How Does the Forever GI Bill® Work?

The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, also known as the Forever GI Bill®, was signed into law in August 2017. The new bill got its name from one of its most notable updates, the elimination of a 15-year limitation for military veterans to use their education benefits.
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In this article, we’ll briefly discuss the changes brought about by the Forever GI Bill, as well as six common myths about using your GI Bill benefits.

What’s New About the Forever GI Bill

In order to qualify for education benefits under the new Forever GI Bill, service members must have been last discharged or released from active duty on or after Jan. 1, 2013. For veterans who were discharged before that date, they will continue to qualify for benefits within the 15-year time limit under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

The Forever GI Bill also expanded benefits for reservists, dependents and Purple Heart recipients. For additional information about what’s new about the bill, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a breakdown of the changes and an overview fact sheet.

Common Misconceptions About GI Bill Benefits

There are still many misconceptions and misunderstandings about how the GI Bill works, how it helps reduce the cost of college, and who can use the funds. To help clear up some of the confusion, here is the truth about six of the most common myths.

Myth No. 1: Using GI Bill Funds Means You Don’t Qualify for Other Types of Financial Aid

Although the GI Bill can potentially cover the cost of a significant portion of your college expenses, it won’t always cover all of them. And, just because you qualify for tuition help via the GI Bill, that doesn’t mean it’s your only option.

Even if you have GI Bill money available, you can still apply for and use other types of financial aid, including loans, grants and scholarships. You may also be able to use other types of military aid, such as tuition assistance, depending on your status and the type of GI Bill you are using. Do not hesitate to apply for all possible forms of aid that you qualify for, because you may be able to cover more – or all – of your schooling costs.

Myth No. 2: Benefits Automatically Begin When You Enroll in School

Many students are surprised to learn that simply enrolling in school doesn’t automatically trigger the disbursement of benefits. To access your GI Bill funds, you need to complete an application process.

The application process begins by meeting with your academic advisor to select a program of study. You must then work with your school’s VA certifying official to submit the application for GI Bill money to the VA. Working with your school’s VA officer to complete this process not only ensures that your paperwork is correct, but that the school knows you’re planning on GI Bill money and has certified your enrollment. Without that certification, there will be delays in payment.

Myth No. 3: You Cannot Use Benefits for Online Schools

GI Bill funds can be used for any approved program, whether it’s entirely online, entirely on the ground, or a hybrid. Keep in mind that opting for a 100% online degree will impact your basic housing allowance. Full-time, online students receive 50% of the national average basic housing allowance.

Myth No. 4: The GI Bill Will Cover Your Entire Degree

Depending where you go to school, what you decide to study, and other factors like the amount of credit you receive for your military experience, your GI Bill can potentially cover all of your college degree. However, in the majority of cases, the bill only pays for a portion of the total cost, and you’re responsible for finding funds for the rest. At its core, the GI Bill covers up to 36 months of educational assistance, which can potentially equal a four-year degree with full-time attendance.

That being said, not everyone qualifies for 100% of the benefit. Eligibility largely depends on how long you served in active duty after Sept. 11, 2001. To receive the full 36 months of assistance, you will have had to serve for at least 36 consecutive months in the last 18 years. The amount you receive decreases as the number of months of service decrease, unless you’re disabled, in which case only 30 days of active duty are required for the full benefit.

Myth No. 5: Only the Military Service Member Can Use GI Bill Benefits

If you are still serving in the military, you may be able to transfer some or all of your unused benefits to your spouse or dependents. The request needs to be made while you are still on active duty, and you must have served at least six, but fewer than 16, years. If you’re requesting a transfer to a child, you need to have at least 10 years of service, and your child must be at least 18 years old and can only use the benefit until age 26.

Related: Military Spouses May Qualify for Educational Benefits

Myth No. 6: You Can Only Use the GI Bill After You’ve Been Discharged

The longer you serve in the military, the more benefits you’re eligible to receive, and you do not have to wait until you leave the service to use them. Provided that you meet the eligibility requirements and you are enrolled in an approved program, you can begin using the GI Bill while you are still on active duty. Doing so allows you to move forward and be better positioned for a career post-military.

Using Your GI Bill Benefits

For help making sense of your GI Bill benefits and getting the most of what you have earned, consider enrolling in a military-friendly school like Columbia Southern University. CSU's team of experts on staff can walk you through the process of enrolling for benefits and will guide you through a plan that helps you reach your goals.

To learn more about CSU’s academic programs and services for military members, visit ColumbiaSouthern.edu/Military.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.