Tag Archives: Veterans Benefits

Veterans And Caregivers Can Now Shop Military Commissaries On-Line



Nearly 4 million veterans and caregivers who were granted privileges to shop at commissaries and exchanges Jan. 1 can finally enjoy access to online features, a Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) news release said.


“However, the new patrons’ access to American Forces Travel (AFT), the official Morale, Welfare and Recreation travel site, is still spotty, according to the latest AFT Facebook post.

Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, veterans with any service-connected disability, and caregivers registered with the VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program became eligible to shop at commissaries, exchanges and MWR facilities beginning Jan. 1.

Since then, these new shoppers have experienced issues, including not being able to bring guests on base and trouble accessing MyCommissary and AFT online portals.

Related: Your Questions Answered: New Commissary Access for Vets and Caregivers

DeCA officials said they had to work with Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), which is used to confirm shopping privileges, to let new patrons register their Commissary Rewards cards online to access coupons and to use, as available, the Click2Go curbside service.

“In the event a new shopper is still receiving an error message when trying to create an account, they should check with the [Department of Veterans Affairs] to ensure their information and privileges are correctly entered into the system,” DeCA system engineer Clayton Nobles said in a statement. “For those receiving a new Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC), there may be a delay between when the veteran receives the card and when the system allows them access. This delay can take up to 30 days.”

Eligible veterans must have a VHIC to access bases for shopping or MWR use.

Customers who had access before Jan. 1, such as retired service members, Medal of Honor recipients and veterans with a service-related disability rating of 100%, are not affected.

Meanwhile, AFT is still updating its customer database of “millions of records.”

“We have sent examples to DMDC and they were able to see why some patrons are having issues,” AFT said on Facebook, the only place it is providing updates on the issue. “We will let you know when that resolve has been made and then ask you to try logging on again. Records are being updated every hour.”

But some veterans are getting tired of waiting.

“No luck today. Last week they said it would be fixed this week,” one Facebook user wrote. “The week before, it was going to be fixed last week. I sent a private message this afternoon and got an automated response to call the DMDC help desk at 1-800-727-3677. That number is for the Commissary. After 35 minutes, someone answered the phone and said they could not help me to get verified.”


Increased Veteran Banking Options Under VA/AMBA Partnership

Image: https://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/70643/announcing-veterans-benefits-banking-program/


Some veterans may have better access to banking now, through a partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Association of Military Banks of America.

It’s especially beneficial for those who haven’t been able to open bank accounts in the past, which hampers their ability to get their VA benefit funds by direct deposit.


“The VA delivers about $118 billion each year in benefits and services for veterans and their families. About 250,000 veterans and beneficiaries receive their benefits through a pre-paid debit card or paper check, and may not have a bank account.

An added plus is that these banks are already familiar with the financial needs and challenges of service members, and can also support veterans with financial education and resources tailored to their needs, said Paul Lawrence, under secretary for benefits for the VA. Some of the participating banks have branches on bases, but they also have a large number of branches outside the gate, which will be accessible to veterans, said Andia Dinesen, vice president of communications and operations for AMBA.

There are currently seven banks participating in the Veterans Benefits Banking Program: Armed Forces Bank; Bank of America; First Arkansas Bank and Trust; Fort Hood National Bank; FSNB; Regions; and Wells Fargo. Dinesen said other banks and credit unions are welcome to join the effort, too.”

For more information, visit https://www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/banking.asp.


Millions More Vets And Caregivers Are About To Get Commissary, Exchange Access

Image: Julie Mitchell/AAFES


Starting Jan. 1, Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war and all service-connected disabled veterans, regardless of rating, as well as caregivers enrolled in the VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program, will be able to shop at Defense Commissary Agency stores and military exchanges.


“The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are gearing up for what will be the largest expansion of patrons to the military commissary system and exchanges in 65 years, making sure that shoppers will be able to get on base and find the shelves fully stocked.

