Financial Aid for Military Service Members and Student Veterans

portrait of Heather Mullinix
by Heather Mullinix
Published on November 22, 2021
Reviewed by Mary Louis

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Earning a college degree can lead to greater employment opportunities and higher pay. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), adults 25 and older with bachelor's degrees or higher faced an unemployment rate of less than 5% in 2020. The unemployment rate for high school graduates with no college education was 9% during the same year.

A college education can be just as much of an asset for military members as for civilians. Active-duty army personnel can advance their military careers or pursue civilian jobs by earning a bachelor's degree.

In addition to student financial aid, several programs exist to help armed service members and veterans achieve their educational goals. Learn about tuition assistance programs, veteran benefits, and federal student aid available to military service members and student veterans.

What is the most important aspect of the financial aid process for military service members and student veterans? question-mark-circle

“Believe it or not, the most important aspect of the financial aid process for members of the military and student veterans is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). When we sit down with someone to talk about financial aid for veterans the assumption is always that the discussion will center around the GI Bill, and the GI Bill alone. These assumptions are precisely the reason that the FAFSA needs to be promoted as a top priority for military and veteran students.”

Understanding Veteran Affairs (VA) Education Benefits

Post-9/11 GI Bill® (Chapter 33): Military service members who served at least 90 days of active duty after September 10, 2001, may qualify for this educational benefit. The Post-9/11 GI Bill pays for college tuition and fees for up to 36 months. The VA covers the cost of public, in-state tuition and up to $26,042.81 for private or international schools per year. Recipients may also receive monthly housing payments and annual book stipends.

Service members who left service before January 1, 2013, have 15 years to use their benefits. Benefits never expire for service members who left service after that date. This program also allows service members to transfer any unused benefits to a spouse or child. Individuals should review the VA's website for additional information on criteria and benefits.

Yellow Ribbon Program: The Yellow Ribbon program provides additional financial support to students who attend a school where tuition and fees exceed the maximum Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit available by law. In practice, schools agree to cover a portion of the remaining tuition and fees for qualified students, and the VA matches that contribution.

Yellow Ribbon agreements cover a set number of students each year. Be sure to apply early to ensure funding. Note that schools may offer tiers of support for undergraduate, master's, and doctoral students. Funding also depends on other financial aid students receive, such as scholarships or grants. Individuals should review the VA's website for additional information on Yellow Ribbon program criteria and benefits

Montgomery GI Bill: The VA offers two types of Montgomery GI Bill programs: active duty and selected reserve. This program also provides up to 36 months of benefits. Unlike the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill pays all benefits directly to the student. Student veterans can only receive benefits under one program at a time.

The active-duty program requires students to have completed at least two years of active-duty service. The selected reserve program requires a six-year commitment after June 30, 1985. Individuals should review the VA's website for additional information on criteria and benefits for Montgomery GI Bill programs.

Veterans' Educational Assistance Program (VEAP - Chapter 32): Service members who served between January 1, 1977, and June 30, 1985, may qualify for this military student savings program.

Benefits for members of the Air Force are limited to those who first entered the service between December 1, 1980, and September 30, 1981. They also must have served in specific jobs at particular duty stations.

Participants are required to contribute $25-$2,700 into a VEAP account, which the federal government matches. Student veterans can use their VEAP funds to pay for college, non-degree training, apprenticeships, test fees, and correspondence training. Veterans have 10 years from the time they are released from active duty to use this benefit. If the service member does not use the money, the VA will refund their contribution. Individuals should review the VA's website for additional information on VEAP criteria and benefits.

Survivors' and Dependents' Education Assistance (DEA - Chapter 35) Program: Children and spouses of military service members who died, were captured in the line of duty, or disabled due to a service-connected injury or illness qualify for this program. The program offers a monthly payment to cover educational expenses, career counseling, and on-the-job training. Benefits last for 36 months.

Children qualify for the program between the ages of 18 and 26. Children receiving benefits under the DEA program cannot also receive dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) from the VA.

