There are a number of ways in which the US government is prepared to help Active Duty service members, veterans and their dependents meet their career and educational goals. Use the following programs as a starting point in determining what type of assistance suits you best:
MILITARY TUITION ASSISTANCE
This is not a loan, but the money that is to be considered “earned” as base pay. The Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard each have their own unique set of service requirements, but Congress has given each service the right to pay up to 100 percent of tuition expenses for selected students enrolled in off-duty hours classes.
THE MONTGOMERY GI BILL (MGIB)
Provides up to 36 months of education benefits which may be applied to college, business courses, technical school, training, apprenticeships, flight school, correspondence or vocational courses. Financial assistance may include:
Years ago, the military could pay for up to 75 percent of higher education costs, but an amendment to the Montgomery GI Bill passed in the year 2000 allows the VA to pay 100 percent of your tuition and expenses. Top-up can meet the balance if you are eligible and your service branch does not pay full tuition fees. The program provides 36 months of payment which can be used in a variety of ways.
Top-up is a great deal if you use Tuition Assistance while on active duty and don't plan to continue education or training after service; you can choose to collect your benefits now. This program is also helpful for those who wish to take occasional courses during active duty. You can choose to save most of your benefits to complete a full education once your time of service is complete.
To be eligible for Top-up, a military department must approve you for Tuition Assistance and you must be eligible for MGIB Active Duty benefits (the program is not currently available to those eligible for MGIB Selected Reserve), and have served a minimum of two years Active Duty.
VETERANS EDUCATION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (VEAP)
This program increases your educational savings two to one. VEAP simply adds $2 for every $1 contribution you make. Entitlement to this benefit is from 1 to 36 months, depending on your own monthly contributions. If there are benefits left unclaimed after a ten year period, the remaining amount is automatically refunded.
SURVIVORS' AND DEPENDENTS' EDUCATION ASSISTANCE (DEA)
This program provides up to 45 months of training opportunities and education to eligible dependents: a son, daughter or spouse of a veteran who is deceased, permanently disabled from a service related injury, MIA, captured during service by a hostile force, forcibly detained or interned during active duty by a foreign government or power. Eligible sons and daughters must be between the ages of 18 and 26. Benefits toward a spouse end 10 years from the date of proclaimed eligibility or from the veteran’s date of death.
A portion of the $300 million dollar military and veteran related educational scholarships tends to go unclaimed due to a few common misconceptions:
- Tuition Assistance and other education benefits eliminate the possibility/need for scholarships and grants- Tuition Assistance tends to have a limit of $750 a class and does not cover all fees, books or related necessary items. There are hundreds of grants and scholarships specifically designed to supplement these particular costs.
- Applying for Scholarships is too much work and the chance of winning is too low- Applications vary widely depending on the program. Some require only a short application. You may be asked to write an essay, but the benefits earned are well worth the time it takes to do so.
- Scholarships are too hard to find- Many students simply do not know where to look for scholarship information. But the process is easier than ever thanks to online resources that simplify the search process immensely. For example, on Military.com's Scholarship Finder, you have access to information about programs, how to apply and when to apply.
In addition to these programs, a number of schools and service aid organizations offer their own set of scholarships and grants. Be sure to search within your own branch of service for unique financial opportunities, and don't forget that you may be eligible for non-military assistance as well.
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