By Michele Vowell, Courier assistant editorOctober 3, 2011
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (Sept. 29, 2011) -- For Soldiers looking beyond the combat zone to life after the military, the Post 9/11 GI Bill may be their ticket to a new career.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill is a fairly new education benefit program for individuals who served on active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001.
Administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides financial support for education and housing to service members.
"This GI Bill is based on how much time you are on active duty," said Lawrence Buford, acting education services officer at Fort Campbell's Staff Sgt. Glenn H. English Army Education Center.
To qualify, service members must have at least 90 days of accumulated service on or after Sept. 11, 2001, or have been honorably discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days. For those who served in active duty for lesser time, the benefit is prorated.
Active duty service is counted cumulatively and not based on a Soldier's single longest period of active duty, according to the VA website, http://www.gibill.va.gov/. Buford noted that Reserve and National Guard members with three years of active duty service after Sept. 10, 2001, can now qualify for full GI Bill benefits, as well.
"If an individual has 36 months of active duty service, then they receive 100 percent of the benefit," Buford said.
The Post 9-11 GI Bill will pay eligible service members taking undergraduate courses full tuition and fees directly to the school for all public school in-state students. For those attending private or foreign schools tuition and fees are capped at $17,500 per academic year. For many students, graduate studies are also covered.
Students are also eligible for an annual books and supplies stipend of $1,000, paid proportionately based on enrollment. And, starting Saturday, students may use the Post-9/11 GI Bill for non-college degree programs, on-the-job and apprenticeship training, flight programs and correspondence training.
Perhaps the most significant benefit offered through the Post 9/11 GI Bill to students is a monthly housing allowance, Buford said.
"They can actually use this GI Bill when they exit the military to pay for their tuition and they'll get a stipend to live on," Buford said. "They can go full time and it will pay."
For housing, students may be eligible to receive money equal to the basic allowance for housing (BAH) amount payable to an E-5, or sergeant, with dependents. This allowance is paid proportionately based on the student's enrollment and the amount is based on the location of the school.
"In order to get the full payment, the student has to be attending full time," Buford said. "One of those classes has to be in a traditional 'bricks and mortar' classroom."
Former Fort Campbell Soldier Desaree Acosta took some college classes while serving on active duty using the Army's Tuition Assistance Program. Balancing Family, work and school proved challenging, so she postponed college until after completing 13 years total in the Army and National Guard. Now, she is pursuing her undergraduate degree using the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
A logistic specialist, formerly with the 86th Combat Support Hospital, Acosta hopes to achieve a bachelor's degree in technical management and minor in logistics through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Acosta is enrolled full time and takes online classes at home, as well as traditional in-classroom courses at the Ed Center, located at 202 Bastogne Ave.
"It's a really good program," she said. "If you stay focused and just push, you could get a lot done."
She hopes to graduate next fall and then secure a job in logistics and aviation. She believes her service time and getting her degree will benefit her in the civilian job sector.
"It definitely opens more opportunities," she said. "If you haven't gotten your degree, you should use [the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.]"
For service members who elect not to use their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, the Department of Defense may offer them the opportunity to transfer benefits to their spouse and/or unmarried, dependent children. This applies to members of the Armed Forces as of Aug. 1, 2009.
An eligible Family member must be enrolled in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System (DEERS) and be eligible for benefits, at the time of transfer, to receive transferred educational benefits.
"They can transfer to a spouse or kids or combination," Buford added.
According to the VA, to be eligible for transfer of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, "a service member must have at least six years of service in the Armed Forces on the date of election and agree to serve four additional years in the Armed Forces from the date of election."
Some exceptions do apply and Soldiers should contact the VA with specific questions.
"That is a surprise to a lot of new Soldiers [that eligibility to transfer benefits] is not immediate," said Cathy Owens, education services specialist at the Ed Center.
The Soldier retains the right to revoke or modify the transfer at any time, she added.
To apply for the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, Soldiers should visit the VA website, http://www.gibill.va.gov/ first, and then visit counselors at the Ed Center, Buford said.
"[The bill] is misunderstood by a lot of folks, that's why we highly recommend coming and talking to a counselor," he said. "It's a living, growing program. There are changes to it [often]."
To further help Soldiers learn more about their education benefits, the Ed Center offers an ETS - end term of service - briefing weekdays at 2 p.m. Soldiers attending the briefings should check in at the front desk.
"We have some very good experts here. They cover all aspects of the G.I. Bill," Buford said. "It's very important that they make this briefing as early as possible."
Ed Center Counselors are available to speak with Soldiers weekdays from 10 a.m. until 3:45 p.m. For information, Soldiers may call (270) 798-3201, 798-6988 or 798-4341.
While they are still on active duty or preparing to enter civilian life, Owens encourages Soldiers to take advantage of all of the education benefits provided to them.
"There's nothing you can do better for yourself than to get an education," she said.
"Use as much Tuition Assistance as you can while you're in, if you are able to," she said. "Once you get out, [the post-9/11 GI Bill] is there waiting for you at the end of the road. If you have the time, as soon as you get out, use it."
Editor's note: This is the third and final in a series of articles on education finances and the military.
MORE INFO: Bill details
For more details on the Post 9/11 GI Bill, visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website at http://www.gibill.va.gov/ or call counselors at Fort Campbell's Staff Sgt. Glenn H. English Army Education Center at (270) 798-3201, 798-6988 or 798-4341.