GI Bill Changes: What You Should Know About The “Forever GI Bill”

Protections for veterans attending colleges that close. An end to the “15-year” rule for using VA benefits. Added incentives for pursuing tech or science-related degrees. These are just a few of the GI Bill® changes that have been approved by both the House and Senate.

President Trump signed the new Forever GI Bill on Wednesday, August 16 2017 that brings about many changes to education benefits for service members, veterans and their families.

Known as both the “Forever GI Bill” and more formally as the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, the changes have, at the time of this writing, now must to be signed into law, and not vetoed, by the President before they can take effect.

Nevada Senator Dean Heller posted an announcement about the passage of the bill on his official site, stating, “The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act makes much-needed updates for reservists, Purple Heart recipients, and veterans who face school closures while enrolled and surviving family members.”

Senator Heller had a hand in some of the provisions now awaiting the President’s signature. Among those “Heller Provisions”:

● S. 1362, Heller’s Guard and Reservists Education Improvement Act: which “adjusts the G.I.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Bolser.
USMC photo by Lance Cpl. Aaron Bolser.

bill tier structure to increase the benefit payable percentage for Guardsmen and Reservists who served less than 12 months. In many cases, time spent on initial training does not count toward active-duty time”

● S.1277, VET TEC Act of 2017: This provision requires the Department of Veterans Affairs “to conduct a pilot program allowing veterans to access non-traditional technology education programs, including in the areas of computer programming, computer software, media application, and information sciences”.

● S. 1489, Veterans Education Relief and Reinstatement Act (VERRA) of 2017: This provision expands the VA’s authority “to restore the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits of veterans who are affected by the permanent closure of ITT Tech or other institutions. Currently, VA cannot fully restore a veterans’ benefits if a school they attend permanently closes”.

The school closure issue is an important one that has gained additional traction in recent times due to school closings such as ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian College. Under current rules, the VA cannot restore benefits to those who attend a participating institution that closes before the student can finish a degree. The “Forever” GI Bill would give the VA authority to give back some GI Bill benefits in such circumstances. The extent of that authority and the specifics aren’t officially available from the VA at the time of this writing.

Some 18 bills were combined or consolidated into the Forever GI Bill now waiting to be signed into law. Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, one of the legislators responsible for introducing this ambitious GI Bill expansion in the Senate, went on record saying, “The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill was one of the most significant achievements Congress passed in a generation. It has helped Servicemembers, Veterans and their family members attend college and get an education that helps them get good-paying jobs. I myself received a degree through the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill…”

Until the President signs the bill into law, current GI Bill rules and regulations will apply, but a number of the changes described here are anticipated to become effective starting in 2018, assuming the bill gets signed into law.

About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News

What Is REAP And Does It Still Matter?

The Reserve Educational Assistance Program or REAP was a Department of Defense program designed to help members of “Reserve components called or ordered to active duty in response to a war or national emergency declared by the president or Congress” according to the VA official site. As we’ll discuss below, REAP was ended by an act of Congress, but some may still be able to use the benefit until the program finally expires for good in 2019.

U.S. Air National Guard photo illustration by Senior Airman Anthony Agosti
U.S. Air National Guard photo illustration by Senior Airman Anthony Agosti.

Members of both the National Guard and the Reserves may have been eligible for REAP depending on date of enlistment and other factors. According to a DoD REAP pamphlet, eligibility for REAP benefits depended on the following criteria:

  • Served on active duty on or after September 11, 2001, “in support of a contingency operation for 90 consecutive days or more”;
  • Performed full-time National Guard duty under section 502 (f) of title 32 “for 90 consecutive days or more when authorized by the President or Secretary of Defense for the purpose of responding to a national emergency declared by the President and supported by Federal funds.”
  • Called or ordered to active service “while serving in the Selected Reserve remains entitled to benefits under REAP only by continuing to serve in the Selected Reserve. A member called or ordered to active service from the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) remains entitled to benefits under REAP by continuing to serve in the Ready Reserve (either Selected Reserve or IRR).”

The End Of REAP

The Reserve Educational Assistance Program was ended by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016, but there are Reservists who may still be affected by REAP until 2019.

According to the VA, the Post-9/11 GI Bill® replaces many of the old REAP benefits. However, there are many in uniform who should know what the DoD has allowed in the final days of this program, and what the deadlines are for using REAP benefits where applicable.

Information For Current REAP beneficiaries

Veterans who were attending classes on November 24, 2015, or during the last semester, quarter, or term ending prior to that date, “are eligible to continue to receive REAP benefits until November 25, 2019” according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Information For REAP beneficiaries Not Attending Classes

If you applied for REAP but were not attending school on November 24, 2015, (or during the last semester, quarter, or term ending prior to that date) you are no longer eligible to receive REAP benefits, according to Borrowers who are affected by this change should explore their eligibility options under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Information For New REAP Applicants

As with REAP beneficiaries who were not attending classes on the November 24, 2915 cutoff date, potential new applicants have no access to REAP benefits. According to the VA official site, “…in most cases, you will be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill…” if you fall into this category.

