Education benefits are some of the most useful and valuable benefits offered to U.S. veterans through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. These benefits make it possible for veterans, service members, and their families to access financial support for both undergraduate and graduate degrees.
They can also take advantage of technical or vocational training, various certification and licensing and tests, flight programs, apprenticeships, correspondence courses, on-the-job training, career counseling, and much more. The VA administers several different types of education benefits programs that we’ve highlighted here.
- Post-9/11 GI Bill
- Montgomery GI Bill
- Yellow Ribbon Program
- Reserve Educational Assistance Program
- Post-Vietnam Era Educational Assistance Program
- National Call to Service
- Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance
The generous VA education benefits offered to U.S. service members and veterans have long been a major attraction for young men and women considering military service.
As options for VA education benefits have expanded over the years, the choices for veterans also have grown more complex. Navigating the VA’s available education benefits for veterans can sometimes be a challenge. But the information presented here should help provide a high level overview of benefit programs the VA makes available so that you can further research those you believe may fit your needs and situation.
It’s important to keep in mind that each program offers different amounts of financial assistance and specifies different eligibility criteria. While a veteran can qualify for more than one education benefit, the VA will allow a veteran to receive payment through only one benefit program at a time. In the case of qualifying for more than one program, the veteran should choose the benefit program that is most beneficial.
Each VA education benefits program has its own qualification criteria, so make sure to check the details of the specific program you’re interested in.
7 Education Benefits for Veterans
Veterans may be eligible for several different specific education-related programs the VA makes available.
Since 1944, the GI Bill has helped eligible veterans and their families access financial assistance for some or all of the costs associated with higher education or other career training. In its current iteration, which represents the most comprehensive and generous package for veterans to date, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides up to 36 months of financial support for school tuition and fees, books and supplies – plus housing. With this education benefit, veterans also can pursue licensing or certification tests, national tests like the SAT, GMAT, or LSAT, and support for apprenticeships or on-the-job training. In some cases, a one-time payment to help with relocation from some rural areas to attend school also may be awarded.
Eligibility Requirements: A veteran must have served on active duty for at least 90 days, either continuous or interrupted, after September 10, 2001.
The Montgomery GI Bill provides veterans with a maximum of 36 months of financial support
for educational activities, which may include college, correspondence courses, vocational or technical training, flight training, high-tech training, apprenticeships or on-the-job training, licensing and certification tests, national examinations, and entrepreneurship training courses.
These benefits generally are paid directly to the veteran each month. Please note that the Montgomery GI Bill requires a $1,200 buy-in, which is deducted from the service member’s military pay. The program also offers a $600 buy-up option. For veterans interested in pursuing training through a non-degree granting institution, this program is an excellent option.
Eligibility Requirements: A veteran must have served at least two years on active duty, been honorably discharged, and hold a high school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit, along with meeting program-specific requirements.
The Yellow Ribbon Program is designed to bridge the gap for veterans who attend a school whose tuition and fees exceed the maximum benefit the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides. This may be the case if the veteran chooses to attend a private college or university, a foreign school, or a public university under non-resident status. It’s important to note that the school a veteran wishes to attend must participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program – not all colleges and universities choose to participate.
Once a veteran has received a Certificate of Eligibility under the Post-9/11 GI Bill that outlines total benefits, a veteran can present the COE to the school’s certifying official, the financial aid office, or military liaison and ask to be considered for the school’s Yellow Ribbon Program.
At this point, the college or university will first determine whether it already has enrolled the maximum number of students for the Yellow Ribbon program period – it’s important to note that enrollment is on a first-come, first-served basis, and each school has an individual agreement with the VA determining how many students to accept each year. If there is room in the program, the school then will determine how much additional funding the veteran will receive.
The school will compile tuition and mandatory fees, subtract any aid from other sources – including scholarships, grants, and the Post-9/11 GI Bill – and then apply the Yellow Ribbon program benefit to the final amount. The school then will issue a notice to the veteran outlining acceptance into the Yellow Ribbon program, plus the total amount expected under the program for tuition and fees.
Eligibility Requirements: Eligibility is dependent on first receiving benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Founded in 2005, the REAP program provides up to 36 months of financial assistance to help veterans earn undergraduate and graduate degrees, vocational or technical training, flight training, apprenticeships, or on-the-job training or correspondence training. REAP benefits are available for veterans who were members either of a reserve component that was called to active duty or a full-time National Guard unit during a war or other national emergency, as declared by the U.S. president or Congress.
