How to Maximize Your Forever GI Bill Benefits, Ensuring You’ll Save as Much Money as Possible
The Forever GI Bill was initially signed into law by President Trump and represented the latest update to the old military benefits program called the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which was itself a replacement for the old Montgomery GI Bill, and the Forever GI Bill is an improvement in some areas, but a decrease in benefits in others.
The Forever GI Bill offers all sorts of benefits, but the ones I want to focus on here are the elements offering Military Education Benefits so if you’re looking to understand what’s available to you, then you’ve come to the right spot!
Since it’s original introduction, the Forever GI Bill was already updated several times, including some major overhauls added in August, 2018, but there’s been no updates at all for 2019, other than the normal annual updates to BAH Pay, etc.
What Does the Forever GI Bill Change from the Old Benefits Programs?
I don’t want to bore you with the history of the Forever GI Bill, so let me just go straight into what the Forever GI Bill changes, and when each of these changes actually go live (many of them aren’t set to take effect for several years, while some went live immediately upon the signing of the bill):
Benefits Are No Longer Lost When Schools Closed Down or Lose Their Accreditation
The Post 9/11 GI Bill was totally screwed up in that if you were using the benefits to attend a school that shut down, or lost it’s accreditation, you simply lost the benefits that were spent there, and basically got completely screwed.
This was a big deal, especially because so many schools have shut down recently, like DeVry, ITT Tech, Westwood College, any of the Corinthian Colleges, or the other numerous For-Profit Colleges that have closed in recent years.
Fortunately, under the Forever GI Bill, if your school closes down or loses its accreditation, you’re going to be eligible to have all of your spent GI Bill benefits at that school restored.
This update went live immediately upon President Trump’s signing of the Bill, and applies retroactively all the way back to January 1st, 2015.
Better Transferability Rules for Unused Benefits
One of the biggest limitations to the Post 9/11 GI Bill was that benefits transferred to a dependent were lost completely if that dependent passed away, and benefits already transferred could never be re-transferred if the service personnel passed away.
Under the new GI Bill Transferability Rules for the Forever GI Bill, benefits can be transferred again if the originally designated dependent dies, and benefits can also be transferred by the recipient, if the servicemember who gave the benefits to them dies.
This is a big and important change, which doesn’t impact a huge number of people, but has a major impact on anyone who had been restricted by the previous rules.
This update went live August 1st, 2018, but also applies retroactively to any deaths that occured on or after August 1st, 2009.
No More 15 Year Expiration Date for Education Benefits
The Montgomery GI Bill and Post 9/11 GI Bill had a very strange rule that was commonly referred to as the “use it or lose it rule”, which only gave you 15 years from the date you were discharged to use your education benefits, otherwise they were lost.
Obviously, this caused problems for all sorts of military personnel, especially those who wanted to transfer their benefits to their young children, unborn but planned children, or spouses or even future spouses, or who simply wanted to work for a while before going back to school.
There’s one downside to this update, and that’s that it wasn’t applied retroactively to everyone who’s served.
The update went live immediately when President Trump signed the Bill, but it only applies retroactively to people with a discharge date on or after January 1st, 2013.
All Purple Heart Recipients Now Qualify for Full GI Bill Benefits
Under the rules of the previous GI Bills, not all Purple Heart recipients qualified for the benefits packages.
In fact, even Purple Heart recipients had to serve for at least 3 full years in order to qualify for full GI Bill benefits, which obviously led to some terrible situations in which people brand new to the military got injured early in their service contract, and were denied GI Bill benefits!
Fortunately, this terrible situation has been fixed, and anyone who has received a Purple Heart will now be eligible to receive the full package of GI Bill education benefits, which they so rightfully deserve.
This update went live immediately upon singing of the Forever GI Bill, and is being applied retroactively, so anyone who received a Purple Heart since September 11th, 2001 is now eligible for the full GI Bill education benefits. US News reported that 1,500 service personnel were directly impacted by this update.
Expanded Access to the Yellow Ribbon Program
The Yellow Ribbon Program continues to be one of the most valuable military education benefits programs available since it helps ensure that you’ll get 100% of your higher education tuition and fees covered, and access to it has now been expanded with the passage of the Forever GI Bill.
Under the new rules, anyone who received a Purple Heart, or a Fry Scholarship, will now be eligible to take advantage of the Yellow Ribbon Program’s excellent additional benefits.
If you’re not familiar with the Yellow Ribbon Program, it lets you qualify for extra money for attending a public school that isn’t in your home state (which charges more for “out of state tuition”), or for attending a private school or graduate school that isn’t covered as part of the regular GI Bill benefits.
This update went live August 1st, 2018.
Some Active Duty Personnel Will Receive Yellow Ribbon Benefits
I don’t have all the details on this component yet, but it’s been announced that some Service Personnel serving on active duty will become eligible for Yellow Ribbon Program benefits.
