As reported here for the last two years, the Post-9/11 GI Bill – although great in some ways, fell short in others. The good news is Congress finally passed a laundry list of substantive fixes that will help improve the Post-9/11 GI Bill and virtually eliminate the need for new servicemembers to consider paying the onetime $1,200 contribution for the Montgomery GI Bill.
However, like the original Post-9/11 GI Bill, not all the changes are positive. In fact, it will mean a reduction in benefits for some current student vets and leave others without benefits during school breaks. It seems Congress is unable to find a way to pass a GI Bill that doesn’t have unintended consequences and collateral damage.
Both the American Council on Education (ACE) and the National Association of Veterans Program Administrators (NAVPA) have voiced concerns that some aspects of the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Improvement Act of 2010 will result in a loss or reduction in benefits for some veterans. The House version of the bill had included “hold harmless” language which would protect veterans from losing benefits. Unfortunately the final version did not.
Here is a quick summary of the major fixes and substantive changes included in Senate bill S.3447 - the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Improvement Act of 2010. Keep in mind that most of the fixes do not take effect until August 1, 2011.
Note that some of the following details are subject to change as this bill progresses from Act to Law to VA Policy.
- Expands current Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility to include National Guard activation for events like title 32, national emergencies, and AGR service. This is retroactive to Aug. 1, 2009, but benefits will not be paid until Oct. 1, 2011.
- Removes limitations for non-degree granting programs including certification courses, vocational-technical training, and Apprenticeship and On-the-Job Training programs similar to the Montgomery GI Bill. Effective Oct. 1, 2011
- Simplifies the tuition payment rates by eliminating the state-by-state “undergraduate level” cap for tuition and fees. The VA will pay all actual tuition and fees for public (state) institutions for all levels of higher education. Effective Aug. 1, 2011. – Also applies to active duty servicemembers and their families, which goes into effect 60 days after enactment.
- Sets an annual tuition and fee cap for all private institutions of $17,500 a year. This translates into $52,500 total for tuition and fees over the life of the benefits (36 months). Yellow Ribbon is still available to cover out-of-pocket tuition and fees expenses. Effective Aug. 1, 2011
- Limits the monthly housing stipend by prorating the payment to the rate of pursuit (based on number of course hours taken). For example a half-time student will receive 50 percent of the current BAH. All other locality payment rates still apply. Effective Aug. 1, 2011
- Expands eligibility for the monthly housing stipend to all half-time of better “distance learners” at a rate of 50 percent of the national average for BAH (approximately $673) – which will also be prorated to the rate of pursuit (based on the number of course hours taken). Effective 10/1/2011 – not retroactive.
- Eliminates housing stipend payments during break periods (spring break, summer semester, winter break, etc.). Effective Aug. 1, 2011.
- Expands the annual book stipend eligibility to include active duty and their spouses. Effective Oct. 1, 2011
- Enables disabled veterans who are entitled to subsistence under the Voc-Rehab (VR&E) program and Post-9/11 GI Bill to take the P911 Housing Stipend in place of the VR&E subsistence payment. Effective Aug. 1, 2011
- Removes the limit of just one test for licensure or certification and expands coverage to include “National Tests” like SAT, GRE, LSAT, and tests for college credit like the College Level Examination Program (CLEP). Effective Aug. 1, 2011.
- Grants GI Bill eligible care givers an extension on their 10 year deadline for using benefits. Effective Aug. 1, 2011.
- Enables eligible NOAA and USPHS members to transfer GI Bill benefits like all other eligible members. Effective Aug.1, 2011
Note: Many of the other changes included in the bill are technical fixes to eliminate ambiguity, patch holes, and close loop holes in the original Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Most of the changes are positive, however, some leave room for further improvement – some actually may cause financial harm to some veterans. Let’s hope the next Congress is willing to go back and finish the clean up.