They also will have access to revenue-generating Morale, Recreation and Welfare amenities, such as golf courses, recreation areas, theaters, bowling alleys, campgrounds and lodging facilities that are operated by MWR.

Facilities such as fitness centers that receive funding from the Defense Department budget are not included.

At commissaries, however, there will be an added cost for new patrons who use a credit or debit card to pay for their groceries, in addition to the 5% surcharge commissary patrons already pay.

DoD officials told Military.com on Wednesday that an estimated 3.5 million new patrons will be eligible to shop. However, after analyzing store locations and their proximity to where veterans live, they expect that slightly more than a quarter of those patrons, or 800,000 people, will take advantage of the benefit.

According to Barry Patrick, associate director of MWR and Resale Policy in the Office of the Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, the DoD expects veterans in high-cost areas like Guam, Alaska, Hawaii and parts of California to take advantage of the benefit. Stores in states or cities with large populations of service-connected disabled veterans, including Florida, California, parts of Texas and Washington, D.C., may also see an increase in customers.

“Through this data analytics tool that we’ve developed, we’ve been able to provide the services and the resale organizations information … to ensure that [they] can adjust,” Patrick said. “We are working with distributors to ensure that the supply chain is adjusted accordingly, based on high-impact projections, and that the supply chain is also prepared for rapid, agile reaction to any unexpected situation.”

In addition to ironing out the supply chain concerns, Pentagon officials also have been working to guarantee that the new patrons can get to the stores, which often are located on secure military installations, and will be able to make purchases.

The details have required a joint effort for much of the past year between the DoD and the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and Treasury. Homeland Security is involved because Coast Guard Exchanges are part of the deal, and Treasury plays a role, because it is responsible for ensuring that new patrons pay a fee for credit and debit card purchases at the commissaries.

Since most new patrons lack the credentials needed to get on military bases, installations will accept the Veteran Health Identification card, or VHID, from disabled and other eligible veterans. For caregivers, the VA plans to issue a memo to eligible shoppers in the coming months, which will be used in conjunction with any picture identification that meets REAL ID Act security requirements, such as a compliant state driver’s license or passport.

Justin Hall, director of the MWR and Resale Policy in the Office of the Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, said that, after Jan. 1, newly eligible patrons should go to the visitors’ center at the base where they plan to do most of their shopping to register their credentials. Thereafter, they will be able to access the base in the same way as CAC and DoD ID card patrons.

According to Hall and Patrick, store computers and registers are being tweaked to scan VHID cards, and employees are being trained on identifying the new patrons.

The most significant difference mandated in the law that created the benefit, the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, is that the new customers must pay a fee if they use a credit or debit card at the commissaries. By law, the stores, which receive funding from the Defense Department budget, are not allowed to cover the extra cost of the new users’ card convenience fees.

The initial fee for commercial credit cards will be 1.9%; for debit cards, it will be 0.5%. Patrons can avoid the card fees by paying by cash or check, or by using the Military Star card, a credit card offered by the military resale system, which they will be eligible to apply for beginning Jan. 1.

The card fees will apply only to the new patrons.

The Defense Department is preparing a fact sheet that will contain information on how veterans can get a VHID card if they don’t already have one and how caregivers can obtain the memo they need to access the benefit.

MWR and Resale Policy officials said they also will launch an information campaign to alert service-connected disabled veterans of this new benefit.

“Everybody I’ve talked to is excited,” Hall said. “We’re really hoping to get the word out so veterans will learn about the opportunities.”


Why Fewer People Are Using The GI Bill

(Getty Images)


After years of growth, the number of people using the Post-9/11 GI Bill has now fallen substantially for each of the past two fiscal years, federal data indicates.

About 54,000 fewer people used the GI Bill in fiscal 2018 – a 7 percent decline from fiscal 2017, which was itself down about 7 percent from fiscal 2016’s GI Bill enrollment total, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs.


“Officials from veterans service organizations and some of the schools that enroll the greatest numbers of GI Bill users said they’re not overly concerned about the falling GI Bill usage – at least not yet.

