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GI Bill® and Veteran Education Benefits Changes in 2021
Updated | Robert Haynes
2021 Changes to Post-911 GI Bill® and VA Education Benefits
In December, Congress delivered recently-passed legislation to President Trump’s desk which, when signed into law, brings changes to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) GI Bill and other benefits. This legislation, known as the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvements Act of 2020, or H.R. 7105 for short, will make several significant changes to your existing benefits programs. It was signed into law on January 5th, 2021. Here are the impacts to your GI Bill® and veterans education benefits for 2021.
Changes to Education Benefits
The following list highlights some of the changes to education benefits you can expect from H.R. 7105:
Improvements to the Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship program offered through the VA
Expansion of eligibility for the Fry Scholarship to children and spouses of certain deceased members of the Armed Forces
Requirements relating to in-state tuition for veterans
Verification of enrollment for those receiving Post-9/11 Educational Assistance benefits
Improvements to limitation on certain advertising, sales, and enrollment practices
Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship
For the VA’s STEM Scholarship, the legislation identifies priorities of benefits in the case that funding should be exhausted due to a large number of applicants. The priorities are determined by the subject are of the undergraduate degree program, those programs leading to a teaching certificate, dual-degree programs leading to an undergraduate and graduate degree in a high-priority field of study, and programs for those in the health field who have earned degrees and are participating in covered clinical training.
>> Find scholarships for military, veterans, dependents and spouses with the CollegeRecon Scholarship Finder!
The Fry Scholarship’s eligibility has been amended and is available to “an individual who is the child or spouse of a person who, on or after September 11, 2001, dies in line of duty while serving on duty other than active duty as a member of the Armed Forces.”
The key change here is expanding the scholarship to families whose service members were not on active duty.
There has been a growing call for institutes of higher learning to offer active military and their families the in-state tuition rates afforded to each state’s residents.
One primary reason for this is that many military families are not residents of the states in which they live, having moved with their service members to locations required by their service. For example, I am a Texas resident, but I live in Virginia after the Army moved my spouse to a new assignment.
The new law charges the VA Secretary to create a publicly available database of public institutions of higher learning that explains their tuition and fees, along with the tuition rate that would be charged to members of the armed forces and their families. The VA would also have the authority to disapprove any course of education that does not provide this information to the VA in a timely manner.
Pay attention to the wording. The verbiage of the law applies to “public” institutions, so that means those universities and schools considered “private” are not required to comply.
If you are an older veteran like me, you may have received the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) as an education benefit for your service. It was the predecessor to the newer Post-9/11 GI Bill that is offered to our younger generations of service members.
While using the MGIB during my retirement, I was required to submit a monthly verification of enrollment, either online or by calling the VA. It was kind of a nuisance because I often forgot to verify my enrollment during the first year.
Until recently, the Post-9/11 benefit only required the school to verify your enrollment, and even then it was only done at the start of each semester. The new law will change that requirement.
Now, each institution is required to submit a verification of each individual who is enrolled in a course or program of education who is receiving educational assistance from the VA.
Additionally, each individual who is enrolled in a course or program is required to submit a verification of such enrollment for each month that an individual is enrolled and receiving VA education benefits. If a student fails to submit the required verification for two consecutive months, the VA Secretary may stop any monthly stipend until the verifications are submitted.
During the MGIB years, we used a web application called WAVE, or Web Automated Verification of Enrollment, to submit our verifications. Since the website is still active, I would expect that the VA will use it to carry out this new requirement.
Expanded Prohibition to Predatory Practices
Let’s face it, members of the military, their families, and veterans, are a valuable asset to their communities, their places of employment, and especially to institutes of higher learning.
Last summer, I reported that the state of Maryland was the first to pass legislation aimed at protecting veterans from the sometimes misleading and predatory practices of some institutions. These institutions view students with VA benefits as guaranteed money and will misrepresent the institution and its programs with the sole purpose of receiving the VA’s funding.
Now, it seems that what started in Maryland has spread to federal legislation. Under H.R. 7105, extensive enforcement procedures have been approved to prevent questionable institutions from preying on our veteran students and their families.
One measure requires “flagging” such institutions on the GI Bill Comparison Tool, which would alert potential students to these issues at the institution. Ouch.
Other actions under the VA’s authority include:
Suspension of approval for courses and programs at the institution in question
Revocation the approval for courses and programs offered by the institution
Either of these actions would crush enrollments and funding for any institution that engages in questionable and deceptive practices, and I applaud their implementation.
The education benefits covered above are just a small portion of legislation. There are other sections that expand or correct benefits to specific demographics within the veteran community, and I will push out information that covers those topics.
For now, just be aware that H.R. 7105 has been signed into law, and there are some specific and immediate changes that impact you as a student and veteran.
Robert Haynes is a retired Army infantryman who has a squad of kids and is married to an active duty Soldier. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, who spent his last few years in the Army as a Drill Sergeant. He is now a full-time dad, freelance writer, and out-of-work comedian.