Free books for active duty under G.I. Bill changes

By C. Todd Lopez, Army News Service
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WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 12, 2011) -- Active duty Soldiers and their spouses will soon be able to get funding for books and supplies as part of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

Beginning Oct. 1, active duty members and their spouses can receive up to $1,000 for books and supplies, per academic year, as part of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Active duty members were not previously eligible for the books and supplies funding.

Additional benefits to servicemembers and veterans include reimbursement of fees for exams used for admission to colleges. Such exams include the ACT, GMAT or SAT. Changes to the bill also mean reimbursement for more than one licensing or certification examination. Additionally, there are expanded benefits for non-college degree programs, on-the-job training, apprenticeship training, flight programs and correspondence training.

"I think the great thing about these changes (is) that it brings a lot more training options under the umbrella of this already robust program," said Keith Wilson, director of education service at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

New enrollees in the program will also find that if they are entitled to the housing allowance (active duty and their spouses are not) they can receive that benefit while enrolled in certificate or other non-college degree programs or even long-distance learning.

Those enrolled in distance learning could receive up to 50 percent of the housing allowance provided to those who enrolled in on-campus education programs. The housing allowance for those in resident training is now prorated based on a student's course load. A student taking a course load that is approximately 80 percent of what a school deems "full time," would receive 80 percent of the housing allowance. Housing allowance for an in-resident student taking a full load is equivalent to the basic housing allowance for an E-5 with dependants.

Additional changes to benefits under the bill include elimination of housing payments for even short gap periods between enrollments. In the past, during the less-than-one-month breaks between semesters, beneficiaries could continue to receive housing payments. But that is no longer the case, Wilson said.

While Wilson said VA is working to keep students informed of the changes, students will have to practice some "sound financial management" on their own to make rent payments during the short non-enrollment periods between semesters. Wilson pointed out that under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, beneficiaries have never received housing allowance during the three-month summer break.

Wilson added that, when beneficiaries did receive housing payment between enrollments, they were actually burning up part of their benefits. The bill provides for 36 months of benefits. If a student was getting just housing benefits for the nearly one-month period between the fall and spring semesters, for instance, that would burn up a month of benefits.

The new change in law also affects payment eligibility, and now accounts for active duty service performed by National Guard members under Title 32.

A summary of recent changes to the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill can be found at http://gibill.va.gov/benefits/post_911_gibill/Post911_changes.html.