Serve in the U.S. military, get a college degree afterward. That’s long been the promise of the government and recent changes to make this benefit last a lifetime will continue under the Forever GI Bill.
The bill now provides more money for qualifying veterans that study STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects.
The Forever GI Bill expanded the reach of the 1944 GI Bill (which was also expanded in 2001 as the Post 9/11 GI Bill), and provided access to free college tuition for most veterans and their families and extends the time they have to take advantage of the opportunity.
Where previously, veterans had 15 years after discharge or release to use the benefits of the GI Bill, those benefits now extend for the remainder of the veteran’s life.
President Donald Trump introduced and championed the extension of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, now known as the Forever GI Bill in 2017, and now President Joe Biden has continued that support.
What the Forever GI Bill Does
The Forever GI Bill extends the period in which veterans can access the educational program beyond the original 15-year time frame. It is available to any veterans who have been in active duty for 90 consecutive days, and now has no deadline to access the program.
The new law applies to any veterans who left the service after Jan. 1, 2013, and extended to the family of service members as well. Veterans who left the service prior to Jan. 1, 2013, have educational programs available to them under the post 9/11 GI Bill.
To further the benefits of the new bill, it grants veterans who are studying certain STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) majors funds to attend an extra year of school, although the funds for that extension are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The government has set aside $100 million for STEM scholarship benefits and qualifying veterans can earn up to $30,000 in addition to basic funding.
What Can Veterans Get From the GI Bill?
While the “forever’’ part of the bill extends the coverage for, well, ever, the original bill services still stand.
Signed initially in 1944, the bill was designed to provide educational benefits to qualified service members and their spouses. It covers tuition and fees, housing to attend college, and funds for books and supplies.
But the new bill extends benefits beyond just the time period they can be accessed. The new bill includes monthly housing costs based on where the service member takes most of their classes, rather than the location of the school. If the service member is taking classes remotely from home, the housing stipend covers their home housing costs.
The new bill also extends its Yellow Ribbon Program coverage to active duty members after Aug. 1, 2022. The Yellow Ribbon Program includes out-of-state tuition, private school or graduate school tuition that was not included in the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
Purple Heart recipients can also get full benefits under the new bill, regardless of the amount of time served. Previously, Purple Heart recipients had to serve at least 36 months to get 100 percent benefit under the Post 9/11 bill.
The new bill also expands benefits to National Guard and Reservists, as well as to family members and dependents.
A Three-Year Wait to Enact the Bill
This may be painful to hear and hard to understand, but the bill was held up due to technological difficulties. (Maybe the feds will be hiring some of the veteran STEM grads.) A Congressional hearing in October 2018 revealed that the Veterans Administration could not enact the details of the bill because it strained the existing computer system and required installation of an entirely new program with new software.
“These IT changes improve our ability to deliver education benefits to GI Bill students,’’ VA Secretary Robert Wilkie reported. “As VA works to modernize processes, this milestone is an important step in our digital transformation journey.”
The VA spent $243 million of its $19.6 billion in coronavirus relief funding to pay for the IT upgrade.
How to Claim GI Bill Benefits
To check on your eligibility for GI Bill benefits, visit the Department of Veterans Affairs website.
You can apply for educational benefits online or in person at your local Veterans Affairs office.
Kent McDill is a veteran journalist who has specialized in personal finance topics since 2013. He is a contributor to Codetic.