Eligible reserve components include the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard
Reserve, the Army National Guard, and Air National Guard, and the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps Individual Ready Reserves. Veterans who are eligible for the REAP program may access benefits up to 10 years after separating from service, as long as they separate from the Selected Reserve. All education benefits provided under the Montgomery GI Bill are available under REAP, except for financial assistance with national exam and testing reimbursements.
Eligibility Requirements: Individual eligibility is determined by the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. A veteran’s ultimate benefit amount typically is equal to a percentage of the Montgomery GI Bill benefit for a minimum three-year enlistment. Those who serve 90 days to a year of active duty, for example, can receive 40 percent of the active-duty rate.
This program provides educational assistance to veterans who elected to make payroll contributions to the program before April 1, 1987. The U.S. government then matches these contributions with $2 for every $1 the veteran contributes. These benefits may be used to pursue a college degree, a certificate program, correspondence courses, apprenticeships, or on-the-job training and/or flight training programs.
Program benefits extend up to 36 months, depending on the total contributions the veteran made to VEAP. Veterans have 10 years from separation from service to use these benefits. If a veteran has not used the full contribution amount at the 10-year mark, any remaining contributions will be refunded.
Eligibility Requirements: To be eligible for this program, a veteran must have begun active duty service between Jan. 1, 1977, and June 30, 1985; opened a contribution account before April 1, 1987; contributed anywhere from $25 to $2,700 to this account; completed a minimum of the first period of service; and received a discharge under any conditions other than dishonorable.
The National Call to Service program is actually a U.S. Department of Defense program, though it is administered by the VA. Under this program, education benefits are available to those who serve in a military occupational specialty designated by the U.S. Secretary of Defense. The program allows veterans to choose an education benefit as an alternative to the Montgomery GI Bill. Generally, veterans may choose a cash bonus of $5,000, repayment of a student loan of less than $18,000, educational assistance equal to the three-year monthly MGIB rate for 12 months, or educational assistance equal to 50 percent of the less-than-three-year monthly MGIB rate for 36 months.
Eligibility Requirements: Veterans may be eligible for benefits under this program if they completed an initial entry training followed by active duty service of at least 15 months in a military occupational specialty defined by the Secretary of Defense. This time must then be followed by an additional period of active duty as determined by the Secretary of Defense or a period of 24 months in active status in the Selected Reserve.
The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance program makes available financial assistance for degree and certificate programs, apprenticeships or on-the-job training, correspondence courses, and other education-related programs for the surviving spouses and dependents of U.S. veterans.
Through this program, dependents and survivors may access up to 45 months of education-related financial assistance. Surviving children generally must use these education benefits between the ages of 18 and 26. For surviving spouses, benefits are good for 10 years – starting either after the date the VA names the spouse eligible for benefits or starting on the date of the veteran’s death.
Eligibility Requirements: Surviving spouses and children are eligible for this program if any of the following is true:
- The veteran died in the line of active duty
- The veteran became totally and permanently disabled due to a service-connected cause
- The veteran died while designated by the VA as totally and permanently disabled
- The veteran was missing in action or captured while in conflict with a hostile force
- The veteran was forcibly detained by a foreign government in the line of duty
- The veteran is currently receiving ongoing treatment for a permanent and total service-connected disability while still on active duty – plus likely to be discharged due to that disability
In addition, if the VA rated the veteran permanently and totally disabled with an effective date within three years of separating from service or the veteran died while serving on active duty, a surviving spouse may be able to access education benefits through the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance program for up to 20 years after the veteran’s death.
The VA offers several ways to apply for VA education benefits. To apply by mail, simply call 888-442-4551, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET, to request that the VA send an education benefits application directly to you. Once you’ve completed your application, you may mail it to the VA regional claims processing office that corresponds with your chosen school’s location.
You also may apply in person by visiting a VA regional office where a VA employee can assist you. In addition, you can choose to work with your school’s certifying official. This position may be found within the registrar’s office or the financial aid office of your chosen college, university, or other school. And, finally, you may choose to work with an accredited representative to get help applying for education benefits.
It’s important to remember that in addition to the benefits listed here, all of which are administered by the VA, your state may offer other education benefits. You can find out more by contacting your state’s Department of Veterans Affairs and asking about any available state-level education programs.
Once you apply for VA education benefits, you can expect to receive a decision from the VA within 30 days. You should receive in the mail a Certificate of Eligibility once the VA has approved your application. You may then present this COE to the certifying official at your school.
VA education benefits remain one of the most valuable benefits of serving in the U.S military. With all the education options available to veterans, you can find a program of study, apprenticeship, certification, or technical training program that can help you forge a successful career when your military service is complete.