VA Education benefits cover a wide range of options for higher education for active duty military, Guard and Reserve members, military spouses, and dependents. Do you know what your VA education benefits include?
You may qualify for multiple options to pay for a college degree, certificate, licensure, or other qualifications. But knowing your benefits is half the battle. You can find the appropriate forms and application instructions for all these programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs official site.
There are multiple GI Bill programs; the Montgomery GI Bill, the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and the legislation known as the Forever GI Bill which enhances Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. There are subsets of the GI Bill for Reservists under the Montgomery GI Bill program and the Post 9/11 program.
These programs are intended to offset the majority of costs for higher education and in the case of the Post 9/11 GI Bill a housing stipend is provided to reduce housing expenses for qualifying veterans attending school.
Funds are paid directly to the school except for the housing stipend and books/supplies. In some cases the GI Bill won’t cover the full cost of tuition, but VA options such as the Yellow Ribbon program further help cut the costs of attending college, getting a certification, and other educational pursuits.
The GI Bill is one of the best-known VA education programs and includes the ability to transfer the Post 9/11 GI Bill to a spouse or dependent if you serve a minimum of six years, agree to four more years of military service, and the recipient of the transferred benefit is enrolled in DEERS.
What some don’t realize about the GI Bill? You may be able to use it to study at an overseas school if the following apply:
- You’re eligible for or currently receive VA educational assistance as a Veteran, service member, Reservist, or qualified dependent, and
- The VA has approved your selected program, and
- Your program is at a school where you would earn a “standard associate’s degree or higher, or a degree of equal value at that foreign school” according to the VA.
GI Bill funds can be used to pay for a traditional degree, distance learning, certification, testing, and vocational training (among other options).
Those who qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill may also qualify for a “Buy-Up” program to increase their monthly benefit payments. You can apply and make a contribution for up to $600 which will increase the GI Bill benefits. Those who contributed the maximum $600 in 2021 received $5,400 more in GI Bill benefits. This option is not available with the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
National Call To Service Program
This VA education benefit program allows veterans with qualifying service access to an alternative to the Montgomery GI Bill. If you “performed a period of national service” you may be eligible for the following:
- A cash bonus of $5,000, or
- Repayment of a qualifying student loan not more than $18,000, or
- Education benefits equal to the 3-year monthly MGIB rate for 12 months, or
- Education benefits equal to 50% of the less-than-3-year monthly MGIB rate.
Who qualifies for this? Those who signed up for military service and served for at least 15 months, “in a military occupational specialty designated by the Secretary of Defense”. The applicant must also have served an “additional period of active duty” or 24 months in the Selected Reserve. There must be no break in service.
Furthermore, one of the following statements must also apply. Without a break in service, you then spent the rest of your time in service:
- On active duty, or
- In the Selected Reserve, or
- In the Individual Ready Reserve, or
- In AmeriCorps, or another domestic national service program jointly designated by the Secretary of Defense
The VA official site adds to all this, “If you enlist under the National Call to Service program, you don’t qualify for MGIB, unless you reenlist at a later date for an additional period of service. Contact your recruiter to see if you qualify and to enroll in the National Call to Service program. This benefit affects your service contract.”
Veteran Readiness & Employment (VR&E)
Veterans who have a service-connected disability that restricts the ability to work, or keeps the veteran from working at all may qualify for the VA Veteran Readiness and Employment program. This was in the past known as Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, and is also known as Chapter 31 or Chapter 31 VR&E.
This VA education and training benefit helps disabled veterans get training, discover employment options, and can even help qualifying family members.
Who qualifies for VR&E benefits? Veterans who did not receive a dishonorable discharge, and who have a minimum 10% disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and have applied for VR&E services.
VR&E benefits have a basic period of eligibility (12 years from the date you separated or received your VA disability rating) with extensions possible depending on circumstances. Some who are still serving on active duty may also qualify.
