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Serving Those Who Served Our Country With Benefits For Higher Education

A military service member student at Buffalo State shakes hands with a veteran senior citizen soldier.

Every year, the United States takes a day to honor those that have served in the Armed Forces on Veteran’s Day. We at SUNY are incredibly grateful for their service to our nation and want to help military service members and veterans take the next step in their lives with access to education. Military service members and veterans have access to a number of benefits and tuition assistance programs. But with new generations of military members and the ever changing times and conditions in which they serve, it’s important we continue to work to help all of them get back into civilian life the best they can.

Earlier this year, President Trump signed into law the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, also known as the “Forever GI Bill,” which will bring significant changes to Veterans’ education benefits. The bill was signed on August 16, 2017 without a single vote of opposition by the U.S. House of Representatives, 405-0. All parties were able to work together to help our brave men and women reap the benefits they fought so hard to protect.

There are over 21 provisions to the new bill that could affect our military-connected students who do or will attend SUNY. Some of the changes have already gone into affect, and some are written to go into effect in the near future.

Some new provisions that go into effect immediately include:

Elimination of 15-year Limitation to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill Program
The 15-year time limitation for using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits is eliminated for Veterans who left active duty on or after January 1, 2013, and qualifying dependents.

Priority Enrollment
VA will improve outreach and transparency to Veterans and Service members by more clearly identifying schools that offer priority enrollment. This change went into effect August 16, 2017.

REAP Eligibility Credited Toward Post-9/11 GI Bill Program
Members of the Reserve who established eligibility to educational assistance under the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) before November 25, 2015, and lost it due to the sunset provision may elect to have that service credited towards the Post-9/11 GI Bill program.

Other important changes will take effect in the near future. These changes include:

More Benefits for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Programs
The expansion emphasizes science, technology, engineering, and math degrees by offering additional money to veterans enrolled in those programs. Veterans would have to apply for a specific STEM scholarship, and could get either nine months of additional GI Bill benefits or a lump sum of $30,000. (The scholarship is limited to $100 million a year in aggregate benefits.)  This expansion becomes effective on August 1, 2019.

Reserve Component Benefits
The law authorizes service by Guard and Reserve members under 10 U.S.C 12304a and 12304b to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. An individual entitled to educational assistance as a result of this section may use such entitlement to pursue a course of education beginning on or after August 1, 2018.

School certifying officials must be trained.
Individuals who certify veteran student enrollment at schools with more than 20 veteran students will now be required to undergo training. Previously, training was not mandatory.

For more information about all of the provisions of the Forever GI Bill please visit https://benefits.va.gov/gibill/forevergibill.asp. And remember to thank a service member whenever you can.

    Written by Sarah Petrak

    Sarah Petrak is a student assistant with the Office of Communications and New Media for SUNY System Administration. She is a studying Public Policy at the University at Albany.

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