By Keith Hauk, special to ConnectingVets.com
Education is an empowering tool for separating service members, and access to higher education through the GI Bill is one of the great benefits of military service.
The GI Bill was first signed into law in June 1944 as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act to assist World War II veterans and, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, its adoption was so successful that by 1947 veterans made up nearly half of all college admissions.
University of Maryland University College (UMUC) was established that same year—specifically to meet the education needs of the U.S. military and this new wave of adult learners. And from its earliest beginnings in 1947, UMUC continually has sought new and better ways to help veterans, service members and other students achieve their higher education goals—and the professional and personal rewards that follow.
Military Times recently recognized that commitment by ranking UMUC No. 1 in its annual survey of the best online and non-traditional universities for military personnel and veterans.
As UMUC celebrates 70 years of providing higher education to the U.S. military, veterans, and their dependents around the world — and in my capacity as UMUC’s associate vice president for stateside veterans’ initiatives and military support — the university wants to ensure all service members are up-to-date on changes in the GI Bill that enhance educational access and opportunity.
The Bill’s latest version, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, more commonly known as the Forever GI Bill, was unanimously passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on Aug. 17, 2017. It marks the most comprehensive changes to the GI Bill since the Post-9/11 version, which provides veterans with 36 months of educational benefits covering tuition, fees, books and housing, was passed in 2008.
Forever GI Bill contains 34 new provisions, the majority of which enhance or expand education benefits for veterans, service members, families and survivors, and with its passage, the nation has secured the long-term viability of the Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits.
Among its most significant expansions, the new law:
* Abolishes the current 15-year time limit for new service members and those discharged after Jan. 1, 2013 to “use or lose” their hard-earned GI Bill education benefits. Instead, veterans retain these benefits for a lifetime—hence the nickname, Forever GI Bill.
* Gives additional GI Bill resources in the form of a scholarship to veterans using their benefits to pursue STEM-related degrees. The scholarship provision becomes effective Aug. 1, 2019, and pays for an addition nine months of GI Bill educational benefits, up to $30,000.
* Adjusts housing allowances by using calculations based on the location where students attend the majority of their classes instead of the school’s location. This provision takes effect on Aug. 1, 2018 for beneficiaries enrolling for the first time. This change means that student-veterans who choose to take online classes will be compensated for their true cost of living.
* Eliminates the mandatory loss of a full month of GI Bill educational benefits for veterans taking VA-approved licensing and certification tests. Effective Aug, 1, 2018, the VA will deduct from a veteran’s entitlement only the actual cost of the test.
* Provides 100-percent GI Bill eligibility to all Purple Heart recipients, since Sept. 11, 2001, effective Aug. 1, 2018. Because of this change, approximately 1,500 current Purple Heart recipients will become fully eligible for the GI Bill.
* Expands benefits for both reservists and surviving dependents. Prior to the Forever GI Bill, service members in the National Guard and Reserves served alongside their active-duty counterparts but did not receive the same benefits. Likewise, children who lost a parent in the line of duty could not take advantage of the GI Bill’s Yellow Ribbon program when using the Gunnery Sergeant John Fry scholarship.
Historians have credited the original GI Bill with changing the face of post-World War II America by helping to expand the middle class and by making it possible for hundreds of thousands of veterans and active-duty service members to attain a college education.
Today, the Forever GI Bill continues this tradition by making it possible for veterans and active-duty service members the higher education and training they need to secure their place in the technically-driven 21st century workforce.
As a veteran, you earned these benefits… so use them.
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