What kind of benefits can you expect from VR&E? The following “tracks” are all options under the program, which can help vets find a new job, learn new skills, start a small business, and even return to a former career.
- Reemployment track
- Rapid Access to Employment track
- Self-Employment track
- Employment Through Long-Term Services track
- Independent Living track
Veteran Employment Through Technology Education (VET TEC)
VET TEC is for those who need “computer experience” to start or maintain a career in a high-technology industry. VET TEC, or Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses is a VA program that matches veterans with training opportunities.
This program is funded year-to-year and when the funding runs out in the current fiscal year, no new applicants are accepted until the next funded round of training. For example, in January of 2021, the VA official site posted, “We have no more VET TEC funds at this time to offer new participants. But you can still apply and find out if you’re eligible to get money for training when we have funds available again.”
Those currently in training when funding is suspended are not affected. In order to qualify for VET TEC all of the following must apply:
- The applicant is not on active duty
- The applicant qualifies for the GI Bill
- The applicant has at least one day of UNEXPIRED GI Bill entitlement
- The applicant has been accepted into a program by a VA-approved training provider
VET TEC training does not affect your GI Bill entitlement. Those who train in person (instead of remotely) are provided a monthly housing stipend equal to BAH for an E-5 with dependents. Those who attend remotely are paid half of the national BAH average for an E-5 with dependents.
Yellow Ribbon Program
The Yellow Ribbon Program is designed to help cover the costs of higher education that the Post 9/11 GI Bill might not cover. This can include the higher out-of-state tuition charged to non-residents, the cost of attending a private school, or graduate school tuition that the Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t cover.
To qualify for the Yellow Ribbon program, applicants must qualify for the maximum Post 9/11 GI Bill benefit rate and at least one of the following must apply:
- The applicant has served at least 36 months on active duty
- The applicant has been awarded a Purple Heart on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and was honorably discharged
- The applicant has served for at least 30 continuous days on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and was discharged after 60 days with a service-connected disability
- The applicant is a dependent child using benefits transferred to them from someone who has served for at least 36 months on active duty (must qualify at the 100% level)
- The applicant qualifies as a Fry Scholar with certain requirements
At press time, as of Aug. 1, 2022, you may become eligible for Yellow Ribbon benefits as an active-duty service member with benefits at the 100% level, or the spouse using the transferred benefits of an active-duty service member who qualifies at the 100% level, according to the VA official site.
Chapter 35 VA Education Benefits For Survivors And Dependents
Qualifying dependent spouses and children of a veteran may qualify for Chapter 35 VA education benefits, also known as DEA or Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance. This VA program can help provide funds for:
- Education and training
- Housing while in school
- Books and supplies
To qualify, one of the following must apply:
- The veteran died in the line of duty after Sept. 10, 2001, or
- The veteran is missing in action, or
- The veteran was captured in the line of duty by a hostile force, or
- The veteran was detained by force while in the line of duty by a foreign government or power, or
- The veteran is hospitalized or receiving outpatient care “for a service-connected permanent and total disability, and is likely to be discharged for that disability”
There are additional criteria for circumstances where the child or spouse of a veteran may qualify for Chapter 35 benefits if the veteran is permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected medical issue or the veteran died while on active duty. Chapter 35 benefits can also be paid if the veteran died as a result of a service-connected disability.
Educational and career counseling (Chapter 36)
Personalized Career Planning and Guidance is also referred to as VA Chapter 36. Under this program, veterans and dependents who are eligible for GI Bill benefits can take advantage of free educational and career guidance, help with planning a college career, and more. The following rules apply to those who want to apply for Chapter 36 counseling benefits–one of the following must apply:
- The applicant will be discharged from active duty within six months
- The applicant has separated from active duty “not more than a year ago”
- The applicant is eligible for educational assistance under a VA educational program
- The applicant is anyone currently eligible for VA education benefits
DoD Tuition Assistance Tuition Top-Up
It’s not uncommon for college tuition to be more expensive than what is offered by the DoD Tuition Assistance program. You may be eligible for Tuition Assistance Top-Up. Applicants must be approved for federal TA, and qualify for GI Bill benefits.
