The Forever GI Bill – Understanding the Basics

The Forever GI Bill removes the 15-year time limit for veterans to use or lose their GI benefits, allowing eligible beneficiaries access to these benefits indefinitely.
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Forever GI Bill Overview
Table of Contents
  1. History of the Forever GI Bill
    1. Who Do GI Bill Changes Affect?
  2. Elimination of the 15-Year Time Limit
  3. Revised Benefit Tiers
  4. Expanded Benefits for Reservists, Guard Members, Dependents and Veterans
    1. Reservists and National Guard Members
    2. Purple Heart Recipients
    3. Dependents
    4. Veterans Pursuing STEM-Related Fields
  5. Expansion of the Yellow Ribbon Program
  6. Restoration of Benefits for Students of Shuttered Schools
  7. More Flexibility in Transferring Benefits
  8. Reduced Monthly Housing Allowances to Offset Costs
  9. GI Bill Podcasts

The Forever GI Bill expanded eligibility for specific education benefits and removed the previous “use-it-or-lose-it” feature of the Post-9/11 GI Bill for some service members and dependents. The Forever GI Bill includes provisions impacting veterans, service members, dependents and surviving family members.

History of the Forever GI Bill

The first GI Bill, signed in 1944, was a comprehensive benefits package for returning WWII veterans. Since then, it has undergone several revisions. President Donald Trump signed its latest iteration, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act – also known as the Forever GI Bill – into law on Aug. 16, 2017.

Who Do GI Bill Changes Affect?

The Forever GI Bill benefit changes impacted:

  • Veterans who left active-duty service on or after Jan. 1, 2013
  • Veterans who served fewer than 18 months
  • Veterans whose colleges or schools closed or lost accreditation after Jan. 1, 2015
  • Purple Heart recipients
  • Veterans pursuing STEM or technology-related fields
  • Former reservists and National Guard members
  • Dependents, including Fry Scholarship recipients and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) beneficiaries

Elimination of the 15-Year Time Limit

The Forever GI Bill eliminated the 15-year time limit for some service members and their dependents to use their benefits. Those who fall in the following categories can use their benefits indefinitely:

  • Service members who left active-duty service on or after Jan. 1, 2013
  • Spouses receiving the Fry Scholarship
  • Children of deceased service members who first became eligible for GI Bill benefits on or after Jan. 1, 2013

Revised Benefit Tiers

As with the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the amount of educational benefits service members receive under the Forever GI Bill depends on their time in service. One important change under this latest legislation is increased benefits for veterans who served at least 90 days but fewer than 18 months. Veterans who served between 90 days and six months are eligible to receive 50% of the maximum GI benefits (previously they were only eligible to receive 40%). Veterans who served more than six months but less than 18 months are now eligible to receive 60% of the maximum GI benefits (previously, only 50%).

Expanded Benefits for Reservists, Guard Members, Dependents and Veterans

The Forever GI Bill expands certain educational benefits to previously ineligible groups, including reservists, National Guardsmen and military dependents. Additionally, veterans can now “earn and learn” through work-study programs and choose from more educational options. For example, under the Forever GI Bill, veterans can pursue independent study programs and apply their benefits toward programs at vocational and technical schools.

Reservists and National Guard Members

Reservists who previously accessed the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP), which was phased out in 2015, may qualify for restored benefits under the Forever GI Bill.

Reservists and members of the National Guard can apply more of their overall service toward eligibility. Under the Forever GI Bill, any time spent receiving medical care or recovering from injuries incurred while serving on active duty counts toward eligibility.

Finally, under the Forever GI Bill, reservists who served on active duty under 10 U.S. Code Sections 12304(a) and 12304(b) are eligible for benefits. Eligible orders may include emergency response or combatant command support.

Purple Heart Recipients

While previous iterations of the GI Bill enforced service time requirements across the board, The Forever GI Bill awards full eligibility to honorably discharged Purple Heart recipients, regardless of the length of their service.

Dependents

Children and spouses of veterans who use Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) funds may receive up to 50% more in their monthly payments under the Forever GI Bill.

Veterans studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields are eligible to receive additional educational funding for up to nine months of GI benefits or a lump sum of $30,000 under the Edith Nourse Rogers Scholarship. This funding is also available to veterans who have already completed a STEM-related degree and are seeking further professional certifications, such as a teaching degree.

Expansion of the Yellow Ribbon Program

The Yellow Ribbon program was an existing initiative between schools and the federal government to pay for education expenses the Post-9/11 GI Bill didn’t cover. Previously, benefits were available only to veterans with 100% GI Bill eligibility.

The Forever GI Bill expanded Yellow Ribbon eligibility to Purple Heart recipients, Fry Scholarship recipients and active-duty service members.

Restoration of Benefits for Students of Shuttered Schools

Under the Forever GI Bill, the VA restored benefits to veterans who lost credit for classes they took at schools or colleges that closed or lost accreditation after Jan. 1, 2015.

More Flexibility in Transferring Benefits

The Forever GI Bill allows service members to transfer unused GI Bill benefits to a living family member when the original recipient dies.

Family members can apply this provision retroactively to any death that occurred after 2009.

Reduced Monthly Housing Allowances to Offset Costs

Monthly housing allowances are based on the active-duty basic allowance for housing rates of an E-5 with dependents. However, service members who began using GI Bill benefits before Jan. 1, 2018, receive slightly higher MHA stipends.

This is because in 2015, the Department of Defense introduced an annual decrease, capped at 5%, to BAH rates, which the MHA was exempt from. The Forever GI Bill removed the exemption for service members who began using their benefits on or after Jan.

GI Bill Podcasts

The Military Wallet Podcast – Post-9/11 GI Bill Transfer

The Military Wallet Podcast – Using the Post-9/11 GI Bill

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