If you are planning to use your GI Bill benefits for the first time, or are returning to the GI Bill process after a long absence, there are some important questions to ask of a state-run or for-profit college before you commit. The answers may make a big difference in how you approach paying for your education.
Does Your School or Program Accept The GI Bill?
Believe it or not, this is a common issue, especially in the world of for-profit colleges and non-traditional institutions. It may seem like a silly question to ask an established university, but many veterans and currently
serving military members aren’t necessarily interested in a traditional four-year college program. GI Bill funds are available for approved certificate, apprenticeship, and other specialized training programs not offered by four-year colleges.
Are you interested in becoming an Emergency Medical Technician? A firefighter? A commercial pilot? Many such on-the-job training programs or apprenticeships may be covered under the GI Bill. According to the VA official site, “Employers generally pay a reduced OJT/apprenticeship wage (must be at least 50% of journeyman wage). Unless the training establishment is operated by a Federal, State, or local government, periodic wage increases must be granted and by the last full month of training, the wage must be at least 85% of the wage for a fully trained employee.”
The official site adds that those training in an approved program can “use their GI Bill benefit and receive a tax-free stipend.” Be sure to ask the reps for any non-traditional or apprenticeship program if you can use the GI Bill.
Once you are accepted into an approved program, the school and the VA coordinate GI Bill payments. But sometimes there may be issues where the VA is late in delivering funds. Potential students using their GI Bill benefits should always ask directly about how late GI Bill payments might affect registration status, the ability to register for future classes, etc.
Some colleges will automatically flag a student’s account if there is a late payment of any kind, requiring some form of action from the student and/or the office of student affairs. You should discuss such potential issues with your advisor and/or the applicable student affairs representative to learn how to negotiate such student holds.
In many cases you may find the college is perfectly willing to work with you, understanding that payment is forthcoming, just as soon as the VA delivers funds. However, if VA payments are running late, it’s never safe to assume that you haven’t been automatically flagged with an “advising hold” or “financial hold” for next term’s registration or even graduation. Check your student account regularly to avoid delays or problems with your account.
What Other Veteran Education Benefits Are Available?
You may not know about programs your chosen college or institution has used in the past when qualifying veterans apply to attend. For example, the Illinois Veterans Grant (IVG) is a benefit available to qualifying veterans/currently serving members who lived in Illinois for a specified length of time prior to joining the service and list Illinois as the home of record.
The IVG can be used before the GI Bill, or when the GI Bill runs out and covers most of the student’s tuition. While there is no housing stipend, the IVG is a good example of a benefit that can be used as a way to save GI Bill benefits for later, or to supplement higher education once your GI Bill benefits are used up.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News