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4 things you can do to jumpstart your VA educational benefits

September 21, 2018 - 5:15 am
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Congrats! You made the decision to use your VA educational benefits you earned while serving in the military. One of the most important parts is selecting the right school, but just as important is seeking out your School Certifying Official (SCO), the individual from your school who carries out VA's reporting requirements. 

Each school is different, and depending on its size and the number of student veterans, a college may have several Certification Officials. Depending on the University, Certification officials can be found in the financial aid office, the registrar, or in a separate office just for veterans. 

Once you track that person down, you'll want to keep the following in mind when applying for VA educational benefits: 

1. How to apply for benefits

Contrary to popular belief, you apply for VA educational benefits online here, and not with your school’s Certifying Official. Depending on which VA benefit you are looking to use—and there are many besides the Post-9/11 GI Bill—all applications are done through the VA website. Make sure to review the information on the screen and follow the guided editor to select the VA educational benefit you’re applying to. 

2. Certificate of Eligibility (CoE)

Applying for benefits with the VA will generate a document called a Certificate of Eligibility (CoE) once the VA determines your eligibility. Most schools will ask you to provide the CoE to the Veterans Certification office once you receive it from the VA, but make sure you keep a copy for your records. But note, the school should not require the CoE from the VA for you to register for classes. 

3. Submitting your certification

Once you register for classes, you’ll need to work with your SCO to submit a request for certification. Universities have different processes for requesting certification—some are paper-based while others are all online. The exact amount of money, including how it is paid—directly to you, directly to the school, or both—will depend on the educational benefit used. But for the most popular, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, costs for tuition and fees are paid directly to the school, and a book stipend and monthly housing allowance are paid straight to the student veteran. It can take the VA six to eight weeks to process a certification and forward any payments. 
But the timing matters. Over the course of the fall 2018 academic term, and potentially into the spring 2019 term, it may take the VA a bit longer to pay educational benefits. 

4. What about the Forever GI Bill?

Last year, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act was signed into law by the president. It’s often referred to as the “Forever GI Bill,” because the law removes the 15-year time limit after you get out in which Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits must be used. It’s the largest expansion of GI Bill benefits since the original Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2008. Several major provisions of the law became effective on August 1, 2018. Anticipating a large magnitude of changes from the Colmery Act, VA had advised all schools to temporarily suspend the certification of enrollments for courses that begin on-or-after August 1, 2018, until the VA has made necessary updates to their automated certification processing.  The VA has just recently allowed schools to begin submitting certifications again, but, due to volume and backlog, delays are expected.

The VA is making these changes because, previously, the Military Housing Allowance for students taking face-to-face and hybrid (a combination of online and face-to-face) classes was required to be calculated based on the location of the school where the student is enrolled. However, the law now requires that the Housing Allowance for in-person or hybrid classes to be calculated based on where the student physically attends classes. In other words, your payments will be based on where you actually attend class, and not the school’s headquarters. 

Take note, the changes to the processing system, plus delays in schools submitting certifications of enrollments will delay VA processing and remission of payments for educational benefits. 

To learn more about the changes to the Forever GI Bill, visit the VA website here, or on Facebook here.  

University of Maryland University College is a proud partner of Connecting Vets.

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