Education Benefits Sit-Rep

1. Post-9/11 GI Bill payments are set to increase on August 1, 2013. The new private and foreign school tuition and fee cap will be increased to $19,198 for the 2013 – 2014 academic year. This is a 6.2% increase over the current limit and is twice the increase since the last change for the 2012 – 2013 cap. This rate is determined by the average rise in cost of undergraduate tuition. The vocational flight training cap will be increased to $10,970 and payments for correspondence courses cannot exceed $9,324.89 for the 2013 – 2014 academic year.

2. The GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act (HR 357) introduced last month, would require public colleges and universities to grant in-state residency to veterans utilizing their GI Bill benefits. The act would bar these schools from being approved to receive any veterans’ education benefits unless they charged the in-state rate. The rule would take effect on August 1, 2014 if adopted. Currently, student-veterans are leveled with the difference in tuition cost if they are out-of-state status according to an institution, as the VA will only cover the in-state rate. Student-veterans generally do not have a place of residence when transitioning out of the military, and very few return to their home of record found on their DD-214. Either way, unless a veteran stays in the same location where they are discharged, gaining residency for status with a college or university could take up to a year in most cases. The current legislation could put an end to the uncertainty for veterans and help in their transition.

3. The U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center recently launched the College Scorecard, an interactive information portal for students interested in learning more about various educational institutions. The tool allows students to make more informed decisions about their college choice. You simply enter the name of a college of interest or select factors that are important to you. The tool automatically kicks out the typical cost of attendance, graduation and loan default rates, median borrowing rates, and employment statistics all relative to national averages.

4. Lawmakers are urging for an extension on a program started under the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011. The Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) was originally set to expire March 31, 2014. The extension (HR 562) would ensure the cutoff for benefits doesn’t happen in the middle of a student-veterans’ semester. This measure wouldn’t be a new benefit, but would ensure GI Bill payments wouldn’t stop before a given school term. Representative Jeff Miller, R-Fla. Proposes a three month extension through June 30, 2014 to ensure students are not left mid-semester without benefits. The program was intended to open up opportunities to 100,000 veterans who otherwise had no access to education benefits, to receive 12 months of Montgomery GI Bill benefits. VRAP is open to unemployed veterans, at least 35 yeas old but not older than 60, who are not eligible for any other veterans’ educational benefits, are not enrolled in any state or federal job training program and who are not receiving veterans’ disability compensation due to unemployability. To learn more about VRAP and apply for benefits click here.

5. GI Bill benefits are at risk of being cut as part of a deficit reduction plan if veterans don’t show a “return on investment.” The VA and Student Veterans of America (SVA) are partnering up to determine graduation rates of student-veterans nationwide. There are many misconceptions and baseless claims flying around about student-veteran success in college, but the only fact is that there is no current system in place to track the progress of veterans utilizing their benefits. There are a few problems currently:

a. Student-veterans generally move around trying to find their new place in the civilian world. This is hard on statistics trying to track enrolled students. A majority of veterans start at a community college and transfer to another university without “graduating.”

b. For-Profit Schools have been collecting roughly 40% of education benefits from veterans but only educated 25% with graduation rates of only 28%. The predatory nature of such institutions going after veterans’ benefits to allow for more federal funding leads to a breakdown in quality education and institutions that actually care about their student population succeeding after graduation. The VA’s trademark of the term “GI Bill” was a step in the right direction, but more must be done to protect veterans’ benefits and ensure the best education for our taxpayer dollars.

6. The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing to discuss the functionality of the Post-9/11 GI Bill claims processing time. Student Veterans of America’s (SVA) executive director, Michael Dakduk testified on the need for reduction of delays by streamlining the process for claims. SVA called for a secure, web-based portal to allow student-veterans to see a real-time snapshot of their status in the claims process. The current system of relying on the GI Bill hotline is unsatisfactory and frustrating with never-ending wait-times. Student-veterans and schools are at the mercy of the VA to provide information on when claims will be completed and what funds will be available or what percentage a veteran rates. To learn about your benefits or calculate how much you can receive, check out our New GI Bill Calculator.