Monday, September 3, 2012

How Veterans Can Use Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits to Pay for IT Training and Certification


How Veterans Can Use Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits to Pay for IT Training and Certification

Veterans and transitioning military members interested in building a career in IT after their service in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars can use their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to pay for IT training and certification. Since October 2011, the benefits can be used to pay for IT training via non-college degree training programs, as well as graduate and undergraduate degree programs.
Here’s how to do it.
A veteran’s best source of information about the Post 9/11 GI Bill is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website http://www.gibill.va.gov. Unless noted, the information that follows is from the GI Bill website.
Veterans, service members and their families use the VA’s eBenefits website, to research, find, apply for, and, in time, manage Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits, along with other VA benefits.

Post 9/11 GI Bill Basics

The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides financial support for education, books, and housing to individuals with at least 90 days of aggregate service after September 10, 2001, or individuals discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days. You must have received an honorable discharge to be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
“Veterans come to us knowing they want to take some IT training, but they don’t always know that they have available benefits”
The Post-9/11 GI Bill can help a veteran pay for a variety of training programs:
  • Graduate and undergraduate degrees
  • Vocational/technical training from non-college degree programs
  • On-the-job training
  • Flight training
  • Correspondence training
  • Licensing and national testing programs
  • Entrepreneurship training
  • Tutorial assistance
All training programs must be approved for GI Bill benefits. You can search the VA’s database of approved education and job training programs here. CompTIA certifications can be found in the VA’s database of approved licenses and certifications when searched for by name (i.e., “A+,” “Network+” or “Security+.”)

How much can a veteran receive under the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits?

The Post-9/11 GI Bill disburses your tuition and fees directly to your school and makes housing and other payments directly to you. The direct payment of tuition is a boon for veterans, because the original Montgomery GI Bill only reimbursed veterans for their education expenses.
Post -9/11 GI Bill benefits can be used pay for:
  • Tuition and fees. As of August 1, 2012, the benefit is capped at $18,077.50 per academic year at non-degree programs or private institutes of higher learning. If you are a resident student at a public institution of higher learning, all in-state tuition and fee payments are reimbursed.
  • Housing during the training, via a monthly allowance that varies by local cost of living rates
  • Books and supplies, up to $1,000 annually if attending school full-time
The Post-9/11 GI Bill can provide up to 36 months of education benefits. Generally benefits are payable for 15 years following your release from active duty.
Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits are calculated as a percentage based on:
  • Length of active duty service
  • Education enrollment status (full-time or less)
  • ZIP code of the education program you attend (for housing allowance)
“If a veteran has served 36 months active duty after 9/11, they get 100 percent,” explains Latoya Mack, academic advisor for military programs at Tidewater Community College‘s Center for Military and Veterans Education on TCC’s Virginia Beach, Va., campus.
With more than 5,500 veterans and roughly 2,000 active duty service members enrolled, TCC in 2010 and 2011 ranked number one among community colleges for the number of veterans enrolled using the Post-9/11 GI Bill and in the top five among all higher education institutions. TCC’s new Center for Military and Veterans Education provides one-stop support service — including counseling, academic and benefits advising, and workforce development — to veterans, military service members and their spouses and families.

How to Apply for Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits

The VA provides a “Road Map for Success” that outlines steps for deciding what veterans’ benefits are best for your educational goals and financial needs.

STEP 1: Determine your best benefit

Many veterans and active duty personnel can qualify for more than one education benefits program, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty, the Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserve, and the Reserve Educational Assistance Program. However, an individual may not use a single period of service to establish eligibility for more than one education program. So a veteran who had only one period of service must chose which benefit is best for his or her goals and needs.
“Once you chose to use your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, you have to give up your Montgomery GI Bill benefits,” explains TCC’s Mack. Because veterans frequently can’t afford to pay tuition out of pocket, they often opt to use the Post 9/11 benefits, she added.
You have to compare the type of training you plan to take, where you plan to take courses (online or on-campus), and the rate you plan to study (full-time, greater than half-time, half-time or less) with the provisions of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
At TCC’s Center for Veterans and Military Education, Executive Director Bruce Brunson says his advisors work with veterans to identify whether they want to advance their education with a non-degree program, an associates degree or, to get into the workforce rapidly, a career certificate.
IT is among the top 10 degree programs that veterans select at TCC, say Brunson. “When veterans come in, they frequently know they want to enter into the IT field, but they don’t understand the different areas.”
A comparison of VA education benefit programs can be found here.

