According to a University of Syracuse study, 60% of veterans said that navigating the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) system and their benefits was one of the biggest challenges in their transition.
One such benefit, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, can cover a significant portion of your education expenses following your separation from the military. But, figuring out how to use it can be challenging.
One important consideration in accessing educational benefits like the Post-9/11 GI bill is figuring out how long it will last you. Without proper planning, you may run out of benefits before finishing your degree.
The VA has a complex method for calculating veterans’ remaining educational coverage. Understanding how it’s done can help you better plan your educational career and maximize your benefits.
Talk to Your School’s Officials
Once you’ve applied and been accepted to the school of your choice, you need to talk to administrative officials at the school to find out what they consider a full-time course load.
According to a policy brief commissioned by Complete College America, full-time status for a typical undergraduate degree is 12 credit hours, but your school may differ, especially if it doesn’t adhere to a traditional semester-based system.
Graduate degrees typically have lower full-time credit hour requirements because the classes are more difficult and require a larger time investment per class.
How the VA Calculates Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits
Ricardo Da Silva, the program integration officer for the Education Service of the Veterans Benefits Administration, explained the process using a scenario.
Generally, VA calculates payment and entitlements using a 30-day month.
Let’s assume that a traditional brick-and-mortar school on a semester system begins its fall semester on Aug. 23 and ends it on Dec. 17. This school defines a full-time undergraduate course load as 12 credit hours.
Once the VA knows how many credit hours you’re taking and how long your semester is, it will assign a multiplier based on the number of credit hours you’re taking.
This multiplier is the key to understanding how the VA calculates veterans’ benefits.
For a full-time course load of 12 credit hours the multiplier would be 1. If you take six credit hours, it would be 0.5.
In this scenario, since your semester was 115 days long and you took a full-time course load, the VA would deduct 115 days, or nearly four months, from your benefits.
If you took six credit hours, the VA would deduct 57.5 days from your benefits.
This means that if you are attending school full-time on a traditional semester system, you have approximately nine semesters of benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Other types of training, including training at schools that do not offer degree programs, use different rules for determining payment calculations and benefit payments under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
It’s worth noting that it will never exceed one, so if you take 15 credit hours instead of 12, they will still only deduct 115 days of benefits. So, if you know your benefits will run out before your last semester, consider taking more than 12 credit hours each semester to make the most of your benefits.
Here’s how the calculation would look if you attended a school with eight-week sessions instead of a traditional semester-based system.
As you can see from this example, attending a school with eight-week sessions is a good way to stretch your benefits further.
If you want to attend one, be sure to check the school’s accreditation status so that you don’t fall prey to any scams intended to cheat veterans out of their benefits. You’ll want to make sure that any school that you attend is regionally or nationally accredited.