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Earn Your Degree Using Benefits You’ve Earned

By Keith Wilson

Have you thought it might be a good idea to go back to school and get a degree but felt like you couldn’t afford it?
Can you afford free? 
There have been some big changes going on with the GI Bill.  August 1, 2009, began a new era for education benefits available to servicemembers, veterans, and their dependents.  The Post-9/11 GI Bill makes a college education attainable and affordable. Here is some of what the Post-9/11 GI Bill offers:
• Paid tuition and fees
• Books and supplies allowance
• Housing allowance
• Transfer of benefits to spouse or child
You may be eligible if you served a minimum of 90 days on active duty after September 10, 2001, or if you were discharged for a service-related condition (injury or illness).  This covers active duty served as a member of the Armed Forces or as a result of a call or order to active duty from a reserve component (National Guard and Reserve) under certain sections of Title 10.  
If you served a total of 36 months of active duty or were discharged for a service-related condition, you may be eligible for the full amount of benefits available.  If you served less time, you may be eligible for a percentage of that amount.  The percentage of benefits range from 40% to 90% based on total months served. 
For example: an individual with five months of qualifying service could receive 40% of the tuition benefit, 40% of the monthly housing allowance, and a maximum of $400 books and supplies stipend.
If you are on active duty, all of your tuition and fees will be paid.  If you are a veteran, VA pays the highest amount of tuition and fees charged for full-time, undergraduate training at a public institution of higher learning in the state where you are attending.  If you wish to attend a private school, have to pay out-of-state tuition, or attend graduate training, you may be able to use an aspect of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program.
The Yellow Ribbon Program is an agreement between schools and VA where schools voluntarily agree to contribute toward the tuition and fee costs that exceed the highest public in-state undergraduate rate.  VA will match the funds schools contribute, up to the total cost. This could make your education tuition free! 
Students attending school more than half-time may be eligible for a monthly housing allowance.  The allowance is based on the military’s Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for an E-5 with dependents.  The amount is determined by the zip code of the school where the student is attending.  
The books and supplies allowance pays up to $1000 per academic year. The Post-9/11 GI Bill isn’t just for traditional learning; it can also pay for overseas training, web-based learning, and licensing and certification tests.  
If you are on active duty or in an active status, you may be eligible to transfer these benefits to your spouse or children.  To transfer, you must have served six years and agree to serve four more.  If you are eligible for retirement through August 1, 2013, you also may be eligible to transfer entitlement. 
Children of Servicemembers who died in the line of duty are also eligible to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. 
To take advantage of the benefits you’ve earned and to find out more about the education programs VA offers, visit, or call a VA representative at 1-888-GIBILL-1 (1-888-442-4551).
Keith Wilson is the Director of Education Services at the Department of Veterans Affairs