This month, the Department of Veterans Affairs made a major change to education benefits, expanding opportunities for some veterans by allowing them to apply their benefits toward multiple degrees.
"Effective April 1, 2021 VA will not count veteran entitlement used in the Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program against the 48-month rule for education programs like the post-9/11 GI Bill," a VA spokesperson said in a statement.
VR&E, sometimes referred to as Chapter 31, allows veterans with a service-connected disability and at least a 10% rating to access various resources to find employment.
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The benefit, previously known as Vocational Rehabilitation, includes a range of tools for veterans, including VA-funded job training. Employers hiring a veteran who used the benefit are also eligible to receive a federal tax credit or be reimbursed for up to half of the veteran's salary, according to VA.
Until last week, VR&E could not be used in conjunction with the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which covers four years of college for veterans. Veterans who used the full 48 months of benefits included with VR&E would be ineligible for the GI Bill. The switch in policy could be the most significant change to education benefits since the "Forever GI Bill," which erased the benefit's expiration date, was signed into law in 2017.
"My understanding is that students who have not previously used an education benefit, like the Montgomery or Post 9/11 GI Bill, will be able to use Chapter 31 'VR&E' without it affecting their eligibility under other chapters of the GI Bill," Patrick Forystek, who oversees student veterans at Michigan State University, told Military.com.
However, to maximize education benefits, a veteran would need to use VR&E first, because while the change means VR&E does not count against total GI Bill benefits, that is not true the other way around. Use of the GI Bill still will count against VR&E.
"The use of GI Bill education benefits will continue to count against the 48-month limit on VR&E benefits," a memo that the department sent to veteran students Wednesday said. "VA has started to process impacted claims and enrollments with this update."
The new rule could open up opportunities for veterans who were trained in a job they are no longer able to perform and need to go back to school to start a new career.
"This decision by VA is excellent news as it will allow student veterans who, due to a service-related disability, are not able to work in the field they originally received training for the opportunity to gain the knowledge and training necessary to find employment that is conducive to their current circumstances," said Tanya Ang, vice president of the advocacy group Veterans Education Success.
It is unclear what prompted VA to make what could be an expensive change in education policy. Now that VR&E doesn't count against other GI Bill benefits, a veteran hypothetically could earn a CDL license, accounting certificate or traditional college degree, and then go back to school with the Post-9/11 GI Bill to earn another degree. Since 2009, 773,000 beneficiaries have used the Post-9/11 GI Bill, amounting to more than $20 billion in benefits, according to VA.
An FAQ VA sent out to students on the changes to benefits can be found here.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.
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