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Military resources: Education options & benefits for veterans

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

Help for our heroes

Transitioning from military service to the civilian world can prove challenging for veterans. Thankfully, educational programs and benefits exist to make the transition run as smoothly as possible.

Girl holding books

Veterans have many educational opportunities available to them. These programs exist to prepare veterans for the civilian workforce and to make the switch from military to civilian life smoother for vets and their families. We spoke with Ed Lizotte, a retired army lieutenant colonel and current director of military programs and veterans affairs at Post University, to pick his brain on the many educational benefits available to veterans.

The importance of a college education for veterans

Many veterans serve in the military prior to completing their college education, and these veterans gain valuable skills during their service. Lizotte cautions, though, that these veterans may not have made themselves marketable in the civilian workforce, even with their military experience. According to Lizotte, "Veterans should make education their next duty station. Going to college rounds out their military education and helps them move forward in the civilian world." Thankfully, programs exist to make the college "duty station" a realistic next step after military service.

Veterans Affairs (VA) educational programs

By far, the most helpful program available to veterans is the GI Bill. The GI Bill provides direct payment to veterans enrolled in college classes so they can pay for their education. There are several GI Bill benefit programs available based on the eligibility of the veteran as determined by the VA. Generally, GI Bill benefits are not calculated as part of the federal financial aid programs available to all students. So based on the particular GI Bill program the veteran is using, the veteran may have to make use of other federal education programs to pay for their education. Lizotte coached us on the several types of GI Bill programs available:

  • Montgomery GI Bill: This program is available to veterans who left active duty prior to 9/11. Veterans must use the benefit within 10 years of separation. The Montgomery GI Bill has an active duty and reserve program. Based on the date of enlistment of the service member and periods of active duty, the service member may be entitled to other GI Bill benefits.
  • Post 9/11 GI Bill: The bill provides educational financial assistance for eligible veterans in the form of direct payment of tuition and fees to their school, and direct payment to the veteran of a housing and book allowance. To be eligible, veterans must have entered the service after 9/11 and must have served at least 90 days, or at least 30 days if they sustained a service-connected disability.
  • Yellow Ribbon Program: The Yellow Ribbon Program is part of the Post 9/11 GI Bill. It is a program for eligible veterans that allows them to afford a private college or university education. To be eligible, the veteran must be 100 percent eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. As Lizotte says, "The Yellow Ribbon Program allows private colleges and universities to partner with the VA and to fund tuition and fee expenses that exceed the amount paid under the Post 9/11 GI Bill."

How to apply for the Post 9/11 GI Bill

Lizotte provided three simple suggestions for how veterans can start their college training through the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

  • Step #1: Use guides available through the VA to hone in on a school. Lizotte says, "The VA has posted a very useful guide, entitled 'Factors to consider when choosing a school: A guide before using the GI bill,' that will help a veteran or dependent get started."
  • Step #2: Reach out to their selected school certifying official and determine the documents they require during the enrollment process.
  • Step #3: Apply for VA benefits by completing a VONAPP (Veterans Online Application). This application will inform the veteran about the benefits they are eligible for and enroll the veteran into their benefit program.

Important considerations for veterans

Finally, Lizotte cautioned that not all schools or educational programs are created equally. He says, "Veterans should seek out schools that have a strong military program in place. Also, look for schools that recognize military training and experience for transferrable college credits." He further suggests speaking to an admissions counselor at each school of interest to ensure they have a support system in place for the veteran.

It's also important to note that the costs associated with schools vary, but the amount of educational benefits available through the Post 9/11 GI Bill will not exceed an annual cap of $19,198.13 for private or foreign schools. Therefore, if a veteran picks a program that costs more than their GI Bill benefit will pay, he or she will have to make plans to cover the difference.

For more detailed information on military education benefits, check out Lizotte's book, Military Education Benefits for College: A Comprehensive Guide for Military Members, Veterans, and Their Dependents.

Tell us, veterans

How did your college support you once you enrolled? Share with us in the comment section below.

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