I’ve heard and read the horror stories of VA significantly delaying tuition payments—basic housing allowance payments not being received. Not being able to enroll in college classes because of gross miscommunication between academic institution and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Those were scenarios that I wanted to avoid at all costs. But fear of the unknown is the greatest contributor to inaction, procrastination and futile, last-minute, half-assed efforts. I was expecting a lot of runaround, long phone calls with automated operators and wait times lasting 90 minutes. So once I received the great news that I had been accepted into DePaul University as a transfer student this past week, I began my trek across the information minefield toward obtaining educational benefits through the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

In case you are not sure what the Post-9/11 GI Bill is, for the sake of brevity I will give an abbreviated explanation as it applies to my scenario, compared to the pages of information available on VA’s GI Bill site.

Eligible Veterans can receive up to 100 percent in-state public school tuition and fees for 36 months. If a Vet attends private or foreign school tuition is capped at $17,500 a year. Also, if a Veteran attends school more than part-time, they can also receive Basic Allowance for Housing at the E-5 with dependents rate. This rate varies based on the geographical location of the school. In my case, I would be eligible to receive $1,635 a month. Check out the BAH Calculator to find out what you could be eligible for. I will also receive an annual stipend up to $1,000 under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Another helpful program is the Yellow Ribbon Program—which is also available for out-of-state students. The program, which participates with academic institutions, offsets any costs exceeding the $17,500 available from the GI Bill. The participating school will determine how much they will offer, and the VA will match that amount. This is very helpful in my case, as tuition as a full-time undergrad runs just over $30,000.

Interestingly, it took more than one source of information for me to understand where I needed to go. The greatest source of reliable information did not come from the VA or any academic institution, but from my Facebook account, and from those Veterans who have obtained VA educational benefits. I’d ask a question or two, and was bombarded with positive and helpful information from fellow Marines who have gone through the process.

I hope everyone interested in obtaining the Post-9/11 GI Bill will have the ease I currently have, as my experience may differ from others, but in a few, easy steps, here is how I was able to apply for the GI Bill, and what I need to do next:

1. Complete the Veterans Online Application for Benefits (VONAPP)

The VONAPP (Veterans on Line Application) website is an official U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) website that enables service members, veterans and their beneficiaries, and other designated individuals to apply for benefits using the Internet. U.S. military Veterans, service members, members of the Selected Reserve, and dependents can apply for education benefits.

Be sure to elect Ch. 33 benefits in lieu of Ch. 30 benefits to switch from the Montgomery GI Bill to the Post-9/11 GI Bill (if you wish to do so), and print a copy of your application before you submit. You’ll receive a confirmation page that you will also want to print and keep, when referencing your application with the VA.

2. Contact your academic institution’s financial aid office

You won’t be the first or last Veteran to apply to that school, so your situation shouldn’t be alien to them. In fact, many colleges and universities’ financial aid offices have staff that deal with applicants and enrolled students who use the VA educational benefits, and can answer many of your questions and make the overall admissions/enrollment/payment process easier.

3. Submit required forms

Some schools will require the Certificate of Eligibility of educational benefits that you will receive from the VA—others will submit an enrollment certification without one—it’s a school-by-school policy. From what I was told by a VA rep over the phone, the average processing time is 25 days from the completion of the VONAPP to the eligibility judgment. They will also need a copy of your DD-214, which is Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty service members receive right before they go on terminal leave or upon their End of Active Service (EAS), whichever comes first.

In turn, the VA will require enrollment certification from the academic institution you plan on attending. In my case, I can get the communication between DePaul and the VA rolling by completing VA’s Educational Benefits Form. This is what DePaul University’s VA Educational Benefits Form looks like (your school’s requirements/forms may differ): DePaul University VA Educational Benefits Form

I’m in a unique situation. I go on terminal leave in early August, and Fall 2012 classes at DePaul begin on September 5th. However, my EAS is September 18th, and until that glorious day arrives, I am still considered an active-duty Marine. Because of that, I am not eligible for the sweet Chicago BAH of $1,635 a month, nor am I eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program. Neither is available to me, or anyone else, until I come off active-duty military service.