This money is intended to pay the difference between the TA and the actual cost of the classes but no more. The VA official site warns those using the Post 9/11 GI Bill that the program, “…will often cover the full cost of tuition and fees, with the same amount of entitlement charged no matter how much is covered by TA. Be sure to consider your options before deciding to use both of these programs for the same courses.” VA advice? Use TA benefits separately from GI Bill benefits to make the most of both.
Veterans’ Educational Assistance Program (VEAP)
Some veterans with qualifying dates of service may be eligible for a program called VEAP, which is described on the VA official site as a “…$2-to-$1 government-match program for educational assistance”. In general, access to this program is limited to those who meet the following criteria:
- The veteran entered military service for the first time between Jan. 1, 1977, and June 30, 1985 (applies to all other than Air Force), and
- Opened used a VEAP account before April 1, 1987, and
- Contributed a minimum of $25 and
- Completed the first term of service and applies without a dishonorable discharge
Those who served in the Air Force during the qualifying periods (see below) must meet all of the following:
- Entered service for the first time between Dec. 1, 1980, and Sept. 30, 1981, and
- Enlisted in one of these Air Force specialties: 20723, 20731, 20830, 46130, 46230A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J, or Z, 46430, or 81130
Furthermore, to qualify Air Force members must have enlisted at one of the following locations:
- Beckley, West Virginia
- Buffalo, New York
- Dallas, Texas
- Fargo, North Dakota
- Houston, Texas
- Jackson, Mississippi
- Louisville, Kentucky
- Memphis, Tennessee
- Omaha, Nebraska
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Seattle, Washington;
- Sioux Falls, South Dakota
- Syracuse, New York
The VA official site reminds Air Force applicants currently on active duty that you must have made a minimum of three months worth of contributions to use VEAP benefits.
VA Work study
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides qualifying veterans a work-study program designed to help vets hold a part-time job while enrolled in an education program at least three-quarter time. All the following must apply:
- The veteran is enrolled at least three-quarter time in a college degree, vocational, or professional program, and has located an open job either at a nearby VA facility or “in a VA-related role at your school”, and
- The applicant can finish the work-study contract before VA education benefits run out and
- The applicant is attending school using VA education benefits
This program must be applied for using an application for Work-Study (VA Form 22-8691) so be sure to ask your college admissions staff or contact the VA for this form.
The work study program allows you to land a VA-related job–the VA provides a variety of examples of the options you can explore:
- VA facilities
- DoD, Coast Guard, or National Guard location that oversees MGIB-SR or REAP
- State Veterans agency to help Veterans get (VR&E) benefits
- Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success
- Cooperative programs between the VA and a college or university
- College, university, or other institution of higher learning in any Veteran-related role
Under VA Work Study, students can earn an hourly wage that is the greater of the state minimum wage or the federal equivalent. VA rules in this program include a couple of prohibitions:
- No work during or between enrollment periods
- No work in excess of “more hours total than 25 times the number of weeks in your enrollment period”
VA Co-op Training
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers education benefits for college or university co-op training programs that allow veteran students to work full-time “in between periods of going to school full time”. VA benefits for Co-op training can include covering books, tuition, and housing expenses if you are part of a co-op program. To qualify, all of the following must apply:
- The veteran attends school using VA educational assistance, and
- The veteran is enrolled at an approved school and
- The veteran is enrolled in an educational program that requires part-time study and part-time work/training
The benefit payment rates may vary depending on the GI Bill program you qualify for. For Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits paid to public institutions, the VA covers the actual costs for in-state tuition/fees. At private colleges under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the VA will pay the lesser of the national limit OR the actual cost of in-state tuition/fees. Some housing and book costs may also be covered.
For all other GI Bill options, there is a monthly rate paid based on the GI Bill program you use.
