Questions To Ask Your College About Using The GI BillUpdated: March 15, 2021
If you are planning to use your GI Bill benefits for the first time or are returning to the GI Bill® process after a long absence, there are some important questions to ask of a state-run or for-profit college before you commit. The answers may make a big difference in how you approach paying for your education.
Does Your School or Program Accept The GI Bill?
Not all universities and schools accept the GI Bill or other military education benefits. Before you commit to a program where you are counting on using your education benefits, ask if they will accept your form of payment. Additionally, GI Bill funds may be utilized for non-traditional programs such as approved certificate, apprenticeship, and other specialized training programs not offered by four-year colleges.
Are you interested in becoming an Emergency Medical Technician? A firefighter? A commercial pilot? Many such on-the-job training programs or apprenticeships may be covered under the GI Bill. Additionally, you can use your education benefits at approved international programs. If you are using your GI Bill for approved journeymen or apprenticeship programs, keep the following in mind: According to the VA official site, “Employers generally pay a reduced OJT/apprenticeship wage (must be at least 50% of journeyman wage). Unless the training establishment is operated by a Federal, State, or local government, periodic wage increases must be granted and by the last full month of training, the wage must be at least 85% of the wage for a fully trained employee.”
The official site adds that those training in an approved program can “use their GI Bill benefit and receive a tax-free stipend.” Before beginning any non-traditional or apprenticeship program, ask the school if you can use the GI Bill.
What Happens If GI Bill Payments Are Late?
Once you are accepted into an approved program, the school’s financial aid office and the VA coordinate GI Bill payments. There can be a variety of reasons that can make your VA payment late and sometimes the VA is late delivering funds. This happened in 2008 when so many new applicants were registering that the system was overloaded. Potential students using their GI Bill benefits should always ask directly about how late GI Bill payments might affect registration status, the ability to register for future classes, etc.
Some colleges will automatically flag a student’s account if there is a late payment of any kind, requiring some form of action from the student and/or the office of student affairs. You should discuss such potential issues with your advisor and/or the applicable student affairs representative to learn how to negotiate such student holds.
If you have a service-connected disability that makes discussions of this kind challenging, your school’s disability office, Veterans office, or a VA Vet Center staff member can assist you. Remember – you are not alone.
In many cases you may find the college is perfectly willing to work with you, understanding that payment is forthcoming, just as soon as the VA delivers funds. However, if VA payments are running late, it’s never safe to assume that you haven’t been automatically flagged with an “advising hold” or “financial hold” for next term’s registration or even graduation. Check your student account regularly to avoid delays or problems with your account.
What Other Veteran Education Benefits Are Available?
In addition to the Forever GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill, and Montgomery GI Bill for Selected Reserve, there are other education benefits from the Federal Government, State Government, and private funding that you may qualify for. Some Veterans may qualify for both the GI Bill and Vocational Rehabilitation. For some Veterans, the Vocational Rehabilitation Program may be a better fit. Many states including Illinois, California, Massachusetts, and others have specific education programs for Veterans. Each have their own eligibility and some are only for disabled Veterans. Some programs are for dependents or may be transferred to your dependents. A State-run example is Illinois Veterans Grant (IVG), a benefit available to qualifying veterans/currently serving members who lived in Illinois for a specified length of time prior to joining the service and list Illinois as the home of record.
The IVG can be used before the GI Bill, or when the GI Bill runs out and covers most of the student’s tuition. While there is no housing stipend, the IVG is a good example of a benefit that can be used as a way to save GI Bill benefits for later, or to supplement higher education once your GI Bill benefits are used up.
If you need additional funding for your chosen program, you can apply for federal financial aid such as the Pell Grant. Your school’s financial aid office can help you with this and walk you through filling out the FAFSA. The Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation program is government-sponsored and can cancel your current student loan debt if you have served on active duty during combat. Programs such as The Student Loan Repayment Program (LRP) can repay part of your current education incurred debt. Each of these loan forgiveness and repayment programs have specific eligibility criteria. Talk with your school’s financial aid office about these options and other Veteran scholarships that you may qualify for. To understand your specific eligibility, please speak with a college counselor, VA certifying official, or a Veteran service organization.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News