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The New Forever GI Bill – What It Means For You

U.S. Capitol Reflecting Pool (Photo: Architect of the Capitol)

The GI Bill for will be undergoing major changes beginning next year, but for the most part only new servicemembers will see any of those changes.

The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, named for the American Legion member who wrote the initial World War II-era GI Bill is also known as the "Forever GI Bill" because one thing it does is remove the time limit veterans have to use their GI Bill in. Recent veterans and new military members will be able to use their GI Bill forever.

Let's look at the details of everything that the new GI Bill does.

Lifts 15-Year Time Limit To Use GI Bill

The legislation eliminates the current 15-year time limit on use of the  Post-9/11 GI Bill for those who were discharged on or after Jan. 1, 2013. This means that if you are a recent veteran you have forever to use up all your GI Bill benefit!

This removal of the 15 year time limit also applies to surviving dependents using the Fry Scholarship. Surviving spouses and children who first became eligible after Jan. 1, 2013 will have no time limit to use their Fry Scholarship benefits.

More Guard, Reserve Members Now Eligible

Reservists called to active duty under sections 12304(a) (when a governor requests federal assistance in responding to a major disaster or emergency), or 12304(b) (when the DoD mobilizes reservists in support of a combatant command) are now eligible. Previously, only reservists called to active duty by presidential order as a result of a national emergency were eligible. This applies to all reservists mobilized after Aug. 1, 2009, but reservists can receive payment only for classes that start after Aug. 1, 2018.

Reservists who were receiving REAP payments may now be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Currently, there are less than 4,000 people eligible for this benefit.

Expands Benefit to All Purple Heart Recipients

Anybody who receives a Purple Heart will get the full GI Bill amount no matter how long they served on active duty.

Makes Changes To Dependents' Benefits

Fry Scholarship All Fry Scholarship recipients are now eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program.

Dependents' Education Assistance (DEA) Dependents' Education Assistance (DEA) monthly payments will increase by about 50 percent, but the maximum number of months that a dependent can get DEA decreases from 45 to 36. This is effective Aug. 1, 2018.

Transferred Benefits Changes Some changes will be made to the rules about transferring the Post-9/11 GI Bill to make it easier to reallocate transferred benefits if the sponsor or dependent passes away.

Restores Benefits If College Closes

If you are attending a school that closes or loses accreditation and you don't get credit for the classes you took, your GI Bill that you used for those classes will be given back to you. This is effective for any school closings after January 1, 2015.

Some Minor Payment Differences

Reimbursement for Testing Fees Under the new law, you will normally be charged less GI Bill entitlement for taking standardized tests such as CLEP, GMAT, etc.

Benefit Tiers Currently, your GI Bill benefits are based on the amount of active-duty time you have. If you have less than 36 months active duty, you may get less than the full amount of GI Bill benefits. (See our benefit tiers page.)

The new law makes some minor changes to this - specifically people that serve at least 90 days but less than 6 months on active duty will see their benefits increase from 40 percent to 50 percent of the maximum amount payable, people who serve at least 6 months but less than 12 months will see their benefits increase from 50 percent to 60 percent of the maximum amount payable.

This should result in at least $2,000 more annually in tuition for most people in those benefit tiers.

STEM Classes

STEM Scholarship There is a big push these days to get veterans enrolled in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs. This new GI Bill creates the "Edith Nourse Rogers Scholarship."

This program will pay veterans up to $30,000 if they are enrolled in a STEM program, have used up all their GI Bill benefits, and have at least 60 semester/90 quarter hours credit toward a STEM degree. It also will pay those who already have a STEM degree and are working on a teaching certification. This is effective Aug. 1, 2018.

High Technology Pilot Program The new law also creates a High Technology Pilot Program that covers the full cost of high technology training not necessarily offered by a school. The details are sketchy, but the law says it is for people otherwise eligible under the GI Bill. Trainees will get the normal monthly housing allowance payments, and the VA has to monitor the companies giving the training to ensure the training results in gainful employment. This isn't scheduled to start until spring 2019.

Minor Housing Allowance Changes

Housing allowance will be based on the campus location where you attend classes, not necessarily the main campus.

Reservists who are mobilized in the middle of a month will have their GI Bill housing allowance prorated. The previous law would stop the GI Bill housing allowance for the entire month if you were called up for at least one day during any month of school attendance, and no matter what day of the month you were mobilized on.

New GI Bill Recipients Will Get A Smaller Housing Allowance

There was a little-noticed provision in the 2015 military budget that slows the rate of increase in  Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) so that active-duty BAH no longer pays the full amount of the housing cost.

As a result of that law, active-duty BAH is being reduced 1 percent every year from 2015 to 2019 so that by 2020 BAH will only cover 95 percent of a military member's housing cost. The VA's Monthly Housing Allowance, which is paid to GI Bill recipients, wasn't affected by the earlier legislation.

This new law changes that. Effective Jan. 1, 2018, the GI Bill housing allowance will also decrease. This will mean that anyone eligible for the GI Bill after January 2018 will get an average of $100 a month less housing allowance.

This affects only those who begin getting GI Bill benefits after Jan. 1, 2018. If you are currently getting GI Bill benefits, you will see no changes.

As you can see the proposed changes will impact not only veterans but their families as well. For a detailed explanation on how these changes would affect military and veteran's dependents check out Military.com's Spousebuzz website

What This Means For You

  1. If you are a veteran who was discharged before Jan. 1, 2013 you will see no changes, you still have 15 years to use your GI Bill and your housing allowance will remain unchanged.
  2. If you are a veteran who was discharged AFTER Jan. 1, 2013, you now have forever to use your GI Bill benefits. Your housing allowance will also remain at the higher rate.
  3. If you are on active duty, have never used your GI Bill and will be discharged on or after Jan. 1, 2018, you have forever to use your GI Bill, BUT your housing allowance will be at the lower rate (approximately $100 less per month), UNLESS you start using your GI Bill before the end of the year.

So, if you are currently on active duty OR have been discharged after Jan. 1, 2013 AND you haven't used your GI Bill yet, USE IT! You are in the small group of people who get the best of both worlds! You will no longer have a time limit to use your GI Bill, and you will get at least $1,000 more a year than if you wait until after Jan. 1, 2018 to begin using your GI Bill.

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