VA Tutorial assistance
Those attending classes using VA education benefits may qualify for the help of a paid tutor with the VA footing the bill. If you are struggling with classes and need the assistance of a tutor, you may apply for VA Tutorial Assistance if all the following apply:
- You’re enrolled in school half-time or more
- You are struggling with the course
- The course is required as part of your program and is not optional
This benefit is limited to $100 a month with a 12 month cap. Written documentation from an instructor is required. After the tutoring is completed, the veteran, tutor, and your school’s VA certifying official must sign an Application for Individualized Tutorial Assistance (VA Form 22-1990t).
While technically not a benefit per se (as scholarships are not automatically given to all applicants), VA scholarships are worth mentioning because they can extend VA benefits for those who use them. There are two important VA scholarship programs you should know:
Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship
The Edith Nourse Rogers Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) Scholarship offers approved veterans and dependents studying in high-demand/high tech fields additional funding to extend their Post 9/11 GI Bill or Fry Scholarship benefits (see below). This scholarship can include up to nine months worth of additional benefits. In 2021, that amount totaled to approximately $30k.
Who qualifies? Those enrolled in an undergraduate STEM degree program, or those who have earned STEM degrees and are working toward a teaching certification. All the following must also apply:
- The applicant is enrolled in an eligible undergraduate STEM degree program that requires at least 120 standard semester credit hours or 180 quarter credit hours to complete, and
- Have completed at least 60 standard credit hours or 90 quarter credit hours) toward the degree
- The applicant has 6 months or less of Post-9/11 GI Bill (or Fry Scholarship) benefits left.
At the time of this writing, these funds are for undergraduate work only. Graduate programs are not included at press time. For applicants working on teaching certification, the following must all be true:
- The applicant has earned an eligible post-secondary degree in a STEM field, and
- Has been accepted or is enrolled in a teaching certification program, and
- Has 6 months or less of your Post-9/11 GI Bill or Fry Scholarship) benefits remaining.
Who is awarded these scholarships? Priority is given to those who are eligible for 100% Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits and who require the most credit hours to complete their program compared to other applicants. These benefits can be used for the following undergrad programs:
- Agriculture science
- Natural resources science
- Biological science
- Biomedical science
- Computer and information science and support services
- Engineering, engineering technologies, or an engineering-related field
- Health care or a health-care-related field
- Mathematics or statistics
- Medical residency
- Physical science
- Science technologies or technicians
The Fry Scholarship
The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship is intended for qualifying children and dependents of Veterans. This scholarship, when awarded, includes:
- Money for tuition–full in-state tuition costs at public schools and up to $22,805.34 per year for training at private or out-of-state schools in 2021, your total may vary depending on the year, funding, and other variables
- Housing stipend
- Payments for books and supplies
Spouses and dependents of active-duty service member who died in the line of duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001 may qualify for consideration under the program if they meet the following criteria:
Qualifying As A Dependent
- Those who turned 18 or graduated from high school before Jan. 1, 2013 may qualify until age 33.
- Those who turn 18 or graduate from high school after Jan. 1, 2013 may apply for a Fry Scholarship at any age over 18 or after graduation–whichever is first.
- Those with a military parent who died in the line of duty before Aug. 1, 2011 may technically qualify for the Fry Scholarship and the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program. Only one program can be used at a time. Combined benefits from using both is restricted to 81 months of full-time training. You also cannot receive both the Fry scholarship and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation at the same time.
- Must complete a Dependents’ Application for VA Education Benefits–VA Form 22-5490.
Qualifying As A Spouse of a service member
- Fry Scholarships are for unremarried surviving spouses.
- You can still receive Dependency and Indemnity Compensation when you are using the Fry Scholarship.
- Must complete a Dependents’ Application for VA Education Benefits–VA Form 22-5490. This form says “Dependents” but there is a place on the application to specify whether you are a dependent or a spouse.
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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