“It’s something that we just ought to watch,” said Keith Hauk, an associate vice president at University of Maryland Global Campus, a public institution formerly called University of Maryland University College.

“It’s a little bit too early, after only two years of watching this unfold, [to say] that it’s time to be alarmed, because I don’t think it is.”

Experts offered several possible explanations for the declining enrollments, including more vets earning degrees, GI Bill rules that could be discouraging vets from using the benefit and the strong national economy.

Meanwhile, public universities continued to account for the majority of GI Bill students. About 54 percent of students using the Post-9/11 GI Bill attended public universities in fiscal 2018, while 24 percent went to private schools and 22 percent to for-profit institutions, data indicates.

“A lot more of the public and the not-for-profit private [schools] are offering distance education now,” said James Schmeling, executive vice president of Student Veterans of America.

John Kamin, an assistant director with the American Legion, agreed and noted that “the idea of a global campus is, at this point, pretty popular” among public and private nonprofit schools. This is likely reducing the proportion of vets attending for-profit schools, which historically offered more distance learning options than public and private universities.

“I think we’re seeing a bellwether for things to come,” Kamin said.

DeVry University, a controversial for-profit school that remains a very popular destination for GI Bill users, said it has been affected by this trend.

“There’s been more competition with other institutions, particularly … nonprofit colleges and universities,” said Barbara Bickett, DeVry’s director of regulatory affairs.

For years, the for-profit University of Phoenix has enrolled more GI Bill users than any other institution – but it has seen plummeting GI Bill enrollment recently. That trend continued in fiscal 2018, when the school shed more than 5,940 Post-9/11 GI Bill students – about 21 percent — dropping to 22,428 such students.

The school declined to answer questions about its falling GI Bill enrollment, instead sending Military Times a statement that read, in part: “University of Phoenix is designed for the non-traditional adult learner and so often fits the needs of military students who want flexibility, career-focused programs and dedicated support.”

If Phoenix’s enrollment losses continue, the school may soon lose its designation as the top destination for Post-9/11 GI Bill users.

The University System of Maryland, thanks primarily to its distance education campus, is nipping at Phoenix’s heels, with 18,429 GI Bill students in fiscal 2018, 4,000 students shy of the top spot.

University of Maryland Global Campus’ Hauk said his school isn’t focused on which institution attracts the most GI Bill users but instead on how to best educate and support its students. Hauk’s school lost about 3 percent of its GI Bill enrollment in fiscal 2018, but he said that appears to be turning around.

“We’re seeing growth so far in this fiscal year, in terms of the number of new student veterans,” he said.

The recent overall drops in GI Bill usage in fiscal 2018, among all universities, mirror a similar trend affecting military tuition assistance, which saw usage rates decline 6 percent from fiscal 2016 to 2017 and then go down another 2.5 percent from fiscal 2017 to 2018.

The 7 percent declines charted in fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2018 for the Post-9/11 GI Bill were calculated by adding all schools’ GI Bill populations and comparing year-on-year changes. This calculation method can sometimes double-count students if they, for example, attend more than one institution during the fiscal year. In previous years, the Veterans Affairs Department provided separate data that avoided such duplication, but VA was unable to do so for fiscal 2018 data by press time. VA also did not respond to interview requests to discuss declining GI Bill usage by press time.

Regardless, the downward trend in Post-9/11 GI Bill usage is clear – and sharp. In addition to the enrollment losses, the amount of money spent of GI Bill benefits decreased by nearly $287 million in fiscal 2018 to about $4.6 billion, a 5.9 percent drop. Officials offered a variety of theories to explain the falling numbers.

“A reduction in beneficiaries may indicate more veterans successfully complete degrees and are moving into the workforce,” said John Aldrich, a vice president at the country’s fourth most popular GI Bill school, American Military University, a for-profit institution also known as American Public Education Inc.

Aldrich said his school has graduated more than 3,000 GI Bill users in each of the past three years.

