This Insights article was contributed by Laura Estes Brown, Associate Dean of Veteran Affairs and Special Projects at North Carolina Wesleyan College.
Whether you are newly transitioning from military to civilian life or it has been years since you served, understanding your veteran benefits and choosing the right college can be overwhelming.
With the recent passing of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act in August 2018 – otherwise known as the Forever GI Bill and commonly known as “CH 33/Post 9-11” – quite a few changes have been made to add to the confusion. The most notable changes include the elimination of the 15-year limitation on using the benefits and a change in how housing benefits are calculated.
CH 33/Post 9-11 benefits vary depending on time in service, but the majority of veterans have 36 months of benefits. During the time enrolled, the VA will pay the student a monthly housing allowance based on the zip code of the facility where the student takes the majority of his or her courses. The benefit is the same as an E-5 with dependents.
In addition to the housing allowance, the student will receive up to $1,000 per year to cover the costs of textbooks. The textbook benefit is distributed based on the hours enrolled per semester and is included in your first housing payment.
There are a few things to keep in mind when using the benefits. First, your housing allowance will be reduced by half if your courses are all online or “distance.” Most hybrid courses (combination of online and face-to-face) are considered the same as online. Try to take at least half of your courses as seated, if possible.
Second, the VA pays the student according to dates enrolled and attended. If you stop attending, you could potentially end up paying the debt back to the VA. Remember, the only way to be counted present in an online class is to turn assignments in on time.
There are several different ways students, who are either veterans or currently serving members, can use to get the most from their GI Bill benefits when deciding between colleges:
- Make sure the college you choose is regionally accredited. Regional accreditation ensures that an institution’s academic program meets acceptable levels of quality.
- Does the college follow the VA Principles of Excellence? This program requires schools that get federal funding through programs, such as the GI Bill, to follow certain guidelines. Have a conversation with the School Certifying Official (SCO) for veteran benefits. They should be able to answer general questions about benefits or put you in touch with the right resources.
- Based on your military experiences and training, you may have college credit recommendations to apply toward a degree requirement or program of study. Find out if the college will accept military credits towards your degree.
- If attending a private school, choose one that has a generous Yellow Ribbon program. Many institutions, such as NC Wesleyan College, also offer additional tuition discounts for active duty, military, and spouses.
- Find out if there is an established veteran community. Having a chapter of Student Veterans of America (SVA) is a good indicator. The SVA works to empower veterans to be informed consumers of their education benefits and make the most of their transition to civilian life.
For more in-depth information, one of the best resources is the GI Bill website
which includes detailed changes to the GI Bill, a breakdown of benefits, and tools to help choose the right college for you.
Laura Estes Brown is Associate Dean of Veteran Affairs and Special Projects at North Carolina Wesleyan College and has worked with students as an academic advisor since 2000. She currently serves as School VA Certifying Official assisting students with their veteran benefits. In 2017, she formed the NCWC Veterans Advisory Committee comprised of faculty, staff, students and community leaders who are veterans or military-related. The mission of the Committee is to advocate for Veteran support and services on Wesleyan campuses. Committee members were key in forming the first (nationally recognized) Student Veterans of America chapter at NCWC and sponsored various veteran-related events.
Brown is a long-time US Air Force military spouse and volunteers as Key Spouse for the 414MXS reservist squadron at Seymour Johnson AFB. An adult studies student, she earned her MA.Ed. in Adult Education at Central Michigan University. [email protected]. North Carolina Wesleyan College is regionally accredited through SACSOCS. For more information, visit www.ncwc.edu/adult.
Dani Somers is the Assistant Director of Admissions for North Carolina Wesleyan College’s Adult & Professional Studies. She started her career with NC Wesleyan College in 2016. NCWC offers students the ability to obtain their degree in an affordable and conveniently formatted program. Please visit www.ncwc.edu/BelieveNow or email [email protected] for more information.