I’ll update this when I can figure out exactly what this refers to, how it works, etc., but it’s not set to go live until August 1st, 2022 anyway, so we’ve got a while before it’ll matter.
Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) Rate Reductions
One of the downsides to the new Forever GI Bill is that lawmakers argued it’d be too expensive, so some of the existing program benefits had to be reduced, or cut entirely, and one of the worst things to get impacted by this are the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) Rates.
Rates have been cutting cut since the 2015 military budget was passed, at the rate of 1% reduction per year between 2015 and 2019, with the plan being that BAH will only cover 95% of housing costs by 2020.
The Forever GI Bill is also introducing a further BAH rate reduction, where anyone who becomes eligible for benefits after January, 2018, is going to receive $100 less per month in their housing allowance.
Keep in mind that this only applies to new military personnel, so if you’ve already receiving military benefits, you don’t have to worry about it.
BAH is Also Being Updated to Reflect Your Actual Location
The old GI Bills calculated BAH rates based on where your school was located, which was a big deal for anyone taking classes online, or through some sort of distance learning program (sometimes this calculation made for higher rates, other times it made them lower).
The new Forever GI Bill will use your actual location to determine your BAH rate, calculating the BAH based on wherever you attend classes, rather than the main campus location for your school.
As an example, if you’re attending University of Phoenix, but taking classes at a satellite campus, the old BAH rates would be calculated based on the University of Phoenix’s main campus, but the new rates will be calculated based on the rates for your satellite campus.
This update went live August, 2018, and like the previous BAH change, only applies to new service personnel.
Expanded Access to National Guard & Reserves Personnel
Under the new rules of the Forever GI Bill, more National Guard and Military Reserves personnel will now be eligible for GI Bill benefits, which is an excellent thing because many of these service members were left in the dark previously.
The Forever GI Bill expands access to education benefits by allowing all Reservists called to active duty under sections 12304(a) or 12304(b) to be eligible (Reservists called to duty by a Governor in response to a major disaster or emergency, or Reservists called to duty by the DoD in support of a combatan command), where in the past, only Reservists who were called to active duty by Presidential Order as a response to a national emergency were able to receive benefits.
This update also applies retroactively, to all Reservists, and going back all the way to August 1st, 2009, which is huge, since many Reservists have been called to duty under these conditions since then, and will now finally have access to awesome education benefits that they deserved in the first place!
The expansion also helps Reservists who were previously receiving REAP payments by making them eligible for Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.
Simplified Eligibility Tiers for National Guard & Reserves Personnel
National Guard and Reserves Personnel who only serve a short period of time are getting the percentage of benefits they qualify for increased, which is another great move, because it helps people who got hurt early on in their service, or who had to leave for a number or other reasons.
Under the new rules, anyone who serves on active duty for at least 90 days, but fewer than 6 months, will now be eligible for the 50% benefit payable level (they previously received 40%).
Likely, anyone who served on active duty for at least 90 days, but fewer than 12 months, will now be eligible for the 60% benefit payable level (they previously only received 50%).
This update is set to go live August 1st, 2020, but it’s also being applied retroactively to Guardsmen and Reserves Personnel who began service on or before September 11th, 2001.
Updates to the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program (DEA)
The DEA program is being nerfed slightly, offering fewer months of eligibility to those who lose military personnel, which is terrible, but which puts the program in line with the other GI Bill Programs, standardizing the number of months available to 36 (it used to be 45 months…).
This is a terrible change, but one of those that was forced by Congress, who claimed that the Forever GI Bill was too expensive. Couldn’t we have just ordered fewer tanks or F35s?
Fortunately, this change is somewhat counter-acted by an update to the amount of educational assistance available under the DEA program, which is being increased by $200 per month, which will mostly make up for the loss of those additional 12 months.
This update is going live on August 1st, 2018.
Creation of the High Technology Pilot Program
This is a much-needed update to eligibility conditions which will allow military education benefits to be applied toward NON-DEGREE programs, like coding training programs or boot camps, IT certifications and other technology-related courses or certification programs.
I’m really happy to see this one, because the value of a traditional 4 year college degree has certainly declined in recent years, even as the costs to earn one have increased dramatically.
This change gives veterans the option of pursuing quicker programs better targeted at providing them with real-world job skills, and I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction of curbing the student loan debt crisis by reducing the rate at which the student loan debt bubble continues to inflate.
This Pilot program is set to run for 5 years, and will involve the VA contracting directly with schools and programs to make their offers available to military personnel, and the VA is going to make the program more attractive for schools by offering them higher tuition rates and payments based on their program graduation rates, and the rate at which graduates find a job in their field.
The VA Pilot Program is set to launch in the Spring of 2019.
Additional GI Bill Funds for STEM Students
Everyone knows that STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are most likely to lead to a good job in a desired field, and earning a great salary, which is why the Forever GI Bill is creating a new scholarship called the Edith Nourse Rogers Scholarship to encourage more STEM enrollments.
