By Staff Sgt. Nestor Cruz
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Changes were made to the Post-9/11 GI Bill recently and more are expected in the coming months, enabling more Airmen and family members to gain an education and brighter future.
Senate Bill 3447, the “Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2010,” was signed into law recently, bringing many changes that expand benefits to members along with a few that limit benefits.
Positive changes include full tuition and fees paid for graduate schools that charge the beneficiary in-state tuition rates, expansion of the bill to include active service by Guardsmen, reimbursement for more than one license or certification test, and partial housing allowance for those seeking distance education.
“The biggest benefit that members are taking advantage of would be the transferability to spouses and children (this must be done while they are active duty),” said Mary Ann Robinson, a 19th Force Support Squadron education advisor.
One Team Little Rock member in particular has already taken advantage of this and passed his GI Bill benefits to his son.
Master Sgt. Rick Pinedo, 19th Force Support Squadron career assistance advisor, passed his GI Bill benefits to his son who is currently a sophomore at Arkansas State University in Beebe.
“After [my son’s] first semester, he needed some additional financial aid … so I submitted all the paperwork that was required,” said Sergeant Pinedo. “I was notified in November everything was approved and the school was getting paid directly by [the Department of Veterans Affairs] through the GI Bill. It worked out very well.”
Sergeant Pinedo said he is glad for the opportunity to help his son gain an education, something very close to his heart.
“We all want to provide for our children, especially in the education realm, and I place great value on education,” he said. “I want to push this on to my children and this benefit allows me to do that.”
Another change to the GI Bill is partial housing allowance.
“Currently, separated or retired members going to online schools are not eligible to receive the housing allowance,” said Mrs. Robinson. “With the upcoming changes, members choosing schools completely online will be eligible for a portion of the housing allowance. This is a great improvement that will encourage more members to attain their education even if they are unable to attend a traditional brick and mortar school.”
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs GI Bill web site, the Post-9/11 GI Bill currently “pays up to the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition and fees.” Starting Aug. 1, 2011, the GI Bill will pay all public school in-state tuition including fees or up to $17,500 for an academic year at a private school or public schools that charge out-of-state tuition and fees.
The V.A. website also mentions that tuition and fees may exceed these amounts if a student elects to attend a private school or attend a public school as a nonresident student. Some schools of higher learning or degree granting institutions may elect to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program to make additional funds available for an education program without additional charges to one’s entitlement.
Through the Yellow Ribbon Agreement, the school chooses the amount of tuition and fees to be contributed. Veterans Affairs will issue payment to the school matching that amount. In many cases, this means beneficiaries can attend certain very expensive private schools at no cost to them.
A list of schools participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program for the 2011-2012 academic year will be available on the VA web site in June.
Other Post-9/11 GI Bill changes include the reimbursement of fees paid for national exams such as the Graduate Management Admission Test and the option for students eligible for both Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (chapter 31) benefits and Post-9/11 GI Bill (chapter 33) benefits to choose chapter 33 monthly housing allowance instead of the chapter 31 allowance for subsistence. These changes take effect in August.
Post-9/11 GI Bill changes such as using the bill for non-college degree programs or correspondence training, and the housing allowance for students enrolled in distance learning, take effect in October.
“The most important thing students need to know is that they do not have to convert to the Post-9/11 GI Bill right away,” said Mrs. Robinson. “Although the program has made some great improvements, they should still utilize tuition assistance while they are active duty. Members receive the maximum amount of benefits as a veteran.”
For more information about the Post-9/11 GI Bill, visit www.gibill.va.gov/benefits/post_911_gibill.