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How to Get Your GI Bill Benefits Started


You’ve just been discharged, and now it’s time to experience civilian life as a college student. Congratulations on the next stage in your life! Now it’s time to activate your GI Bill benefits.

First, you need to determine which benefits you are eligible for; there are multiple programs, and for the purposes of this article, only the two most used programs will be discussed. For those servicemen and women who entered after September 10th, 2001, it’s Chapter 33, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, implemented in August 2009. There is also the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty, also known as Chapter 30. Don’t let the name fool you; you can use these benefits after leaving the service. This is the program where you have had funds taken out of your paycheck for one year.

In general, these programs cover 36 months of full-time schooling. This is the equivalent of four years of education, each year consisting of nine months of education (taking into account time such as spring, summer, and winter breaks). Occasionally, you may be able to blend programs, extending program coverage to 48 months of full-time schooling, great for 5th year and graduate programs.

In order to activate benefits, you should learn to navigate the Veterans Online Application, better known as the VONAPP, part of the eBenefits system. The VONAPP gurus estimate that it will take about 30 minutes to fill out all parts of the online application, but no worries if you get interrupted; you can suspend your application electronically, which will keep all information that you have previously saved by clicking the “back” or “continue” buttons. However, if you walk away from the computer for 15 minutes, the application will timeout. The information you entered earlier will be saved, but the information on the screen you were working on will not be retained.

You will need two pieces of paperwork when applying; your DD Form 214, Report of Separation papers, and your Kicker Contract. Don’t have them? No problem; the National Archives has a copy of your service records that you can request online that will contain both papers. If you do not want to use the online service, you may also fill out the Standard Form SF-180, Military Records Request. You can request both your Report of Separation papers and your Kicker Contract at the same time on just this one form.

If you have attended any post-secondary schools for college credit, you will also need to have your transcripts handy. Contact your former school to find out how to get your transcripts; many offer both online and mail services for requests. Be prepared to use your debit/credit card or a check; it will cost for an official transcript, and often costs for an unofficial transcripts as well. Costs, again, vary from school to school.

You may also apply to activate your benefits through the mail, but it takes additional time compared to the VONAPP (mailing the application, entering the information from the forms, etc.). Use Form 22-1990, Application for VA Education Benefits. This is a four-page form with three pages of instructions, which includes the address to the district VA office in charge of processing your region’s paperwork.

Online or via mail, you can always call the VA to ask for help. Their direct number for questions on education benefit forms (and how to fill them out) is 1-888-GI-BILL-1 (1-888-442-4551) or TDD at (800) 829-4833.

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