Thursday, April 30, 2009

Veterans Administration to accept new GI Bill applications starting May 1

Applications for the new Post-9/11 GI Bill will be accepted by the Veterans Affairs Department beginning May 1, according the VA and Defense Department officials.

The application process for the new program that takes effect Aug. 1 will be fully electronic over a secure Internet connection that can be accessed through VA’s education benefits Web site.

Early enrollments will allow VA to work out kinks in a process that is expected to have more than 450,000 people apply for college benefits in the first year of the program. Calculating payments will be complicated by factors such as the length of active military service since Sept. 11, 2001, the number of credits, the location of the institution of higher learning, and in the case of private institutions, whether the college or university is taking part in a tuition-reduction program.

Stakes are high for VA to implement the new program that promises to cover full tuition and fees for attending public colleges and universities, plus provide a monthly living expense, book allowance and other benefits. Congress, veterans’ service organizations and people wanting to use the new benefits program are all concerned after VA warned of the difficulty of launching such a sweeping program less than one year after it was signed into law.

The VA had about three years to fully implement the Montgomery GI Bill, the last major change in veterans education benefits that took effect in 1986. VA officials, including Keith Wilson, who heads the department’s education service, have expressed confidence that the program will launch successfully.

“I am personally committed to ensuring the success of this program, as is every employee working tirelessly on this project,” Wilson said March 25 at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing.All active-duty service members are expected to receive e-mail notifications that the application process has started, VA officials said.

Being pre-certified as eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill would make it easier to complete the enrollment process later this summer when the program is fully launched.While applications are being accepted, some details of the new program remain unknown. The Defense Department has yet to announce how service members will qualify for a key part of the new GI Bill, transferring unused benefits to a spouse or children.

VA sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they had hoped transferability rules would be announced before the application process began so active-duty service members would know if they were interested in enrolling even if they were not personally going to use their benefits in the fall.

An unexplained holdup in the Pentagon left a big hole in the benefits plan, but VA officials decided to press ahead with accepting applications, and will simply tell applicants that full details are still to come.

Defense Department sources said transfer rights rules have been approved by the services but final approval has not been received from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, which reviews regulations.

For more information, visit the VA's official GI Bill website at: www.gibill.va.gov/.

Story by Rick Maze and William H. McMichael, Army Times. This story will also appear in the May 2009 issue of the Oregon Sentinel.

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