In 2017, President Donald Trump signed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act. The bill is named for American Legion National Commander Harry W. Colmery, who was a champion for veterans’ benefits.
This GI Bill update eliminated the 15-year “use it or lose it time limit tied to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, officially establishing the Forever GI Bill.
If you are a recent veteran or a new military member, you’ll be able to use your GI Bill forever.
Here’s what you need to know.
What’s the Purpose of the GI Bill?
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the original GI Bill of Rights into law in 1944.
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
Who Qualifies for the Forever GI Bill?
The Forever GI Bill went into effect in August 2018, changing or expanding some Post-9/11 GI Bill restrictions.
Military service members who were discharged or released from active duty on or after Jan. 1, 2013 qualify for the Forever GI Bill.
Service members discharged before this date qualify for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
Forever GI Bill Veterans 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.
Increased Benefits If You Served Less Than One Year
The amount of benefits you’re entitled to depends on how long you served, according to the VA. The Forever GI Bill increased benefit levels for time in service. It also eliminated the 40% benefit level and expanded the service requirement for 60% benefits to include more veterans.
Here are the service requirements for each benefit amount:
- Less than 90 days – No GI Bill benefit
- 90 days to six months – 50% GI Bill benefit
- Six to 18 months – 60% GI Bill benefit
- 18 to 24 months – 70% GI Bill benefit
- 24 to 30 months – 80% GI Bill benefit
- 30 to 36 months – 90% GI Bill benefit
- More than 36 months – 100% GI Bill benefit
GI Bill Benefits for Purple-Heart Recipients
If you earned a Purple Heart on or after Sept. 11, 2001, you will receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits at the 100% benefit level for up to 36 months, regardless of your time in service.
Previously, all Post-9/11 GI Bill recipients needed at least three years of military service to receive benefits.
Thanks to this change, approximately 1,500 Purple Heart recipients became eligible for full Post 9/11 GI Bill coverage, according to the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Purple Heart recipients can also participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program to cover out-of-state, private or graduate school tuition costs.
Veteran Priority Enrollment
Some schools and universities offer priority enrollment to veterans and service members, so they can get into the classes they need to finish their degrees first.
The Forever GI Bill required schools to notify the VA if they offer priority enrollment to GI Bill students. You can use the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool to see if your school offers priority registration.
GI Bill Benefit Transfer Changes
If you transferred your entitlement to a dependent, you can 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.
Forever GI Bill VET-TEC Program for Technology Courses
The Forever GI Bill established a five-year pilot VET-TEC program for veterans to train to enter highly technical fields, including computer and software programming, data processing, information science and media applications.
The 2020 Isakon and Roe Act further expanded the VET-TEC to include current service members who will separate from the military within 180 days of applying. It also increased the program funding and made it easier for VET-TEC students to choose expert instructors.
Eligible students must be accepted into a VA-approved training program and have at least one day of unexpired GI Bill entitlement. Funding for VET-TEC training won’t count against your GI Bill entitlement.
Visit the VA’s VET-TEC web page for application details and to see a list of VA-approved training providers.
Earn While You Learn With the Work-Study Program
The Forever GI Bill made the VA’s work study pilot programs a permanent offering.
The VA’s work study programs allow students using approved VA education benefit programs to work for VA facilities, veteran student success centers, state veterans agencies and some military facilities.
Through the work-study program, GI Bill (including the GI Bill STEM extension), National Call to Service, Veteran Readiness & Employment (VR&E) and Veterans’ Educational Assistance Program (VEAP) students can work for extra money while they complete their degrees.
Qualified dependents receiving Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) can also participate.
For more information, check out the VA’s work study program page.
Monthly Housing Allowance Calculation
The zip code where GI Bill recipients attend the majority of their classes now determines students’ Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA), instead of the school’s physical location.
Forever GI Bill Expands Yellow Ribbon Program Coverage to Active-Duty Service Members
Beginning Aug. 1, 2022, active-duty military members using the Post-9/11 GI Bill can access Yellow Ribbon Program benefits.
Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) Reduction and Exemption
The Forever GI Bill split students receiving Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits into two categories and assigned them separate MHA rates.
If you started using your Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefit on or after Jan. 1, 2018, you will receive an MHA rate that matches DOD’s current BAH rate for an E-5 with dependents.
Students who started using the Post 9/11 GI Bill before Jan. 1, 2018, will continue to receive the same MHA housing allowance, which was slightly higher than DOD BAH Rates.
Changes for Licensure and Certification Tests
Previously, Post 9/11 GI Bill students were charged a month of their GI Bill entitlement for national and state licensure and certification tests, including the GMAT, GRE and CLEP.
The Forever GI Bill prorated the amount of benefits used to cover certification tests to the actual cost of the test.
Independent Study Program Options
Qualified Post 9/11 GI Bill students can use their benefits to pursue independent study programs at certain institutions, including technical and postsecondary vocational schools.
GI Bill Benefit Restoration
If your school closes in the middle of the semester or if a course of study lost VA approval after Aug. 1, 2021, you can apply to have your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits restored, thanks to the Forever GI Bill.
Post 9/11 GI Bill recipients may also continue to receive MHA after a permanent school closure or disapproval of a course of study.
Reach out to the VA for help getting your benefits restored.
More Benefits Available for STEM Programs
GI Bill recipients who are enrolled in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) program are eligible for additional benefits to complete their degrees.
Through the GI Bill STEM Extension, STEM students can receive up to nine additional months of benefits or a $30,000 lump sum.
To qualify for the STEM benefits, you must:
- Be enrolled in a qualified STEM program.
- Have used all of your GI bill benefits.
- Have at least 60 semester hours (or 90 quarter hours) credit toward a STEM degree.
STEM professionals who already have a degree can also use the Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship to pursue a teaching certificate.
Forever GI Bill Benefits for National Guardsmen and Reservists
More Guard and Reserve Members Are Now Eligible for the GI Bill
Reserve service members called to active duty during a federally-declared disaster or emergency are eligible for GI Bill benefits, under the Forever GI Bill.
Reserve and National Guard service members mobilized to support a combatant command are also eligible.
Additionally, reserve and National Guard veterans and service members who were eligible for the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) before it ended on Nov. 25, 2015 can use their time in service to qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill program instead.
Forever GI Bill Benefits for Dependents
Expanded Fry Scholarship Benefits
Surviving dependents of fallen service members who receive GI Bill payments through the Fry Scholarship can now access the Yellow Ribbon Program too.
The Yellow Ribbon Program covers out-of-state, private or graduate school tuition costs that the Post 9/11 GI Bill doesn’t cover.
Increased Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) Benefits
DEA benefits provide aid for children and spouses of qualifying disabled veterans.
Under the Forever GI Bill, monthly DEA payments increased by 50%.
However, students who began using their DEA benefits after Aug. 1, 2018, now receive only 36 months of benefits.Students who began using their benefits before this date still have a total of 45 months of benefit coverage.
History of the Forever GI Bill
Veterans today owe their educational benefits Harry W. Colmery, a Kansas attorney who 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 transition to a successful future.
Colmery spent five months in Washington’s Mayflower Hotel, hand-writing what eventually became the 1944 GI Bill of Rights: the basis for every subsequent GI Bill iteration.
The Forever GI Bill, named after Colmery, passed both houses of Congress unanimously. Trump signed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act into law on Aug. 16, 2017.
The new GI Bill includes 34 provisions, including the elimination of the GI Bill benefit expiration dates.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News