There is positivity to this. A very helpful Megan (I forget her last name) at DePaul University’s Financial Aid Office, who is familiar in dealing with the GI Bill and veteran students, explained that while would not be eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program due to the 12-day overlap between my active-duty status and the Fall semester, DePaul bills on a quarterly basis, and the $17,500 available from the Post 9/11 GI Bill will cover that. Once Sept. 18 hits, I will be eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program and should be covered for the second Fall quarter. The BAH will also go into effect once my EAS hits.

The wait begins…

(I think) I’ve gathered as much information and completed as many steps as I can at this stage of the process. Once I get my VA certificate of eligibility, I’ll submit it along with the DePaul VA Educational Benefits Form. My DD-214 won’t come until I go on terminal leave from the Marine Corps in early August, but DePaul will accept it once I receive it.

From here, I need to complete the following:

  • Math, writing and foreign language placement exams
  • Pay my tuition deposit of $100
  • Submit my acceptance of admission form
  • Submit immunization form
  • Keep my nose clean and leave active-duty Marine Corps service with an Honorable Discharge

Luis Agostini is an active-duty Marine Corps staff sergeant stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. He will attend DePaul University’s College of Communication to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations and Advertising starting in Fall 2012. Luis is an Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veteran, with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

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5 Comments

  1. Saxxx February 21, 2012 at 2:15 am

    I already see a delay that you may encounter that you must tackle if you havent done so already. If you are retiring/separating out of the SoCal area & you plan on attending Depaul, then you have to contact the VA and make sure that they process your paperwork thru the correct VA GI benefits processing center. If you completed the VONAPP section while in Cali, there is a strong chance that the VA processed your paperwork to Muskogee, Oklahoma. meanwhile your paperwork need to be processed thru the St. Louis VA GI Benefits section. That is what held me up…I was pro active like you are, and my paperwork was held up for almost 3 months!!! That situation happened to me. So call them and let them know to process your paperwork thru the correct VA processing center. buena suerte!

  2. Saxxx February 16, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    I see a delay already that you must tackle, if you haven’t already. You are retiring out of Cali, so if you did the VONAPP then you must make sure that VA does not process your request thru Muskogee Oklahoma office and that they submit your paperwork to the correct VA processing center for GI benefits. Depaul should fall under the St. Louis office. That was the problem that i had. I was pro active like you, I had retired out of Cali area and I was attending Pitt. My paperwork was screwed for 2 months all because VA processed my request thru my retiring region. So make sure that you call them because you are going to have to do another form to transfer VA GI bill regions. Buena suerte!

  3. Clay Cooper February 16, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    Your comment is awaiting moderation?

    This is how the VA prevents complaints reaching the top!

  4. Clay Cooper February 16, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    The horror stories of VA significantly delaying tuition payments—basic housing allowance payments is only the tip of the iceberg.

    VA denying medical claims because of another medical service that didn’t bother to file within the 90 day period and delaying medical payments taking as long as 2 years is very common. Because of this, medical providers send accounts to collections instead of dealing and waiting on hold for over 45 minutes with the VA for 2+ years ! Over the past seven years, I’ve made several complaints about this to Congressman now Senator John Boozman’s Office and nothing has happened.

    The whole VA system needs overhauled and those individuals suppose to be taking care of business is setting back enjoying their Kopi Luwak.

    VA way of business is, if you ignore it long enough it will either go away or die of lack of medical assistance!

    Clay Cooper USAF Ret

  5. Catherine K February 16, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Great article! As a recipient of and currently using the Post 9/11 GI Bill the biggest mistakes veterans make are not communicating with their school’s financial aid office and not being proactive.
    I have read plenty of blogs other veterans have written in the past. I have to say, that in my year and a half of receiving benefits, which I too began while on active duty, I have had only one hiccup and that was due to my school’s financial aid person not being familiar with the program. My job was to ensure my continuity of pay and to ensure she got the necessary information (and training) required so she understood the importance of submitting paperwork on time to the Regional Office. Persistence is a must and information is power.
    Veterans need to approach their education, as they did their opportunities to advance. If you do not understand something about the program, ask. There are helpful individuals at the Regional Educational Offices that want to make your transition is as smooth as possible and have a plethora of information at their disposal. Communicate with your school and ensure to “close the loop” on any issues that may be outstanding. Of all the things that you will do in the pursuit of your education, communication is the key first and foremost.
    Finally, take care of you. Remember, you are the only one responsible for your success, and by being proactive instead of reactive, will ensure your venture into the VA Educational system is a smooth transition.

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