February 11, 2014

Calculating Entitlement Use

Once you start claiming VA educational benefits, you start burning them up.  Sooner or later, you may get concerned about how long those benefits will last, and how to manage what remains.  The key to budgeting your benefits is understanding how the VA calculates “entitlement use.”

All VA beneficiaries are awarded a set number of months of benefit entitlement, usually 36 months for most forms of the GI Bill, or 45 months for the Chapter 35 Survivors and Dependents’ educational assistance program.  VA Vocational Rehabilitation is a completely different type of program and the initial entitlement might vary, but the concept of “entitlement use” is the same.
It is important to realize that your entitlement is not based on calendar months, but rather payment months.  Thirty-six months of benefits is not the same as three years, because the 36 months do not have to be consecutive, and you don’t get paid for the breaks between terms or time that you take off.

That’s really important, so let me say it again: your entitlement is not based on calendar months.
Think of it like money in a bank.  If you go to school and claim your benefits, the VA will pay you out of that entitlement “account” until you stop attending or use it all up.  When you are on break between terms, or if you stop going to school for a while, the VA stops paying you, and you aren’t using up any of your entitlement.  Your remaining entitlement will just sit there until you are ready to start using it again, or until it expires (your “delimiting date”).

January 10, 2014

Taking a Break from Classes

No matter how carefully you plan ahead, there may come a point in your educational career when you decide that you need to take a break, for any number of valid reasons.  You may have been called back into active-duty service.  You may need time to take care of a family member, recover
from an illness or injury, buy a house, get married, or have a baby.  Sometimes people have to face an unexpected crisis or disaster, and need time to deal with it.  Perhaps you are in the process of changing your academic goal or career focus and need a little time to sort through your options.  Sometimes people get stressed out or overwhelmed, and just need a change of scenery for a while.  Whatever the reason, sometimes you may just need to take a break.

Before you do, make sure you understand all the rules and implications of your decision, to avoid any unpleasant surprises.  Here are a few things to check when you’re thinking of taking a semester or two off:

October 17, 2013

Surviving a Government Shutdown on VA Benefits

As of this writing, President Obama signed a bill to temporarily suspend the budget debate and get the federal government back to work.  However, even if the VA processors get back up and running immediately, there may still be a delay in benefit processing as they work to clear through the backlog that has built up over the past few weeks.  So, veterans would be well advised to expect a delay next month, and budget accordingly.

Whether a delay is attributed to a government shutdown, technological glitch, missing paperwork, a processing error, or other issue, it's important to have a back up plan to ensure that you can continue your studies while working though the delay.  Here are some resources to help you put your contingency plan together:

May 31, 2013

Using "Leftover" Benefits


If you’ve finished your degree program, congratulations!  The road to that college degree was long and hard, but you finally made it!

If you were fortunate enough to finish your degree without running out of GI Bill benefits, you might now be wondering what to do with the “leftover” benefits.  Should you go on to graduate school?  How long will your benefits last?  Is there another option?  If you're wondering how to make the most of your remaining benefits, read on...

February 25, 2013

What Happens if I Drop or Fail a Class?


You’re a student veteran, you’re collecting GI Bill educational benefits from the VA, and everything is finally working smoothly.  Then you find yourself in a particularly difficult class and start worrying about your grade.  If you’re like most other veterans, you’ll probably also start worrying about a new problem: what will happen to your VA benefits if you fail a class?  What if you drop it instead?

First of all, don’t worry, and don’t give up.  Be proactive, take a deep breath, and focus on your class, first.  Talk to your instructor and your academic advisor, and try to identify your stumbling block.  If you need tutoring, counseling, a stress-break (exercise is a great way to clear your brain!), or academic accommodations to get you through, visit the appropriate offices on your campus for some additional support.  You’ve pushed through difficult stuff before, and you can get through this, with the right tools.

Next, you’ll need to discuss your options with your academic advisor and your school certifying official, and perhaps your financial aid counselor.  You may have several options available to you, depending on your situation, and each option may - or may not - have significant academic or penalties attached, which you will have to consider carefully before deciding what to do.

December 1, 2012

Calculating Pro-Rated Housing Payments

The provisions of all of the various forms of GI Bill benefits include a monthly allowance, which is intended for you to use for your educational expenses, or housing while you're in school.  The payment amounts vary considerably according which GI Bill program you're using, as well as a number of other factors.  But, once you've gotten it all figured out and started attending classes, you'd expect that your allowance would be the same every month, right?

Wrong.

Thanks to Public Law 111-377, which went into effect on August 1, 2011, the monthly allowance benefit is pro-rated at the beginning and ending of every academic term, and no longer pays for breaks between terms.  This means that you won't be getting the posted benefit rate every month. Since students are often on a tight budget, it helps to know in advance how much your monthly payments will be.  This article will tell you how you can calculate your monthly payments yourself, so you know what to expect when payday comes around.