The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, aka the “Forever GI Bill”, was signed into law by the President in 2017. The Forever GI Bill is not a new version of the GI Bill program, but rather makes important changes to the Post 9/11 GI Bill to make it more accessible to its beneficiaries including dependents and spouses.
What Is The GI Bill?
The GI Bill provides education benefits to currently serving military members with a minimum amount of qualifying service. Depending on the date you started military service you may qualify for:
- Montgomery GI Bill (active duty or Reserve component)
- Post 9/11 GI Bill (active or Reserve)
The Forever GI Bill is a modification of rules for existing programs, initiation of new programs, and elimination of other rules for the purpose of improving the overall quality of the GI Bill program.
The Forever GI Bill’s provisions eliminate the old 10 and 15-year time limit for using GI Bill benefits for those who enter active duty today. Those with qualifying periods of military service may be eligible for certain changes under the Forever GI Bill.
The GI Bill Origin Story
President Franklin Roosevelt signed the original GI Bill into law in 1944. The VA official site reminds that the first draft of the GI Bill was written by Harry W. Colmery, a former national commander of the American Legion. The original GI Bill, referred to as the GI Bill of Rights, included loans for businesses, farms, and education.
Over the years, the GI Bill has been modified and refined; today’s version including the alterations by the Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act (the Forever GI Bill) make it the most advanced version of this important military benefit / veteran’s benefit to date.
Using The Forever GI Bill
The first step toward using the Forever GI Bill is to use the VA official site to see if you are eligible. You can also get help from a school admissions counselor who understands how the VA program works–if you have never used your benefits before or you are using them again, a college admissions professional can help you get started.
The Forever GI Bill can be used at approved private educational institutions and state-sponsored schools alike. The Yellow Ribbon program is used to offset the cost between private school tuition and the amount the VA will pay for.
Not all schools participate in the Yellow Ribbon program, but those who do provide an important benefit for their veteran students.
If you need help understanding and using your Forever GI Bill benefits, one of the best things you can do is to take advantage of the VA Chapter 36 Education and Career Counseling option.
Also known as “Personalized Career Planning and Guidance” this is free educational and career guidance, and planning help for veterans and dependents eligible for VA education benefits. Who qualifies? One of the following must apply:
- The applicant will be discharged under conditions other than dishonorable from active duty within 6 months
- The applicant was separated from active duty under conditions other than dishonorable not more than one year ago
- The applicant qualifies as a veteran or service member for educational assistance under a VA educational program
- The applicant is a service member, Veteran, or dependent currently eligible for VA education benefits
Who Qualifies For The GI Bill
In general, today’s new recruits should know that according to VA.gov, “You may be eligible for benefits through the Post-9/11 GI Bill if you’ve served on active duty for at least 90 days, whether continuous (all at once) or interrupted (for shorter periods over time), after September 10, 2001.”
Your access to certain Forever GI Bill modifications may depend greatly on the dates and duration of your time in service. Some of the Forever GI Bill changes happen automatically and there is no action required of the applicant, while other changes affect specific programs in specific ways.
The qualifying minimum military service needed to qualify for the GI Bill (any version) for those who served prior to that date depends on when they served. Certain features of the Forever GI Bill are not open to all applicants and the dates of your military service will determine whether you have access to the Montgomery GI Bill, the Post 9/11 GI Bill, or the Forever GI Bill.
Not all Forever GI Bill benefits have the same eligibility dates or other criteria. A good example?
In general, those who retired or separated from military service prior to January 1, 2013 will have access to Post 9/11 GI Bill educational benefits which expire 15 years from their date of discharge.
Those with discharge dates on or after January 1, 2013 will have access to the Forever GI Bill expiration regulations which dictate that there is no expiration date for GI Bill benefits.
Compare that to the rules for Purple Heart recipients. Servicemembers and honorably discharged Veterans who were awarded a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001 are offered Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits at the 100-percent benefit level for up to 36 months.
In both cases, the eligibility criteria is established under the Forever GI Bill for specific service dates, but the dates are not identical–they will vary depending on the type of GI Bill benefit such as housing stipends, etc.
Forever GI Bill Benefits
How did the Forever GI Bill change VA education benefits? This list includes some of the most important changes.
- If you left active duty on or after January 1, 2013, there is no time limit on using the GI Bill.
- The Yellow Ribbon Program is expanded to active duty service members as of August 1, 2022.
- The Yellow Ribbon Program is also extended to students receiving GI Bill payments through the Fry Scholarship program. The Yellow Ribbon Program helps pay for higher out-of-state, private school, or graduate school tuition that the Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t cover.
- The Forever GI Bill changed some of the rules for transferring GI Bill entitlement to a dependent or spouse. These changes include the ability for a dependent who has received GI Bill entitlement via benefits transfer to use the same transfer option to another eligible dependent under certain circumstances (involving the death of the veteran).
- Monthly GI Bill housing allowances are, under the Forever GI Bill, based on the physical address where you attend the majority of your classes.
- The way certain benefits are paid has changed under the Forever GI Bill. For example, license and certification tests such GMAT, GRE, CLEP, and state licensing, are prorated for the actual cost of the test. Previously, GI Bill users were charged a whole month of GI Bill entitlement for such tests.
- Qualifying applicants may use Forever GI Bill benefits for independent study programs at technical education schools or post-secondary vocational schools.
- There are additional educational assistance allowances for qualifying work-study programs such as providing hospital and home health care.
- Purple Heart awardees on or after September 11, 2001 qualify for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits at the 100-percent benefit level for up to 36 months and are eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program.
- Forever GI Bill changes allow students to apply for restoration of GI Bill benefits in cases where the school closes in the middle of the semester or if a course of study was disapproved. Housing allowances in such cases (under the Post-9/11 GI Bill program) may continue to be paid after a permanent school closure or disapproval of a course of study depending on circumstances.
- Additional Forever GI Bill benefits are available for qualifying STEM programs–up to nine additional months, or a lump sum of $30,000.
- Reserve component benefits have also been increased; Reservists called to active duty when a state governor requests federal assistance, and when the DoD mobilizes reservists in support of a combatant command become eligible for GI Bill benefits.
- Reserve component members eligible for educational assistance under the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) before November 25, 2015 (who lost REAP due to the “sunset provision” may qualify to have service credited towards the Post-9/11 GI Bill program.