One of the key factors to pursing your educational goals is to decide how you will pay for your education. Military spouses have several opportunities to help offset the cost of school, including private scholarship programs, federal loans and grants, MyCAA, and transferability of the Post-9/11 GI bill.
When I decided to pursue a graduate degree, my active duty service member decided to transfer a portion of his Post-9/11 GI bill to me. As of August 1, 2009, service members who have served in the Armed Forces for six years and agree to serve an additional four years, are eligible to transfer their benefit to a spouse. My spouse was eligible to receive 100% of this benefit. In my situation, the benefit pays full tuition and fees directly to the public in-state school I attend. I also receive a yearly book stipend of up to $1,000, prorated based on the number of credits I take. I am not eligible to receive a monthly housing allowance because I’m using the benefit while my husband is on active duty and he currently receives a housing allowance for our family. (Private school tuition and fees are capped at a national maximum rate. For the 2012 – 2013 academic year the private school cap is $18,077.50.) But these are my circumstances – how can you make the Post-9/11 GI Bill work for you?
Transferring the Post-9/11 GI bill takes time. Be prepared to work with your spouse to complete quite a bit of paperwork. While your spouse is on active duty, he or she may apply to transfer their benefit to a spouse, child, or children. Your spouse must submit a Transfer Educational Benefit request for Service approval. This may take several weeks to process. Once approved, the family member using the transferred benefit must apply to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by using form 22-1990e found on the Veterans On-Line Application (VONAPP) website. The VONAPP website is a bit clunky to use. After you create a username and password, you’ll need several important pieces of information to complete this form including: your educational history, name, address, degree program for the school you’ve selected, and bank account information (for direct deposit for the book stipend and/or living allowance).
I waited (patiently) for about five weeks before I received a “certificate of eligibility.” At the same time my husband received a letter notifying him that the VA had received the Transfer of Entitlement (TOE) application and that by applying for TOE he revoked his eligibility for other GI bill programs, such as the Montgomery GI Bill.
I then submitted a copy of my certificate of eligibility to my school’s VA-certifying official. Next, I registered for classes and then the VA-certifying official certified my enrollment with the VA. Certifying enrollment was about a four week process. Your school will only receive funds after your enrollment (which really means registration) has been certified. You may have fees added to your account if you do not pay your tuition by the tuition due date. My school was familiar with the VA’s process and waived all extra fees on my account.
I did drop one class during the add-drop period. Even though I was within my school’s add-drop period, the VA had already sent my tuition to the school based on the classes I was registered to take. About six weeks after my semester started I received a letter from the VA stating they had overpaid my benefits and I was now responsible for the debt. I sent this letter to my school’s VA-certifying official and my school will send the funds back to the VA. If there is an over-payment you are responsible to repay this debt to the VA.
My tips for effective use of the Post-9/11 GI bill are:
- Apply for the benefit early – it takes several weeks to process.
- Bookmark the www.gibill.va.gov website. Contact information and the FAQ section are especially helpful.
- Get to know your school’s VA-certifying official (your school may have a designated VA office).
The ability to transfer the Post-9/11 GI bill has afforded me the opportunity to attend school. I plan to be a good steward of this benefit and am looking forward (in the distant future) to completing my Master’s degree!
Are you using the Post-9/11 GI bill? What advice would you give to military families on how best to use this benefit?