What Is the Forever GI Bill and How Will It Impact Veteran Education Benefits?

by Ashley Eneriz

Of the 200,000 servicemembers who leave the military each year, only about half will enroll in college, according to Student Veterans of America. However, thanks to the passing of recent legislation, that statistic is likely to change.

With the new Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act—also known as the Forever GI Bill®—now in effect, the number of servicemembers, veterans, and their eligible family members seeking higher education could increase exponentially in the coming years.

“This bill invests in the proven success of our veterans,” Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee told The Associated Press. “When our veterans return home, they should have every opportunity available to them to pursue their desired profession and career.”

Here’s a look at three significant changes the new Forever GI Bill® brings to veterans and their families.

1. The Legislation Extends Education Benefits

Arguably the most important update brought about by the new bill is the clause allowing servicemembers to take advantage of the academic benefits afforded to them at any point in their lives. Previously, veterans were given a 15-year window of opportunity to pursue an education with federal funding.

“The biggest change that the Forever GI Bill® brings to the Post-9/11 GI Bill® is exactly what the name implies,” said Vannessa Weber, assistant director of Military and Veteran Education Benefits at Azusa Pacific University. “Rather than be constrained by the 15-year expiration date, recipients of the Post-9/11 GI Bill® will now be able to utilize their benefits at any point during their lives.”

This new change became effective as soon as the bill was signed into law and applies directly to servicemembers who were honorably separated from the military on or after January 1, 2013. Children of deceased military personnel who are eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill® benefits (and who first became entitled to program benefits on or after January 1, 2013) will also be able to take advantage of available funding anytime they choose.

2. Yellow Ribbon Funds Are Now Available for Fry Scholarship Recipients

Another notable update included in the Forever GI Bill® is the availability of Yellow Ribbon funds for Fry Scholarship recipients. The Fry Scholarship awards education benefits to the surviving spouses and children of servicemembers who die in the line of duty post-9/11.

“Previously, Fry Scholarship recipients were not eligible for Yellow Ribbon,” Weber explained. This meant that once the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) maximum annual contribution was met for the year, students had to pay the remaining tuition on their own. With the recent change, Yellow Ribbon funding will become available to Fry Scholarship recipients as soon as the VA’s maximum annual contribution is met.

Weber noted that Azusa Pacific University awards eligible students up to $14,000 in Yellow Ribbon funding per school year—and the VA will match APU’s contribution. This could give some students access to $28,000 each academic year.

3. Extra Benefits to Be Provided for STEM Degrees

In addition to the academic and financial benefits outlined above, the Forever GI Bill® will also award more funding to individuals pursuing a STEM degree. Per the legislation, the VA will pay an additional nine months of tuition for eligible individuals working toward a degree in the science, technology, engineering, or math fields.

This is not only a great incentive for military-connected students to pursue a STEM degree, but a beneficial move for the country as a whole. Across the nation, employers need a bigger pool of quality STEM workers to hire from, and this funding could give them just that.

Pursuing a Degree (and Finding Support) at APU

As a servicemember, you’ve already dedicated your time and sacrificed a lot to fight for this country; you shouldn’t have to fight for the degree you deserve. Azusa Pacific University is deeply committed to its military-connected students both inside and outside of the classroom.

As a Yellow Ribbon school, there is no cap on how many eligible students can receive the aid available at APU—and the education benefits are not just for veterans. The university processes tuition assistance for active-duty military personnel (and their spouses) through its Office of Military and Veteran Education Benefits. Even for students who do not qualify for Yellow Ribbon funding, APU helps match them with federal and state funding opportunities and scholarships.

Are you a military-connected student interested in higher education? Connect with the passionate team at APU’s Office of Military and Veteran Education Benefits and start working toward your undergraduate or graduate degree at a top-ranked Christian university.