This post was revised for clarity on Nov. 21, 2020.
As the fall semester nears its close, PLNU military-affiliated students using service benefits prepare to choose next semester’s classes and begin a very specific certification process. This process ensures military service-earned benefits such as the Post 9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill, Veteran Readiness and Employment or the Fry Scholarship are properly applied to their schedules for payment.
The GI Bill has been around since World War II, created in 1944 as the war came to a close. It ensured that all veterans, male or female, could attain education benefits to help them re-enter the economy after the war. Programs like these have changed over the years. There are now two different types of GI Bill benefits available: the Montgomery GI Bill, for reservists and veterans who served less than two years, and the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Other programs include Chapter 1606 benefits, the Fry Scholarship and Veterans Readiness and Employment benefits, which are special education funds for disabled veterans.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill is the most commonly used benefit, which was created for veterans who served at least 90 days of active duty service after Sept. 10, 2001 and received an honorable discharge. To qualify for the full benefit, a veteran must have served at least three years of active duty after Sept. 10, 2001. A service member can extend these benefits to a child or spouse.
Karina Sidhu, a PLNU nursing major, uses her father’s benefits; her father is still serving the U.S. Navy after 22 years.
“He gave his GI bill to me because he had his degree already and wanted me to pursue my education wherever I wanted, without the burden of student loans,” Sidhu said.
According to Deborah Tillson, PLNU senior advisor and senior certifying official for military programs and services, the school houses more veterans and military-affiliated students, like Sidhu, than ever before.
“In my time with PLNU I have seen our military-connected population more than double,” Tillson said. “Currently about 10 percent of the student population are military-connected.”
For Tillson, it’s important that the growing military-affiliated students receive their benefits with no difficulties. Tillson is the school’s most experienced certifying official, and she knows all the different benefits students are entitled to, as well as what each benefit offers. Although there is much Tillson can do for a student, she said students are ultimately responsible for understanding their benefits and what is required.
“If there’s a change in your registration, you have to contact our offices,” Tillson said. “These are your benefits, and it’s important that you understand them and keep up with them.”
Tillson also said students must take classes required for their degree in order for them to be payable by Veterans Affairs. She said she understands it is a lot to keep up with, but it is important because the rest of the veterans’ services staff are not allowed to reach out to students’ parents or to faculty about military-affiliated student benefit issues. She encouraged faculty members to sign up for emails from the veterans’ services office to stay up to date with their military-affiliated students.
COVID-19 changed the certification process for students in several ways, but one of the most important changes concerns Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) funds. BAH funds are allotted to students who take more than 50% rate of pursuit or more. It is paid for Post 9/11 GI Bill, Fry Scholarship and VRE, but not the Montgomery GI Bill and Chapter 1606. BAH is a payment the VA gives veteran students on top of paying for their classes as a way to assist forward movement and finish their education after service.
“The VA wants us to be fully engaged in our education and wants to make sure that is our priority, so they make sure our rent is covered so we do not have to stress about working and going to school at the same time,” said PLNU junior Niyah Wilson, a Navy veteran pursuing an information systems degree.
A student taking all online classes will receive substantially less BAH than a student taking classes on campus. When COVID-19 forced students into fully remote learning this past March, the VA decided to keep paying students at the residential rate of BAH amounts despite all classes being virtual until Dec. 21, 2020.
According to Tillson, that does not mean all online classes are now paid as “in-person” classes. If classes were initially created to be in person, then they will continue to be payable that way. But, classes that were initially intended for online will continue to be payable at that lesser rate. Tillson also said PLNU’s new spring mini-semester will only pay eligible online rates for BAH, given these courses were designed to be online due to the COVID-19 crisis. Only classes during the full spring and fall semesters will be payable.
“Summer session one and two on the undergraduate campus normally have both residential and online courses available,” Tillson said. “Depending on the status of COVID-19 protocols, be sure to check what the original modality of the course is for summer so you are aware [of] the BAH payment rate.”
Written By: Amber Robinson