Aug. 11, 2009

Post 9/11 GI Bill offers new benefits, advantages to Guardsmen, families

By Spc. J. Erin Jones
116th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs

FORT PICKETT, Va. — The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Post-9/11 GI Bill officially went into effect Aug. 1, 2009 providing updated educational benefits to servicemembers and veterans nationwide.  

  Post 9/11 GI Bill

Chief Warrant Officer D’juana L. Goodwin, the education services officer for the Virginia National Guard meets with representatives of Hollins University Aug. 11, 2009 at Fort Pickett to discuss the Yellow Ribbon program. The program, which is part of the new Post-9/11 GI Bill, is designed to allow servicemembers or their families to enroll in higher-cost private schools and out-of-state schools at no extra cost. (Photo by Spc. J. Erin Jones, 116th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs)

The new GI Bill offers benefits based on the number of days servicemembers have spent on active duty since Sept. 9, 2001. This tiered design provides current and previously activated National Guard and Reserve servicemembers with the same benefits as active duty servicemembers and veterans.

National Guard Soldiers and Airmen who have served a total of 36 months of active duty will be eligible for the full benefits which include 100% paid tuition to public universities, a monthly housing stipend, up to $1,000 a year for books and supplies and up to $100 per month for tutorial assistance.

Servicemembers may also be eligible for a one time $500 relocation allowance and up to $2,000 in reimbursement for a certification or licensing exam. National Guard Soldiers and Airmen who are eligible for the kicker will still receive that benefit; however it will now be a one time payment.

“Unlike the Montgomery GI Bill the new benefits package covers all in-state tuition and fees at public universities,” said Chief Warrant Officer D’juana L. Goodwin, the education services officer for the Virginia National Guard. “It is not to exceed the cost of the most expensive in-state public institution,” she added.

However, not all Guard members are eligible for the new bill. They must have served at lease 90 day of active duty, or 30 days if the were injured during duty, to receive the minimum amount of benefits.

The 90 days of active duty does not include Active Guard Reserve duty or ROTC. Title 32 soldiers and Airmen who have not deployed since Sept. 11, 2001 are not eligible for this benefit.

Each servicemember needs to look at their individual situation because they may find that the former Montgomery GI Bill is a better option for them, said Goodwin. For example the previous bill is better for students taking only online classes. They should also note that once they apply for the Post-9/11 GI Bill they can not switch back to the Montgomery GI Bill, she added.

Tuition payment is easier with this bill because the VA pays the cost of tuition on behalf of the servicemember directly to the school as opposed to sending a monthly payment to the servicemember, said Goodwin.

Along with the new bill is a yellow ribbon program which allows servicemembers or their families to enroll in higher-cost private schools and out-of-state schools at no extra cost. However, not all schools are planning to participate in the program.

“Schools volunteering to participate in this program agree to waive the portion of their tuition that exceeds the tuition cap for that state,” said Goodwin. “In return the VA will match each additional dollar funded by the school.”

With the new bill servicemembers can transfer benefits to their family as long as they have already served the required amount of years, which are six years for a spouse and 10 years for a dependent. The servicemember must also have at least four years left on their contract at the time they apply for the bill.

Many of us have already completed our education and don’t plan on using the GI Bill, said Staff Sgt. Tracey L. Coles, the senior finance NCO for Headquarters Company, 29th Infantry Division, who is planning to transfer her benefits to her son.

“He will get the tuition, fees, books and supplies and also a monthly housing stipend,” said Coles. “This will be a great financial benefit to us.”

“Military families who plan on using the new GI Bill this fall to pay for college expenses should realize initial payments may not be processed in time to meet the fall tuition deadline at some universities,” said Goodwin. “In addition, the delay in finalizing the transferability rules could jeopardize family members’ use of the benefits this fall semester.”

Servicemembers have an eligibility period of 15 years from the end of their last active duty tour to use the benefits or they loss them.

The maximum benefit period is 36 months but it is possible to split the benefits between you and your dependents, said Goodwin. However, you still must use those benefits within the 15 year period, she added.

If you wish to give your benefits to multiple dependents you must do so while you are still in the military, said Goodwin. For example if you have three dependents you can designate one month of benefits to each now and then make changes later. However, once you are out of the service you can not add another dependent, she explained.

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