For those service members considering going back to school before re-entering the civilian workforce, there are all kinds of education benefits and resources available to help make that happen.
Each benefit may have its limitations, but there are enough of them to likely help you meet your goals. You can start by visiting the education center on your local installation prior to your separation from service.
The Department of Defense TA DECIDE, www.dodmou.com/TADECIDE/ is a new, dynamic information and comparison tool designed specifically to aid participants of DoD’s Tuition Assistance (TA) program in making informed choices on schools and education programs. The TA DECIDE engine is fueled by more than 10 recognized and trusted data sources from across the departments of Defense, Education and Veterans Affairs.
The VA also offers a GI Bill Comparison Tool at www.vets.gov/gi-bill-comparison tool, to help you navigate the best way to get the most out of the education benefi ts you have earned through your service. Visit http://benefits.va.gov/gibill/ for more information on the Department of Veterans Affairs GI Bill program.
Keep in mind that the GI Bill is not the only game in town: If you are saving your benefits for your spouse or children to use, and you register them for the transferred benefits before you leave the service — this is important — there are other ways you can pay for your degree or career training. Military tuition assistance covers many education expenses for those in uniform seeking higher education, but there are limitations to the benefit, according to education counselors on the Fort Myer portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
Cherlin Charles Ngala, a guidance counselor intern at the Fort Myer Education Center says many service members looking to pursue higher education are eligible for more than one education benefit. “Service members could be eligible to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill and the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP),” said Ngala. She added that each service member’s eligibility for VA benefits is different based upon individual circumstances.
TA limitations are specific to individual services. “The military branch or component, rather than the VA, determines the percentage level of tuition reimbursement,” according to the Veterans Benefits Administration Web page.
“If an individual is taking very expensive courses, tuition assistance, even at the 100 percent level, may not cover the entire cost of the courses.”
Another limitation of TA is that it can only be used to fund college education. It cannot be used to pay for certifications, not even those related to Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), according to Karen Powell, one of JBM-HH’s education guidance counselors.
“A lot of times [service members] use the certificates to supplement their degree programs,” explained Powell. “For example, [service members] may already have a bachelor’s and they are getting ready to transition to the civilian workforce. They ask themselves, ‘What is going to help me get a leg up in the competition?’ They use a certificate to supplement their degree.”
However, service members can use their VA benefits, including the Montgomery GI Bill and Post-9/11 GI Bill to pay for licensing and certifications as well as supplemental education and training.
And if you exhaust all of your military education benefit options, you may also be eligible for federal financial aid.
Visit https://fafsa.ed.gov for more information on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/types/ for more information on all types of federal financial aid available.
—Bennett Leigh is a military spouse and freelance writer who lives outside of Washington, D.C. Delonte Harrod with Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall also contributed to this article.