Another possible explanation that Aldrich offered: Students may be turning away from the GI Bill because it shrinks their housing stipends if they attend school entirely online. The Post-9/11 GI Bill gives online students only half of the national average housing stipend that in-person students receive.

“They really are forced to make a decision between convenience and flexibility, versus maximizing the amount of housing allowance they receive each month,” Aldrich said. “They may just say, you know, the heck with it.”

Meanwhile, Hauk noted that recent improvements to the Post-9/11 GI Bill may actually be resulting in fewer students going to school right now. The Forever GI Bill, signed into law in August 2017, allowed anyone who left the military after January 2013 to use the GI Bill at any point in the future. Previously, all benefits had to be used within 15 years of separation.

“I think it’s only natural to see that usage rates are going to decline” with the removal of that time limit, Hauk said. “They’ve got the rest of their life to use the benefit.”

In addition, Schmeling, of Student Veterans of America, pointed to a common higher education trend: More people go to college to improve their job prospects in bad economies, while fewer go to school when the economy is strong. That may also explain some of the decrease in GI Bill use, he said.

“The economy has continued to improve,” he said. “There is labor demand and veterans are highly skilled, so there might be fewer going to college because they don’t feel they need to.”


Sole Source Contractor With Non-Competitive $16 Billion VA Records Integration Contract Calls It “Immense Challenge”


Image: FCW.com


“This won’t be easy,” the prime contractor said Tuesday of the $16 billion effort to overcome decades of failure and finally make veteran and military health records compatible with a few computer clicks.

We must deploy to 117 sites, train over 300,000 VA employees, collaborate with DoD, interoperate with the community, aggregate decades of clinical data and update technology,” he told a hearing of the House Veterans Subcommittee on Technology. “


“It carries risk, and we don’t take the challenges lightly” in implementing Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) programs across the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense”, said Travis Dalton, president of government services for Cerner Corp. of Kansas City.

In addition, the new system will have to link with additional community health care providers expected to come onboard with the June 6 rollout of the VA Mission Act, which will expand private health care options for veterans, said Rep. Jim Banks, R-Indiana, the ranking member of the subcommittee.

“Interoperability with the community providers is still the elephant in the room,” he said.

About 30% of veterans currently get health care at taxpayer expense in the private sector, and they “rightfully expect their records to follow them,” Banks said. He said his main concern is that a “half-baked system” will be rushed into use.

Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nevada, chairwoman of the subcommittee, said that Cerner and partners Leidos and Booz Allen Hamilton are attempting to create “one seamless lifetime record for our service members as they transition from military to veteran status,” but “this effort also has the potential to fail.”

“The VA unfortunately does not have a great track record when it comes to implementing information technology,” she said, “and it threatens EHRM.”

Previous attempts to mesh VA and DoD records have either failed or been abandoned, most recently in 2013 when then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki dropped an integration plan after a four-year effort and the expenditure of about $1 billion.

“This won’t be easy, but it is achievable and we are making progress” in the overall effort to let “providers have access to records wherever they deliver care,” Dalton said.

Jon Scholl, president of the Leidos Health Group and a Navy veteran, said the example to follow is the MHS Genesis system, the new electronic health record for the Military Health System. “MHS Genesis is the solution,” he said at the hearing.

However, Lee said that “a suitable single management structure has yet to emerge” for EHRM since then-Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie awarded a $10 billion, 10-year contract to Cerner in May 2018. The cost estimate for the contract has since risen to $16 billion.

At a hearing last month of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan was challenged on the DoD’s efforts to work with the VA on EHRM.

“I don’t ever recall being as outraged about an issue than I am about the electronic health record program,” Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, told him.

“Personally, I spend quite a bit of time on how do we merge together” with the VA on the records, Shanahan assured her.

He said pilot programs on making the records compatible are underway in Washington state at Joint Base Lewis-McChordNaval Base KitsapNaval Air Station Whidbey Island and Fairchild Air Force Base.

