Veterans Education Benefits refers to federal programs providing support for the education of former members of the US military.

Following World War II, Congress passed legislation providing veterans with a broad array of benefits, including education benefits, through the GI Bill. Since that time, the military and Congress have established a number of education programs targeted to servicemembers and veterans. In all, the federal government expects to spend nearly $12 billion on military and veterans educational assistance in fiscal year 2013.

Federal Spending: Servicemembers and Veterans Education Benefits, FY 2013

FY 2013 Funding ($ millions)
TOTAL, Servicemembers and Veterans Benefits11,660
Department of Defense*517
Tuition Assistance Program*517
Department of Veterans Affairs11,143
Post-9/11 GI Bill9,716
Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty727
Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve159
Reserve Educational Assistance Program54
Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance Program487
*The most recent data available for the Tuition Assistance Program are from fiscal year 2009.

Sources: New America Foundation; Department of Veterans Affairs FY 2014 Budget Justifications; Government Accountability Office

Veterans Education Benefits

Veterans who have served in the military and left service are eligible for education benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Those benefits have historically been covered by the GI Bill, a law that has been through numerous iterations that reflect each military conflict in which veterans have served over the years. The Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty and the Post-9/11 GI Bill currently cover most veterans.

Abbreviated History of Veterans Education Benefits

Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944Active duty during WWII for at least 90 days
Korean Conflict GI Bill 1952Active duty for at least 90 days between June 1950 and February 1955
Post-Korean Conflict and Vietnam Era GI BillPost-Korea veterans who served between February 1955 and August 1964; Vietnam veterans who served between August 1964 and May 1975; more than 180 days for veterans or 2 years for active-duty servicemembers
Post-Vietnam Era Veterans Educational Assistance (VEAP)Entered active duty between December 1976 and July 1985; contributed to VEAP on active duty before April 1987; Required servicemember contribution to receive 2:1 matching payment
Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty 1985Entered active duty after June 1985 and served 3 years active duty; opt-out contributory program
Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserves 1985Accepted a 6-year reserve obligation after July 1985
Reserves Educational Assistance Program 2005Reservists with 90 days active duty after 9/10/2011; greater benefit than MGIB-SR offered
Post-9/11 GI Bill 2008Active duty for at least 90 days after September 10, 2001

Post-9/11 GI BillLawmakers enacted the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2008 to establish a new set of education benefits for veterans who served at least 90 days after September 10, 2001. Veterans with remaining education benefits under other veterans bills may opt instead to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for the remainder of their entitlements.

Recipients of the benefit receive a percentage of the maximum benefits based on the amount of time served on active duty. Veterans who served at least 36 months or 30 days with a discharge for service-related disability receive 100 percent of the benefits; other veterans may receive 40, 80, or 90 percent, depending on the length of time served.

Veterans are eligible for payment of tuition and fees, as well as a monthly housing allowance for up to 36 months. The maximum tuition payment for degree-seeking students at public institutions is equal to the highest per-credit hour in-state tuition at the most expensive public school in the veteran’s state. In the 2014 academic year, the highest credit hour tuition cost was $1,549 per credit hour in Texas. Students at private or foreign institutions or non-degree seeking students may receive up to $19,198 in the 2014 academic year.

Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty

Older veterans who served on active duty after June 1985 or met other criteria, but who did not serve after September 11, 2001, are eligible for the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty. Lawmakers enacted the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty (MGIB-AD) in 1985 to encourage recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces.

Montgomery GI Bill education benefits are intended to cover tuition, fees, and other costs. As of October 2011, the maximum benefit is $1,473 per month for full-time students. Individuals who are enrolled less than full-time or who are ineligible for the maximum receive a reduced percentage of the full benefits.

MGIB-AD benefits must be paid out within ten years of release from active duty, and for most recipients, 36 months worth of benefits are available. Some recipients are also available for death benefits for their families if the servicemember dies on or within one year of active duty.

Other Reservists and Veterans Benefits

Other versions of the GI Bill provide benefits to members of the Reserves, other veterans, and dependents. Participation in the Post-Vietnam Era Veterans Educational Assistance Program is expected to slow, given that eligibility for the program is restricted to those who served active duty between January 1977 and July 1985. The MGIB programs, Reserve Educational Assistance Program, Post-9/11 GI Bill, and Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program, however, have unrestricted periods of eligibility and will likely continue.

  • Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve: The Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) was established to provide incentives for membership in the Reserves and National Guard.
  • Reserve Educational Assistance Program: The Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) was passed in 2005 in response to the increased numbers of reservists serving active duty as a result of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program: The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program (DEA) provides education benefits to the spouse or children of a servicemember who died or was disabled in a service-related incident or is listed as missing in action, captured, or forcibly detained. Recipients are eligible to receive benefits for up to 10 years from the date of death or notification of eligibility, and children must be ages 18-26 to receive the benefits.
  • Post-Vietnam Era Veterans Educational Assistance Program: Under the Post-Vietnam Era Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP), those who entered active duty between December 1976 and July 1985 and served two years or who meet other criteria are eligible to receive education benefits. Under VEAP, servicemembers contribute to a fund and receive three times their original contribution.

Additional Military Education Programs

Yellow Ribbon Program

Lawmakers established the Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program to allow postsecondary institutions to work with the VA and pay higher tuition and fees than are covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. The institution of higher education and the Department of Veterans Affairs split the cost equally. Seven hundred public and private schools currently participate in the program.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant

Students whose parents died because of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, but whose families are not income-eligible for Pell Grants, are eligible for Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants. The award size is equal to the maximum Pell Grant award size that year.

Student Loan Repayment Program

Several branches of the military provide student loan repayment programs as enlistment incentives. Both the Army and Navy provide up to $65,000 in loan repayments to qualified applicants. The Air Force also offers a loan repayment program which provides a maximum of $10,000 in tuition payments to eligible applicants.

Recent Concerns About Mismanagement

Many have raised concern about how the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have administered educational benefit programs. Over the past year, a backlog of payments led to thousands of delayed or missed payments, leaving students without their monthly allowances and schools without tuition payments.

Separately, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Tom Harkin (D-IA) has made the distribution of military education benefits to proprietary institutions a focus of his committee. Federal regulations known as the 90/10 Rule state that for-profit schools may receive no more than 90 percent of revenue from federal programs, but exclude military benefits in that measure; the measure is intended to limit low-quality schools from subsisting on federal aid.

As one Senate HELP Committee report details, in the first two years of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, for-profit colleges received $1.6 billion of the total benefits, or 37 percent, despite serving only 25 percent of those veterans. According to Senator Harkin, the substantial amount of money is a reflection of aggressive recruiting efforts of veterans and servicemembers by institutions trying to skirt the 90/10 Rule. Democrats on the Senate committee have proposed altering the regulations to include military benefits so that institutions are required to count the federal funds toward their efforts to meet the 90/10 rule.

See also: Military & Servicemembers Education Benefits