Because STEM programs often require more effort, they tend to run 5 years rather than 4, which the previous GI Bills did not cover, so the Forever GI Bill has been expanded to provide up to 5 years worth of benefits to those enrolled in STEM programs, or a one time additional $30,000 lump sum payment to those in STEM programs who’ve already gone through all their GI Bill Benefits, but who’ve earned at least 60 semester hours or 90 quarter hours of credit towards a STEM degree.
This benefit is also eligible to anyone who already has a STEM degree and is working on earning a teaching certification for a STEM related field, which is one way to cash in on the benefits expansion if you’re already out of school, or looking to make a career change.
Keep in mind that this additional benefit will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis, with a limit of $100,000,000 ($100 million) in funds per year, so you’ll want to apply as soon as possible whenever you think you’re eligible for the award.
Only veterans themselves, or surviving family members of service members who’ve passed away will be eligible for this additional benefit.
This update went live on August 1st, 2018.
Extension of the Work-Study Program
The VA’s Work Study Program was created to help personnel “earn while you learn”, by offering full-time or 3/4-time students a work-study allowance (like a stipend).
The program was previously set to expire, but the new Forever GI Bill has extended the program indefinitely, so if you are taking advantage of this, or are planning to, then don’t worry about it drying up.
This update went live as soon as President Trump signed the Bill.
Independent Study Programs Are Now Covered
Instead of only allowing GI Bill benefits to be applied to degree-seeking programs, the Forever GI Bill also expands eligibility for benefits to be used on independent study programs, though these are limited to certain types of programs or schools.
Currently, you can use your Forever GI Bill benefits to pay for costs associated with attending a technical education school, or a postsecondary vocational school.
This is great, because these sorts of higher education programs are more likely to focus on developing real-world skills, and helping vets and military personnel prepare for life after the military, which 4 year colleges don’t necessarily do a good job of.
How Are These Changes Going to Impact YOU?
That depends… based on when you were Discharged, and whether or not you’ve actually used any of your military benefits before.
Veterans who were discharged BEFORE January 1st, 2013 won’t see any changes at all; they’re still limited to using their GI Bill within 15 years of the discharge, and their housing allowance won’t change.
Veterans discharged AFTER January 1st, 2013 now don’t have any time limitations for their GI Bill benefits, and their housing allowance will not change.
Veterans on active duty who have not yet used their GI Bill, and who will be discharged on or after January 1st, 2018 will have no time limitations on the use of their GI Bill benefits, but they will be getting a lower BAH pay (about $100 less per month) UNLESS they start using their GI Bill before 2017 ends.
That means if you’re still on active duty, or if you were discharged after January 1st, 2013, but you have not yet used your GI Bill benefits, then you’re in the best spot, as long as you can start using it before 2017 ends, because you’ll have an unlimited amount of time to use the benefits, and you’ll still remain qualified for the previously higher BAH Rate ($100 more per month, $1,200 more per year!).
Other Info For Military Personnel
This site focuses less on military education benefits and more on Student Loan issues, but I’ve always wanted to keep my small military section up to date, which is why I’ve created this new page about the Forever GI Bill.
To help you figure out how to deal with your benefits, please be sure to visit other pages of my site where I focus on specific military education benefits programs, like:
- The Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits Program
- GI Bill Transferability Rules (covers both the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and the new Forever GI Bill)
- The Yellow Ribbon Program
- Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)
- Military Spouse Benefits Programs
- The Military Tuition Assistance Program
- Military Student Loan Forgiveness Programs
- The Military College Loan Repayment Program
If you’re interested in more student loan-focused content, which isn’t specific to military personnel, then be sure to check out my pages on:
- President Trump’s Student Loan Reforms
- Federal Student Loan Forgiveness
- The Borrower’s Defense to Repayment Program
- Closed School Student Loan Discharges
- Federal Student Loan Repayment Plans
- Private Student Loan Forgiveness
- Private Student Loan Consolidation
- Private Student Loan Bankruptcy Discharges
- Private Student Loan Default Help
And if you have any questions about your military benefits, or about student loans, please feel free to ask them in the Comments section below.
I try to get a response to all comments within 24 hours, so don’t be shy!
Help Support My Site!
If you found this content useful, then please consider helping to support my site!
As you can probably imagine, it takes me HOURS of work to research and then produce an article like this, and the only way that I can keep dedicating so much time to this project is if more people visit my site.
If this page helped you better understand your benefits, then please share a link to it with your family and friends, post it on Facebook, Twitter, or email it to people you know who have similar questions to yours.
The more people who visit this site, the more time I can dedicate to producing relevant, timely content like this, and helping people like you maximize the value of their military benefits, or dig themselves out of student loan debt!
Disclaimer:Information obtained from Forget Student Loan Debt is for educational purposes only. You should consult a licensed financial professional before making any financial decisions. This site receives some compensation through affiliate relationships. This site is not endorsed or affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education.