STEP 2: Collect Your Paperwork & Information

The information needed to apply for Post-9/11 benefits includes:
  • Dates and service status for each period of military service
  • Whether you have participated in the $600 buy-up program
The documents needed for your application for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits include:
  • DD214 Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty for all periods of active duty
  • Transcripts for all periods of education after high school
  • Kicker contract (if applicable)

STEP 3: Choosing A School or Program

You will need to gather information about tuition rates, tuition per-credit hour charges, any mandatory fees, and the school’s ZIP code (which determines the monthly housing allowance given under the Post-9/11 GI Bill), and living expenses (housing, food, transportation, parking etc.) for each school you plan to attend. This information is important because:
  1. You must choose a school that’s been approved for GI Bill benefits in order for your education expenses to be reimbursed by the VA.
  2. You must know your financial obligations at each school — what will be paid by Post-9/11 benefits and what expenses you must pay directly.
It’s important to calculate the cost of a school’s entire program and the maximum benefit the VA will pay in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. Will you have the degree, certification or experience you need to achieve your goals by the time you have exhausted your benefits? The VA offers many resources to help veterans choose a school and also offers a search engine to help veterans find approved schools and programs.
The VA encourages veterans to review multiple factors when choosing a school, including whether a school has agreed to adhere to the Principles of Excellence for educational institutions receiving federal funding. TCC and New Horizons both participate in the program. Among other things, the institutions in the Principles of Excellence program:
  • Provide students with a personalized form covering the total cost of an education program
  • Provide educational plans for all military and veteran education beneficiaries
  • Designate a point of contact for academic and financial advising

STEP 4: Compare the Programs

You should determine the best VA benefit program and school for your objectives. By now you should have enough information to decide whether you want to apply for the Post-9/11 GI Bill or another benefit program.
New Horizons’ Betzold encourages veterans to carefully estimate the education program’s cost and time versus its outcome. “Veterans have to be very choosy,” says Betzold. “They have a limited amount of benefits through the Post-9/11 GI Bill — roughly $18,000 a year for three years. If they pick the wrong school, that amount of money can be exhausted very rapidly, and they still might not have the degree or credential they were trying to pursue.”
Few colleges or community colleges will offer veterans the type of wrap-around support and advisory services provided at TCC’s Center for Veterans and Military Education, so TCC’s Mack, herself a Navy veteran, encourages all veterans to intensively research their benefit options and their school options. Do some online research and call each school to ask how they handle veterans’ benefits. “Each school will say something a little bit different, and you learn something new from each one,” Mack says.
“You must do that research,” says Mack. “You really have to know what you want to do, what benefits you want to use, and then formulate that all together.”

STEP 5: Apply for Benefits

You can apply for Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits online or via paper forms. Use the VONAPP Veterans Online Applications website to apply online. If you have trouble with the application process, you can call a VA Education Case Manager (1-888-GIBill1) to ask for help. If you prefer to use a paper application, use Form 22-1990 mailed to a VA Regional Processing Office.
At TCC, Mack says the VA usually responds to a veteran’s Post-9/11 GI Bill application within 60 days; paper forms take longer. TCC recently reworked its registrar system to permit a “class hold request” that would enable veterans to enroll and attend classes for up to 60 days while they wait for Post-9/11 benefits to be approved. TCC also will loan veterans money on a case-by-case basis for textbooks while waiting for their books and supplies stipend.
“Through the Post 9/11 Bill, veterans now have more of opportunity to get their training paid for, which is what they’ve earned,” says Betzold.

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