The “rollout and implementation” of the fix to the electronic health records has shown promise at those installations, Shanahan said, adding that the next step is to put the programs in place at California installations in the fall.”


State And Federal On-Line Government Partnership Supporting Service Members And Veterans


“The National Resource Directory (NRD) is a resource website that connects wounded warriors, Service Members, Veterans, their families, and caregivers to programs and services that support them.”


“NRD provides access to services and resources at the national, state and local levels to support recovery, rehabilitation and community reintegration. Visitors can find information on a variety of topics that supply an abundance of vetted resources. For help finding resources on the site, visit the How to Use this Site section of the NRD. Please see below for some of our major categories.


Here’s All The Government Programs That Help Vets With Jobs And Benefits

Image: “Vista Military”


An Inventory of the various programs and initiatives to aid veterans and transitioning service members in finding jobsbenefits and small business opportunities.

11 agencies offering 45 programs,” according to a January report of the Government Accountability Office, an independent arm of Congress.”


“In its research, the GAO said, “We found no existing inventory that could easily give Congress or potential participants a complete picture of available benefits. The lack of such an inventory limits efforts to make government more effective and efficient.”

The GAO’s report, which was conducted from February 2018 to January 2019, was sent to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. The report essentially was informative and made no recommendations for follow-up.

The report found that the 11 federal agencies administering the programs usually operate independently of each other, but there is some overlap.

“A few programs are administered primarily by a single agency with assistance from another federal agency,” the report states.

“For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs administers the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program, but the Department of Labor plays an integral role in delivering services and the two agencies coordinate training and outreach efforts,” according to the report.

In addition, four of the 45 programs are jointly administered by multiple agencies, including the DoD and Coast Guard Transition Assistance Programs and the All-Volunteer Force Educational Assistance Selected Reserve program, the report states.

Here is the GAO’ list of 45 programs. Eligibility information is available on the programs’ websites or at the parent agency:

Department of Agriculture

1. Enhancing Agricultural Opportunities for Military Veterans Competitive Grants Program.

Department of Defense

2. Discretionary Certification & Licensure (or the military services’ COOL programs)

3. DoD Education and Employment Initiative

4. DoD Operation Warfighter Program

5. DoD Tuition Assistance

6. Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve

7. Job Training, Employment Skills Training, Apprenticeships, and Internships (or SkillBridge)

8. Military OneSource Spouse Career Center

9. Spouse Education and Career Opportunities

10. Transition Assistance Advisors

11. Troops to Teachers Grant Program

12. United Services Military Apprenticeship Program Programs

Department of Education

13. Centers of Excellence for Veteran Student Success

14. Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant Page

15. Veterans Upward Bound Programs

Department of Energy

16. Scholars Program for Veterans

Department of Health and Human Services

17. Veterans’ Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing Program Programs

Department of Homeland Security

18. Coast Guard Retiree Services Program

19. Coast Guard Spouse Employment Assistance Program

20. Coast Guard Tuition Assistance/Voluntary Education Programs

Department of Labor

21. Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program

22. Jobs for Veterans State Grants Program

Department of State

23. Veterans Innovation Partnership Programs

Department of Veterans Affairs

24. All-Volunteer Force Educational Assistance (or Montgomery GI Bill)

25. Compensated Work Therapy

26. Dependents Educational Assistance Program (or Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance)

27. Educational and Vocational Counseling

28. Post-9/11 GI Bill

29. Reserve Educational Assistance Program

30. VA Work-Study Program

31. Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership

32. VetSuccess on Campus

33. Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment

34. Warrior Training Advancement Course

35. Warriors to Workforce Program Programs

Office of Personnel Management (OPM)

36. Vets to Feds Career Development Program

Small Business Administration

37. Boots to Business Reboot

38. Service-Disabled Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program

39. Veteran Federal Procurement Entrepreneurship Training Program

40. Veterans Business Outreach Center

41. Women Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program

Jointly Administered Programs

42. All-Volunteer Force Educational Assistance (or Montgomery GI Bill)

43. Coast Guard Transition Assistance Program (Coast Guard TAP)

44. DoD Transition Assistance Program (DoD TAP)

45. Tuition Assistance Top Up Tax Expenditure”


Expanded “Forever GI Bill” Provisions Put Into Effect


Veterans Forever GI Bill Enhancements

Background Image:  “Military Benefits Info”


“The Department of Veterans Affairs has begun implementing new provisions of the Harry W. Colmery Educational Assistance Act of 2017, better known as the “Forever GI Bill.”

