Last week, I received an e-mail from a student veteran who was having a problem with her GI Bill. Specifically, she was using the Post-9/11 GI Bill and VA was refusing to pay some of her tuition and fees. She was unsure about why they wouldn’t pay, nor was she sure how to resolve the situation, as VA was not giving her any information. I decided she probably wasn’t the only student veteran with this problem, so I thought it was probably a good topic to cover this week.
Today, I’ll go over a few things VA doesn’t pay for. Tomorrow, I’ll cover how to track your payments and what to do if VA doesn’t pay for something you think it should. Then, later on in the week, I’ll cover other resources where you can find answers to other GI Bill/VA education benefit questions. If you have other questions that I don’t answer this week (and weren’t answered in some of my previous posts), feel free to e-mail me.
Since the VA has multiple education benefits, each with its different rules, I’m going to focus primarily on rules that apply to Post-9/11 GI Bill students pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree at an Institute of Higher Learning (IHL) – basically, an accredited two or four-year college. I’ll try to add a few comments about how each section applies to other benefits, if the rules are significantly different. You can find more information on other VA education benefits under the Areas of Interest > “Education and Training” section.
1) Out-of-state tuition/fees: This is a rule that was changed a couple of years ago and largely applies to those using Post-9/11 GI Bill. VA will pay only in-state rates for Post-9/11 users. Any additional costs due to out-of-state status must be paid for by the veteran. Be sure to check out this post about the difference between Residency and Home of Record, as that plays into your in-state versus out-of-state status, and this one on what resources you can use to help cover the difference. Also, be sure to check out Student Veterans of America’s website, which keeps a running tally on which states offer veterans in-state tuition rates, regardless of residency status.
Note: Veterans using Vocational Rehabilitation may be able to get out-of-state fees covered on a case-by-case basis. This decision will be made through the Vocational Rehabilitation counselor. If you’re not sure whether you qualify for Voc Rehab or whether it would be a better option than Post-9/11 for you, you can find more information on Voc Rehab here.
2) Tuition and fees above the national maximum: This is another rule that was changed and then changed again. Post-9/11 used to be a pretty blank check, but there have been restrictions placed on it in recent years to prevent abuse of the benefit by for-profit colleges and other entities. Now, VA pays all required tuition and fees for an in-state student at a public IHL. For those going to a private or foreign school, VA pays the equivalent of the national maximum each academic year. Currently, that maximum is $18,077.50 (this will increase 1 Aug to $19,198.31). Any tuition and fees charged above that amount (including out-of-state fees) are the student’s responsibility to cover and can be paid using the options in my Beyond VA Education Benefits post.
Note: This “national maximum” doesn’t apply to veterans using Vocational Rehabilitation. Nor does it apply to certain students in a few states who have been continuously attending college courses since 2011 (that list can be found here).
3) Classes outside your program of study: VA is pretty flexible about what you can study while using your benefits, but they don’t want to pay for underwater basketweaving if they don’t have to. If it isn’t required for your program or if it doesn’t fill a requirement (for example, audited classes), then VA isn’t going to pay for it – this goes for all VA education programs. There are two main exceptions to this:
- Vocational Rehabilitation: A voc rehab counselor can authorize additional classes, such as classes that aren’t required for an Associate’s degree, but are prerequisites for the follow on Bachelor’s program.
- Final Term: If you are in your final term and you have, say, only two classes left, VA will allow you to take whatever classes you want to get up to full time. They only allow this in the last semester of a degree program and they only allow it once per program. So, if you do this and you fail a required class, the following term, you only get to take that required class. This rule applies to all VA education programs.
4) Certain fees: VA won’t pay for a number of fees, such as application to a college, late registration fees, food or lodging, or transportation fees (unless required of every student).
5) Delimiting date: A delimiting date is the date your benefits expire. For Post-9/11 that date is 15 years from your last date of separation. If the date hits in the middle of a semester, for Post-9/11 veterans (this does not apply to those who are using transferred benefits), VA will usually extend the benefit to the end of your current semester, but not beyond that. So it is important to keep track of how many months and days of benefit you have left.
These are the primary things VA doesn’t pay for, based on their laws and rules. It's important to remember that VA (and Congress) can change the rules and laws governing these programs whenever they want to. And, when they do, those who have been using the benefit already aren't always grandfathered in, nor is VA always good about putting the word out about coming changes. So it is important to check the GI Bill website often, as new rules are generally implemented at the start of each academic year, which VA defines as 1 August.
Tomorrow I’ll cover what to do if you think there’s been a mistake in what VA paid or didn’t pay and offer some recommendations on how best to keep track of those payments.
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