bill payments through the Fry Scholarship program. Fry recipients are surviving dependents of service members who died while serving on active duty. The Yellow Ribbon Program helps pay for higher out-of-state, private school, or graduate school tuition that the Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t cover.
Better Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) Benefits
Under the Forever GI Bill, monthly payments of DEA benefits increased by 50%, but the maximum number of months beneficiaries have to get benefits will decrease from 45 to 36 months. DEA benefits provide aid to the children and spouses of qualifying disabled veterans.
History of the Forever GI Bill
Veteran’s today owe their educational benefits to one man, Harry W. Colmery. Colmery is widely considered the principal architect of the GI Bill. He was a Kansas attorney and served as a pilot during World War I. Because of his experiences leaving the service with little help in planning for his future, Colmery vowed to help World War II veterans make the transition to a successful future.
Colmery spent five months in Washington’s Mayflower Hotel, hand-writing what eventually became the GI Bill of 1944. The bill granted war veterans a collection of rights. His proposal was the model for all GI Bills to come. Colmery led a life of service to his country, serving as the National Commander of the American Legion and fighting for veteran’s rights. In the spirit of creating a brighter future for generations of veterans to come, the GI Bill is rightly named after Harry W. Colmery.
The Forever GI Bill passed both houses of Congress unanimously, and on Aug. 16, 2017, President Trump signed Public Law 115–48, aka The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act. There are 34 provisions to the new GI Bill, but one that stands out is that benefits under this version never expire. That’s why it’s called the “Forever GI Bill.”
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News