|WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is providing veterans a major boost in the monthly educational payments offered under the Montgomery GI Bill. |
Concerned about the underuse of Montgomery GI Bill benefits by eligible veterans, VA supported an increase in reimbursement rates well above the normal cost-of-living increases because these annual adjustments have not kept pace with rising college education costs.
"Under legislation signed by President Bush, we now are on track to gain the tuition spending power veterans expect," VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi said. "We are coupling a series of robust payment increases over the next two years with innovative programs that will help prepare today's servicemember with the education needed for tomorrow's job market."
At the top tier for full-time studies, the tuition reimbursement rate rises from $672 to $800 per month, almost 20 percent. That will jump to $900 next fall and $985 in October 2003. Rates are adjusted for veterans enrolled part-time or for those with limited military service.
In addition to covering traditional two-year and four-year college studies, a new VA program taking effect next fall is aimed at high technology courses. It will allow veterans to use a lump sum from their benefit for certain expensive courses such as those leading to certification of computer network professionals.
Coverage of up to 60 percent of the cost of such high-tech courses will begin Oct. 1, 2002.
VA currently is developing regulations needed to launch this new program. The new law specifies a formula limiting it to expensive courses.
The increase in tuition reimbursement as well as the VA's support for high-tech courses reflect department efforts to boost use of the current education program, which began in 1985. Veterans generally have 10 years after release from active duty to use the funds, but only about 60 percent have used some of their benefit.
In addition, about 90 percent of all eligible veterans have not exhausted their account. VA hopes new strategies such as accelerated payment for high-tech courses will enable more veterans to take advantage of their remaining benefits.
Few servicemembers opt out of coverage. Participants' pay is reduced by $100 per month for their first 12 months on active duty to cover a total veteran contribution of $1,200. The full-time rate of $800 a month is paid for up to 36 months of study, which covers the academic months of a traditional 4-year college education for a return value of $28,800 at today's top rate.
The new law, the Veterans Education and Benefits Expansion Act of 2001 (Public Law 107-103), also improves educational assistance for eligible spouses and children of certain veterans, including veterans who died or are permanently and totally disabled as a result of a service-connected disability.
For more information about veterans educational programs, call VA at 888-442-4551.
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