The VA said the new provisions “will have an immediate and positive impact on veterans and their families using VA benefits to pursue their educational goals.”

“In one of his first actions since taking the oath of office, new VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the provisions to expand GI Bill coverage were put into effect Aug. 1.

“We are excited to get the word out about implementation of the provisions,” Wilkie said in a statement. “From the day the Forever GI Bill was signed into law, VA, in collaboration with Veterans Service Organizations, state approving agencies and school certifying officials, has taken an expansive approach to ensure earned benefits are provided to veterans in a timely, high-quality and efficient way.”

The VA said 15 new provisions of the GI Bill went into effect Aug. 1, in addition to 13 that were already in place.

Among the new provisions is one making recipients of the Purple Heart awarded on or after Sept. 11, 2001, eligible for full post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for up to 36 months, if they were not already entitled.

Another new provision expands the “Yellow Ribbon Program,” in which degree-granting institutions of higher learning can agree to make additional funds available to a veteran’s education program without an additional charge to the GI Bill entitlement.

The new provisions also allow additional Guard and Reserve service to count toward post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility.

At a House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity hearing last month, the VA said it had to overcome numerous Information Technology (IT) challenges to ready the new provisions to be put in place.

“This is a complex, heavy-lift effort,” retired Maj. Gen. Robert Worley II, director of VA education services, said in his testimony. The VA had hoped to begin implementation on July 16 but had to delay until August, he said.

The VA estimated that putting systems in place to accommodate the new provisions would cost about $70 million.”


“Forever GI Bill” Is Now Law – Things You Should Know


Vets Forever Benefits

Image:  American Legion


“A new law that will bring significant changes to education benefits for service members, veterans and their families.

The legislation known as the “Forever GI Bill” garnered strong bipartisan support in Congress, passing unanimously in both the House and Senate.  Here are things you should know about the new GI Bill benefits.

1. There’s no longer an expiration date.

Previously, veterans had to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill within 15 years of their last 90-day period of active-duty service. That requirement is going away.

This portion of the law will apply to anyone who left the military after January 1, 2013. It will also apply to spouses who are receiving education benefits through the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship for family members of service members who have been killed in the line of duty since Sept. 10, 2001.

2. Purple Heart recipients will get more benefits.

The new GI Bill allows anyone who has received a Purple Heart on or after Sept. 11, 2001 to receive 100 percent of the benefits offered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which includes coverage of tuition costs at a public school’s in-state rate for 36 months and stipends for textbooks and housing.

Previously, Purple Heart recipients were beholden to the same time-in-service qualifications for the GI Bill as other service members. This meant that Purple Heart recipients without a service-connected disability who did not reach 36 months of service were only eligible for a percentage of the benefits and not the full amount.

Aleks Morosky, national legislative director for Military Order of the Purple Heart, said there have been 52,598 Purple Heart recipients who were wounded in action during post-9/11 conflicts, though it’s unclear how many would immediately benefit from this provision. An estimated 660 Purple Heart recipients each year over the next 10 years will be able to take advantage of the increased benefits.

“We think that anybody who has shed blood for this country has met the service requirement by virtue of that fact,” Morosky said. “Everybody sacrifices, everybody puts themselves in harm’s way, but Purple Heart recipients are certainly among the service members who have sacrificed the most.”

This provision will go into effect in August 2018.

3. More people are eligible for Yellow Ribbon.

The Yellow Ribbon Program is a voluntary agreement between schools and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to split school costs not covered by the GI Bill, reducing or eliminating the amount students must pay themselves.

