Serving Those Who Serve: Education Benefits For Veterans

Military Color Guard

Veterans have served their country — and their country is willing and able to return the favor. Men and women, in and out of uniform, are given access to an array of military education benefits, state and federal, that can be used while on active duty or after they leave the service.

Army veteran Lyndsay Lahner had a compelling reason to explore her military education benefits. "I wanted to set a positive example for my daughter. School has become one of my top priorities so I can lead by example for her. I want her to know how important it is to have an education," she says.

The former combat medic chose College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn to pursue an associate degree in Clinical Laboratory Science. Lahner is a full time student who is one year into the program. She plans to transfer to Northern Illinois University to earn a bachelor’s degree to work as a medical technician. She also works part time in Veterans Services at COD through the VA work-study program.

"Eligible veterans may use both federal and state benefits to pursue their education," says Jose Alferez, Manager, Veterans Student Services at COD.

According to the Veteran's Administration, the VA pays benefits to service members and veterans to pursue an approved education or training program. The primary VA education benefit programs that cover active duty military, National Guard and Reservists and veterans are:

  • Post-9/11 GI Bill™: This program provides financial assistance toward tuition and fees, books, and supplies, and it provides a monthly housing allowance. Eligible service members may transfer unused Post-9/11 GI Bill™ benefits to an eligible spouse or child.
  • Montgomery GI Bill™-Active Duty and Selected Reserve: Active duty members who enroll in this program pay $100 per month for 12 months and are then entitled to receive a monthly education benefit once they have completed a minimum service obligation. This benefit is also available to active duty reservists with a six-year obligation in the Selected Reserve.

The VA offers other benefit programs to offset educational costs. Information about VA education programs can be found at benefits.va.gov/gibill.

Lahner encourages vets to advocate for themselves and find out about the educational benefits due them by contacting the VA and by seeking guidance offered through veteran services offices at local colleges.

"I knew I wanted to return to school, so I became my own advocate and did as much research about the VA educational benefits I was eligible for," says Lahner. "Once I started at COD the Veterans Services Office also took the time to help guide me as to what benefits and programs I could use."

For those unsure of how to utilize their VA education benefits, community colleges offer a good starting point, says Alferez, a former U.S Marine.

"Community colleges offer a great deal of flexibility to students of all types," says Alferez. "The variety in courses, class schedules, low costs, proximity to their homes, and quality of education are a huge advantage to students starting their college careers. Community colleges can also offer the types of technical and vocational careers that are not available elsewhere. Students who are not ready to make a decision on a major also enjoy a lot of flexibility in the types of courses they can take at the community college.”

Community colleges offer additional services to veterans, including career counseling, personalized support services to help veterans make the adjustment to school, assistance in getting military transcripts for evaluation, and job search assistance that includes resume writing and interviewing skills.

COD offers an array of services targeted toward veterans, including laptop rentals for those enrolled in credit classes and who hold a school library card, as well as advocacy, social, educational and career help. The college, which has a centralized point of contact for veterans through their Veterans Services office, also offers a dedicated Veteran’s Lounge and a veterans club.

Alferez advises veterans to not wait too long to pursue an education."These are earned benefits that a veteran should take advantage of regardless of what their long-term career choice is," he says. "Some of these benefits have delimiting dates, which means that they could expire after a certain period of time. Returning to school can often times become more difficult the longer a person has been out of school, so finding the motivation early is important."

Lahner has some advice for her fellow vets. "Civilian life can be a difficult transition; so don’t be afraid to ask questions," she says. "Seek out help in the areas that are more difficult for you in school and everyday life outside the military. ...To be successful it is important to have a good support system.

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