The Anderson family is putting two sons through college, largely on Uncle Sam’s dime. Both sons are using the Post 9/11 GI Bill to pay the bill. Despite a time-consuming application process, the family said the benefit is worth the wait. Army Maj. Mark Anderson of Olympia, Wash., transferred his education benefits to his son, Connor, currently a college freshman in San Antonio. Anderson’s wife, Tracey, said the process was lengthy. “We got approved well in advance before he got accepted to college,” Tracey said. “So for us, we weren’t scrambling at the last minute. As of Aug. 1, 2009, active-duty service members or members of the selected reserve may be entitled to transfer all or a portion of their educational entitlement to one or more family members. To be eligible, service members must have served in the armed forces for at least six years and agree to serve four additional years from the date of election to transfer. The key is to plan. “The best advice I can give people is to apply early and get the application process going,” Tracey said. Military spouses or children of active-duty military members may find the Post 9/11 GI Bill the best way to fund their educations.
Recent changes to the bill also offer new benefits. On Jan. 4, President Obama signed legislation that streamlines the program. These changes, most of which will go into effect Aug. 1, were designed to make the benefits available to more veterans and service members. The changes include paying all public school, in-state tuition and fees, capping private and foreign school costs at $17,500 annually, and providing a housing allowance to students enrolled solely in distance learning programs. Students using the Post 9/11 GI Bill will also be reimbursed for more than one license or certification test. The bill will also pay for admission exams, such as the SAT, ACT, GMAT or LSAT, and give students an annual $1,000 book and supplies stipend.
Before a family member can use a service member’s benefits, the family member must first apply for a certificate of eligibility from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Once the transfer request is approved, the request data is sent to VA. Officials have also tried to speed up the application process. The VA recently rolled out a new automation system capable of completing each step in the enrollment process. This includes the determination of eligibility, confirmation of enrollment, capability to amend awards and payment processing. Experts say the quicker system should help ease long waits family members have experienced because of the popularity of the program. Mike Walcoff, acting undersecretary for VA Benefits, said since the Post 9/11 GI Bill was introduced, it has been extremely popular. “Since the fall of 2009, we have issued $8.1 billion to 440,000 individuals,” he said. As thousands of applicants submitted their paperwork, the system became backlogged. Walcoff said additional employees and the new computer system helped alleviate the buildup. “At first, claims were processed in 59 days, and that was way too long,” Walcoff said. “Now, we are down to processing in 25 days.” Anderson’s older son, an active-duty soldier, is currently processing his own Post 9/11 GI Bill to use for college. “This is such a great program, and we feel really lucky to have two family members that are able to take advantage of it,” Tracey said.
To get the application process started, go to www.gibill.va.gov. To transfer education benefits, visit https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/TEB/ and fill out a transfer request. To get the most current updates and changes to the GI Bill, you can register at www.va.gov, and the most up-to-date changes will be e-mailed directly to you.