The Forever GI Bill will expand eligibility for this program to surviving spouses or children of service members in August 2018 and active-duty service members in August 2022.

Previously, only veterans eligible for GI Bill benefits at the 100 percent level or their dependents using transferred benefits were eligible for Yellow Ribbon.

4. There’s some extra money — and time — for STEM degrees.

Some college degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields take longer than four years to complete, which is why the new law authorizes an additional school year of GI Bill funds on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Scholarships of up to $30,000 will be available for eligible GI Bill users starting in August 2018. Only veterans or surviving family members of deceased service members are eligible for this scholarship — not dependents using transferred benefits.

5. Vets hurt by school shutdowns will get benefits back.

A provision in the new GI Bill that will restore benefits to victims of school closures has been a long-time coming for the staff at Student Veterans of America.

“We’ve been getting calls for several years now, beginning with the collapse of Corinthian (Colleges), from student veterans whose lives were put on hold,” said Will Hubbard, vice president of government affairs for the nonprofit, which has more than 500,000 student members. “Every day we wasted until it passed was another day that they had to wait.”

This provision will retroactively apply to GI Bill users whose schools have abruptly closed since January 2015, for credits earned at the shuttered institutions that did not transfer to new schools. This will include the thousands of veteran students who were attending the national for-profit chains Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute when they closed in 2015 and 2016, respectively. It would also provide a semester’s worth of reimbursement for GI Bill users affected by future school closures, as well as up to four months of a housing stipend.

6. The VA will measure eligibility for benefits differently.

Starting August 2018, this bill changes the way the VA uses time in service to calculate eligibility.

Previously, service members with at least 90 days but less than six months of active-duty service would be eligible for up to 40 percent of the full GI Bill benefits. Under new regulations, the same 90-days-to-six-month window is equal to 50 percent of benefits. Service members with at least six months and less than 18 months of service will be eligible for 60 percent of benefits.

This change will tend to benefit reservists more due to the nature of their service, according to a spokeswoman for the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

7. Reservists can count more of their service toward eligibility.

Starting next August, members of the National Guard and Reserve will be able to count time spent receiving medical care or recovering from injuries received while on active duty toward their GI Bill eligibility. This will apply to all who have been activated since 9/11.

The Forever GI Bill also allows individuals who lost their Reserve Educational Assistance Program when the program ended in 2015 to credit their previous service toward their eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

8. Housing stipends will decrease slightly.

The government will pay for the expansions represented in the Forever GI Bill through a 1 percent decrease in housing stipends over the next five years. This will bring veterans’ housing stipends on par with what active-duty service members receive at the E-5 with dependents rate. (Veterans on the GI Bill currently receive a slightly higher housing allowance rate than active-duty E-5s with dependents.) This change will take effect on Jan. 1, 2018 and will only apply to service members who enroll in GI Bill benefits after that date. No one currently receiving a housing stipend from the VA will see a reduction in benefits.

“On a month-to-month basis, they would never see less money,” said SVA’s Hubbard, explaining that the 1 percent reduction will come off of the total the VA would have spent over five years.

Starting in August 2018, housing stipends previously calculated based on the ZIP code of a student’s school will be based on where a student takes the most classes.

Also in August 2018, reservists will continue to receive their monthly housing allowance under the GI Bill on a prorated rate for any month during which they are activated, preventing them from losing a whole month’s worth of funds.

9. Benefits can get transferred after death.

A provision of the new GI Bill offers more flexibility with the transfer and distribution of benefits in case of death.

If a dependent who received transferred benefits dies before using all of the benefits, this provision gives the service member or veteran the ability to transfer remaining benefits to another dependent. This will go into effect August 2018 and apply to all deaths since 2009.

This provision also gives dependents of deceased service members the ability to make changes to their deceased loved one’s transferred benefits.