Eligibility for the Post 9/11 GI Bill depends on the dates of your service. Review your GI Bill options with a VA representative or call the VA GI Bill hotline at 1-888-GIBILL to discuss your options.

About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News

How To Find The Best Online College Programs For Veterans

What are the best online college programs for veterans? That may be a question too broad to answer on an individual basis, but there ways to narrow down your choices considerably. The most important thing to do before searching for an online school is to answer a few questions.

USAF photo by Senior Airman James Hensley.

What Kind Of Learning Works Best For Me?

Some types of online learning may involve nothing more elaborate than a set of videos, required reading, periodic check-ins with the instructor via email or chat, and the usual round of exams and/or papers. But other types of online instruction can simulate the classroom in every way except the physical location.

Some students need immediate help or feedback from the instructor to understand topics or procedures not fully understood during the course of online learning, so the “almost a classroom” model can be the most beneficial. Others may find self-paced and self-directed research and problem solving more rewarding, and these learners will get more out of a less hands-on approach to the virtual classroom.

Learning How To Learn Online

Deciding what works for you ahead of time is best. Some schools have online questionnaires that can help you get a head start on deciding if online learning is right for you. Minnesota State University offers one such screening quiz. Take the Minnesota State University Distance Learning Screening Quiz

Another quiz is available from the University of Colorado at Denver

The University of Missouri also has a basic quiz called: Is online learning right for you?

These are all preliminary assessments of the habits, attitudes, and work ethic you have which may or may not be right for a distance learning situation. But for some, taking a quiz like the ones listed here isn’t enough to be truly convincing. If you aren’t quite sure, consider trying on different kinds of online learning via community college or public university online classes.

Some colleges offer summer classes that are nearly 100% online, requiring only an in-person “check-in” occasionally during the course. Others may require no campus visits at all. Trying out a single online class is a fairly risk-free way to find out what’s best for you. Some community colleges act as feeder schools for public universities or other types of colleges-you may be able to take a course that will directly benefit your higher education goals with a bit of extra planning.

Finding the right online program isn’t as simple as picking the school that has the right kinds of classes for your needs. In your research into online learning you will find short-term intensive bootcamps all the way up to Master’s degree programs and more. How far you want to go depends on your goals and your ability to fund your education. School selection is just as important for online learning as it is for in-residence education.

Choosing A School

Photo by Lance Cpl. Donovan Lee.

These days, selecting an online program can be as challenging as finding a suitable public or private university. Which type of college is right for you? A public university which accepts the GI Bill® and may also accept applicable state-funded veteran education benefits? There are Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits for online students. A for-profit college with an accelerated program that puts you into the workforce more quickly than a four-year degree? How about a non-degree program that gives you certification in specific skill sets? Narrowing down what you expect out of your school will go a long way toward helping you decide on the right institution for you.

Bootcamp-style learning programs now available (and sometimes funded by GI Bill benefits) may be a good choice if you are a highly motivated self-starter who understands that networking and personal investment are key components of fitting into a new, demanding, and highly competitive technical field.

But are these available online? Over the course of time the answer may turn out to be “yes” but at the time of this writing, for certain career fields such as coding, app development, and related skills, you may be hard pressed to find exactly what you are looking for without some in-residence requirement.

Online certificate programs NOT billed as “bootcamp” learning may still require the same kinds of motivated involvement. It’s easier to relax into some kinds of highly skilled learning over the long term because a nursing program, for example, requires a specific amount of hours and a commitment that is generally longer than three to nine months. If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of a learning environment that challenges you to get up to speed very quickly, you may need to consider a different type of online learning or try attending some traditional classes in person before committing to a full degree or certificate.

Talk To A Live Human

You may find that speaking to an admissions rep at several schools could help you a great deal. How does the school handle “absences” from online learning? What happens if you have technical difficulties that prevent you from completing an exam or project? Admissions representatives can help you determine which schools might be the friendliest in these areas in addition to the usual course requirement and sign-up details.

Try contacting the school’s office of Student Affairs and ask to speak with the veterans’ representative if one is available, or talk to an admissions counselor or representative.

You should also consider looking on Facebook or other social media for groups and communities that are created specifically for the graduates of the school of your choice, in the program of your choice. You may be quite surprised at what you learn from talking to current and former students online in these communities.

You’ll hear the good, the bad, and everything in between; remember to keep all comments good and bad in perspective. If you hear consistent praises or complaints about a program, chances are good there is at least some grain of truth to them, but there’s no real substitute for your own experiences.

