GI Bill cuts veteran benefits

“The GI Bill was set so you get out of the military and get your four-year degree and we’ll pay for it. So in the middle of me doing that they’re like, no, we’re going to cut all the stuff you previously relied on,” Glaser said.

The only constant is change. That was the message from the financial aid office last week when they hosted a veteran education benefit workshop.

The staff was almost apologetic as they spent two hours describing the changes to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, also known as Chapter 33, that Congress recently passed. One such change deals with the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) stipend that veterans receive to pay for living expenses.

As it stands now, veterans receive the full monthly BAH payment of $1836.00 as long as they are enrolled in at least seven credit hours per semester. A change to the bill effective August 1, 2011 will prorate that amount according to the number of hours the veteran is taking. For instance, a veteran who was receiving the full amount for seven credit hours will now only receive $1469.

After two years of counting on that benefit, the change might come hard for some veterans, as Associate Director of the Student Financial Assistance Office Sonya Fisher explained.

“A lot of students really planned their living expenses around that full payment of BAH and that’s going to severely change their income,” Fisher said.

There are other changes veterans will see as well. Veterans currently receive “break pay” which allows them to be paid BAH during the summer and winter breaks while school is out. As of August, veterans will no longer receive that benefit which may present financial hardship for some.

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Aaron Glaser, a Journalism and Public Communications major, attends UAA along with his wife, who both use Chapter 33. Together, they expect to lose $8,000 in payments this year based on this change.

“The GI Bill was set so you get out of the military and get your four-year degree and we’ll pay for it. So in the middle of me doing that they’re like, no, we’re going to cut all the stuff you previously relied on,” Glaser said.

One way veterans can make up for the decreased amount of income is to apply for scholarships. Some veterans do not apply for scholarships because they think they are not eligible or they are worried it might affect their current benefits. The financial aid staff is trying to dispel those rumors.

“Veterans should absolutely apply for scholarships. It is free money. It does not affect their VA benefits at all. Every semester UAA has scholarships that go unawarded simply because we don’t have enough student applying for scholarships,” Fisher said.

Fisher also added that veterans have a unique opportunity when applying for the scholarships because they often have a unique personal profile that could stand out from the rest of the applications.

Some changes to the bill are widely considered positive including one change that will allow distance students to receive a partial BAH payment. Distance students were previously excluded from the housing allowance benefit.

Additionally, in October 1, 2011 veterans can begin using the bill to pay for non-college degree, vocational training and apprenticeship programs. This change suits veterans very well, Glaser said. He just wishes they had made the change sooner.

“Eight percent of the military are doing blue collar jobs, I did a blue collar job. They get out of the military they say, okay now you have to go to college and the corporate world. And it’s like no, I want to go and turn wrenches,” Glaser said.

With the latest changes, Chapter 33 of the GI Bill has continued its generous, yet tumultuous, legacy. As the financial aid staff reminded veterans, the only constant is change, which rings especially true for veterans.

For more information email [email protected] or call 1-888-GIBILL1.

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