Ashlynne Haycock, senior coordinator of education support services for the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, explains that currently, only a service member has the authority to make changes to the benefits they’d like to transfer. So, if a service member dies after transferring 35 months of benefits to one child and one month of benefits to another, for example, the family would not be able to make future changes to the GI Bill’s distribution among that service member’s dependents.

10. Surviving family members will get more money, but less time.

Besides access to Yellow Ribbon, spouses and children of service members who died in the line of duty on or after 9/11 will also see their monthly education stipend from the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program increase by $200.

There’s a downside, however. Though the same program has previously provided 45 months of education benefits, that will decrease to 36 months in August 2018 to bring it in line with the provisions of the GI Bill.

11. School certifying officials must be trained.

Individuals who certify veteran student enrollment at schools with more than 20 veteran students will be required to undergo training. Previously, training was not mandatory.”








Your Questions Answered About the New Veterans Online Shopping Benefit

“More than 95,000 people visited the military exchanges’ VetVerify.org website in its first month, seeking to register for the new veterans online shopping benefit that starts Nov. 11, officials said.

All honorably discharged veterans will have access to the online exchanges as of that date. VetVerify is the first step in the eligibility process.

Some veterans will be chosen as “beta testers” and will have access to the online stores before Nov. 11; the earlier veterans complete the verification process, the better their chances of becoming beta testers, according to officials with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which administers the verification for all the military exchange services.
Veterans who register through VetVerify.org will receive notification of their acceptance as eligible online shoppers or, if their records are incomplete, will receive guidance on the steps they can take to update those records.
Officials were not able to provide information about how many of the 95,000 verification attempts have been successful. About 13 percent of the site’s visitors have been chosen as beta testers, AAFES spokesman Chris Ward said, and others who registered for verification already were eligible to shop.
Officials started the verification process early in preparation for at least 13 million people who will be newly eligible to shop online at the exchange. Until now, online military exchange shopping was available only to active-duty, reserve and National Guard members; retirees; 100 percent disabled veterans; the dependent family members of those individuals; and certain others.

Online pricing can be seen only by those who are authorized to shop at the exchange websites: www.shopmyexchange.comwww.shopcgx.com;www.mymcx.com; andwww.mynavyexchange.com.
Military Times and the exchanges continue to get questions about the VetVerify website and the new shopping benefit. Here are a few frequently asked questions, and some answers, supplied by AAFES.

Q. Is this site a phishingscam?
A. No. VetVerify.org is a shared service for all the military exchanges with the sole purpose of supporting the newly approved veterans online shopping benefit. VetVerify.org uses data from Defense Manpower Data Center, which holds the most comprehensive dataset on veterans, to verify eligibility.

Q. Do I qualify if I served for four years, or if I was in the reserves, or if I’m on disability?
A. All honorably discharged veterans and those with a general (under honorable) discharge can shop their military exchanges, through the veterans online shopping benefit, beginning on Veterans Day.
Q. Can my spouse (or other family member) shop? 

A. No. The new benefit is specific to veterans with honorable and general (under honorable conditions) discharges.
Q. Does the veterans online shopping benefit extend to shopping at the commissary? 
A. No.
Q. What if my service can’t be verified? 

A. There may be further information needed, so you will need to submit a digital copy of your discharge paperwork to be reviewed for eligibility. After you submit your verification form through VetVerify.org, you will be prompted to upload the necessary paperwork.
Q. Who should I call if I have problems with the verification process? 

A. The VetVerify.org customer call center, toll-free, at 844-868-8672.
Q. Why does VetVerify ask for my entire Social Security number? 

A. VetVerify is required to obtain the last four digits of your Social Security number, date of birth and last name in order to validate and authenticate shoppers. If a match is not found with the minimum information, then the Social Security number is requested for a more detailed search. Social Security number is the unique identifier by Defense Manpower Data Center data. When customers visit the website of their favorite online exchanges for the first time, however, they will create a new username to be used as the unique identifier with the exchange. VetVerify has taken appropriate measures to safeguard your personal information.”