About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News

Are Coding Bootcamps Worth It?

Coding bootcamps are focused, intensive training programs that offer hands-on classes in a variety of areas from programming languages to app development, and a great deal in between.

Coding bootcamps can be a very attractive option for veterans and military retirees looking to change careers and move into the tech sector; coding bootcamps also appeal to those still serving looking to transition into a civilian career.

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Kelvin Green

Are Coding Bootcamps Worth It?

Expectation management is an important part of attending any short-term, non-degree higher education institution. Will you become a coding expert in three months? No. Will you learn what you need to know to get an entry-level job in the coding career field of your choice? It’s entirely possible.

But when you read the literature from the coding schools and research coding bootcamps online, you’ll find the consensus is that the student gets as much out of the program as the student puts in; networking, continuing education outside the classroom, and being an aggressive learner of the material all have a lot to do with the success or failure of students who take these classes.

Finding the right program AND one that accepts your GI Bill® benefits could be tricky depending on your expectations. There ARE coding schools that accept GI Bill benefits at the time of this writing; however finding one with an online program instead of an “in-residence” or “residency required” program may be very difficult.

New schools may appear that offer online learning, and established schools may consider it, but you may find that the majority, if not all the coding schools accepting GI Bill benefits at the time of this writing require classroom attendance.

General GI Bill Benefits For Coding Bootcamps

How much will your GI Bill cover for an accepted coding school or bootcamp? Fortunately you don’t have to wonder, because the Department of Veterans Affairs offers a helpful Benefits Comparison Tool that allows you to look up these schools and see estimates of how much money is available for your tuition, housing, and books.

We looked up the GI Bill information for a coding school called Skill Distillery in Colorado. According to the search tool, at the time of this writing, applicants eligible for GI Bill benefits may be eligible for the following estimated compensation:

  • Tuition (annually): $21,970
  • Housing (monthly): $2,028
  • Books (annually): $1,000

These numbers are estimates only, subject to change or revision. Housing stipends are based on the zip code of the school, not the applicant. Tuition reimbursement by the VA may be supplemented by school programs, but it’s also important to check your state/local resources to see if any veteran education programs apply to your attendance at a coding boot camp.

Some programs, such as the Illinois Veterans’ Grant (IVG), will pay the tuition for any qualified veteran who listed Illinois as the home of record upon entering the military service. The “catch” for the IVG is that it will only pay tuition for public universities. However, your home state may have other options available.

Continue Reading: Will the VA pay for coding bootcamps?

About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News

Will The VA Pay For Coding Schools?

Will the Post 9/11 GI Bill® cover the costs of coding “bootcamps” or related non-degree seeking programs that involve learning how to code? This is a big question for those looking for a career change, including those who are currently serving but trying to plan their post-military education.

Before we can answer the question of how and/or when VA benefits might be used for such programs, let’s examine the kind of schools we’re discussing.

Photo by Airman 1st Class Kate Thornton.

What Is A Coding Bootcamp?

According to a 2015 article at Crain’s Chicago Business, nearly 250 intensive, short-duration coding schools or boot camps appeared over a five-year period, and certainly more have come along since that time. A coding boot camp promises intensive, hands-on instruction in learning how to write code.

These programs range from ten weeks to nine months, and carry price tags (reported by Crain’s) ranging from $2,000 to $36,000. Not all programs are alike since some may specialize in specific types of coding such as Ruby On Rails and/or Javascript. Some may focus on app development while others may be more comprehensive. It all depends on where you apply.

Some bootcamps may have professional relationships with tech companies, and push their students to take advantage of those connections. Others may operate completely independently of the workplace, leaving it up to the graduates to network and make connections on their own.

Will The VA Pay For Coding Bootcamps?

There’s no blanket answer for this question because it’s up to the coding school to meet the criteria required in order to be a VA-approved institution. Some coding bootcamps may be offered through established state or private universities, others may be start-up “for profit” institutions. Some coding schools may have certain programs that are eligible, but not others.

Fortunately, there’s a way to save time in your search for the right bootcamp – simply look up the coding school you’re interested in at the following link provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs Official Website. This link takes you to a map of the USA; click the state where your school is located and see if your coding bootcamp is on the official list of VA-approved institutions. We also maintain a growing list of GI Bill Eligible Coding Bootcamps.

What if you can’t find the school you want on the VA approved list? Don’t give up on the school too soon-a phone call or email to that institution might reveal that the school is working with the VA to meet the requirements and the list simply hasn’t been updated yet.

Also, the school you want may feature scholarships for veterans or other eligible GI Bill users-is it possible you may be able to attend the coding school at a reduced rate AND not dip into your VA benefits yet? Something to consider.

Continue Reading: Are coding bootcamps worth it?

About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News