Spouses are eligible for benefits for up to 10 years on the date the VA determines eligibility or following the death of a veteran or service member. However, spouses of military members who become permanently disabled (with an effective date three years after discharge) or die in active duty are eligible for benefits up to 20 years. Spouses may use DEA and DIC benefits. Individuals should review the VA's website for additional information on DEA criteria and benefits.

Military Tuition Assistance (TA) Programs

Each branch of the armed forces offers a tuition assistance program designed to help active-duty military members pay for their college education. These tuition assistance programs may fund up to 100% of college tuition and certain fees but have certain limits that can be found on the corresponding program's website. The benefits do not cover classes a member of the military has already taken, and they do not apply to a second associate or bachelor's degree.

How to Apply to TA Programs by Military Branch

Army: This tuition assistance program provides financial assistance for voluntary off-duty civilian education programs in support of a soldier's professional and personal self-development goals. All soldiers (officers, warrant officers, enlisted) on active duty, Army National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers on active duty, and TPU soldiers are authorized to participate in this program.

Navy: Service members must be on active duty. Students should contact the Navy College Virtual Education Center to speak with a counselor regarding questions pertaining to education funding options and career counseling.

Marines: The voluntary education program for Marines assists them with individual counseling regarding many aspects of college, such as finding the right school, testing, obtaining credit for prior military learning, financial aid, and other options that may shorten the amount of time or funds required to complete a degree.

Coast Guard: The Coast Guard tuition assistance program is designed to assist Coast Guard personnel in broadening academic or technical backgrounds by providing funding for off-duty independent education.

Air Force: Interested individuals should apply through the Air Force Virtual Education Center. Your supervisor must approve your request. Continued benefits require maintaining a GPA of 2.0 or higher during undergraduate study.

Federal Student Aid for Service Members and Veterans

Student veterans and military service members can also use federal financial aid to finance their education. All students should fill out the FAFSA each year. Also, explore scholarships and grants — especially programs specifically serving military students and military dependents.

Student Loan Repayment Program: Federal agencies may offer veteran student loan relief to recruit or retain employees. Loan recipients must meet specific requirements, and payments may not exceed $10,000 a year. The student must repay any additional loans or loan balances. Learn more about student loans, repayment options, and public service programs for veteran student loan forgiveness.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act: The SCRA caps interest rates on loans for military service members called to active duty. The act also protects active-duty military members from default legal judgments and foreclosure or repossession. Additionally, it gives them the ability to break a lease without penalty.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants: Undergraduate students with exceptional financial need qualify for $100-$4,000 a year toward their education. The FSEOG program provides support beyond the Federal Pell Grant Program. Schools receive a limited amount of funding for this program, so students should apply for financial aid early.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants: Students whose parent or guardian died in military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, may qualify for this grant. Students must enroll in college at least part time and be younger than 24 years old.

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants: TEACH grants offer up to $4,000 each year to students pursuing teaching degrees. Recipients agree to teach in high-need schools or fields for at least four years following the completion of their education. If they fail to work at such schools and/or in these specific areas, the grant converts to a loan that must be repaid.

Working With Your Certifying School Official

Before veterans can receive educational benefits, their school must report their enrollment to the VA. The school certifying official (SCO) can access enrollment information, request information, submit inquiries to the VA, and certify student's enrollment. This official can help student veterans access other benefits, as well.

SCOs complete annual training to remain compliant and have continued access to certify students enrollment on the VA's website. To assist student veterans, an SCO needs a copy of the student's certification of eligibility.The certificate of eligibility indicates how many months of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits the service member has remaining.

The officer will also need copies of military and college transcripts. Transfer students complete an additional form to indicate their change of program or school.

Notify your SCO of any changes in your enrollment status right away. The SCO may work in the school's financial aid office or a separate office dedicated to student veterans services.

Additional Resources for Financial Assistance

American Council on Education

ACE offers transfer credit recommendations and certifies the Joint Services Transcript, which helps institutions and students translate professional military experience into academic credit. By earning academic credits for service, students can decrease the amount of time and money they spend on a college degree.

Career NCO Degrees Program of the College of the American Soldier

This program is focused on combat arms non-commissioned officers (NCOs) but is available to soldiers in all military occupational specialties. The courses in this program at the College of the American Soldier help ensure that military training translates into academic credit and give career NCOs more options in higher education. These courses are available online or at military installations.

Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support

DANTES gives veterans and service members the opportunity to work with an education counselor who can provide advice on preparing for college. The organization offers information on resources from the VA, other financial assistance, and alternatives to college.

National Association of Veterans Upward Bound

NAVUB is a professional association that works with veterans to create and improve access to education through academic assessments. It also strives to increase veterans' direct access to institutions, instruction, and academic support. This organization is funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Advanced Civil Schooling

ACS helps select officers earn graduate degrees from a variety of civilian universities. Participants in this program pursue master's degrees relevant to their branch, functional area, or specialty. Officers must be nominated to this program, and they must meet specific educational and testing criteria.

What is one resource you recommend for military service members and student veterans navigating financial aid at their college or university? question-mark-circle

“If I were to recommend any resource for service members and veteran students to utilize on campus, it would be to utilize their peers. While there are many colleges and universities with countless exceptional resources for veterans on campus, they are not guaranteed. Schools are only required to maintain one staff member who can complete the five hour online training to certify GI Bill benefits with the VA. I have encountered large flagship universities with over 20,000 students that only have one non-veteran staff member on campus who handles GI BIll certification, but do not provide any further veteran services.

Service members and veteran students can use resources provided by Student Veterans of America to locate their nearest chapter and identify peers that can help them identify resources and navigate the unique challenges of managing financial aid as a service member or veteran student.”

Frequently Asked Questions About Financial Aid for Military and Student Veterans

Do veterans qualify for the Federal Pell Grant Program?

Yes, student veterans can receive financial assistance from the Federal Pell Grant program if they meet certain criteria. The grant provides up to $6,495 for the 2021-2022 school year, though awards vary based on expected family contribution, cost of attendance, and enrollment status.

The program provides financial aid to full-time and part-time students. Students may also receive funding to attend an extra semester within the award year. To qualify, students must complete the FAFSA. Applications open October 1 each year for the following academic term.

Does the VA provide federal student aid?

The VA does not provide and is not associated with the federal student aid that you have to apply for using the FAFSA. VA education programs only serve students who meet specific requirements for military service. All students qualify for federal student aid based on their financial need. You do not report VA education benefits on the FAFSA.

Your VA education benefits may impact eligibility for some campus-based aid programs, but you do not have to use your VA education benefits. Programs like the Post-9/11 GI Bill limit education benefits to 36 months. You can discuss how your benefits impact college affordability with an enrollment counselor, financial aid officer, or SCO.

Are there scholarships for veterans and military dependents?

Yes, many schools, private organizations, and businesses offer scholarships to support student veterans and their dependents. Some scholarships welcome all veterans and dependents. Others may limit participation to a particular branch of service or veterans with disabilities.

Many states also offer educational programs specifically for veterans and their families. These programs may provide reduced tuition at state schools, or waive tuition and fees for disabled veterans.

Does the FAFSA consider VA disability?

Yes, you should report VA benefits such as disability payments on the FAFSA. While these benefits do not count as taxable income, they do make up part of your family income. This information helps determine financial contributions for financial aid programs. Include all non-education benefits, rounded to the nearest dollar.

However, you do not report education benefits on the FAFSA. These benefits include the Post-9/11 GI Bill and housing allowances paid under that program or VA Vocational Rehabilitation Program benefits.


GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at https://benefits.va.gov/gibill/index.asp.


Meet the Professional

Tyler served eight years in the U.S. Army as a chemical equipment specialist. While serving, he utilized his military benefits to attend Binghamton University in upstate New York where he received his bachelor's and master's in public administration degrees. After receiving an honorable discharge, he worked as an administrator in the state of New York and for the University of Colorado at Denver. Tyler left the University of Colorado system to found Upward Bound Academic Consulting. Upward Bound provides independent college counseling for prospective students and families, including test prep, essay writing, interview coaching, college match, application completion, scholarship identification, and personalized counseling for military benefits such as the GI Bill and Tuition Assistance program. Upward Bound also uses its unique expertise in military and veteran education to work with government organizations and colleges to improve veteran transition into higher education and benefits utilization.


Feature Image: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images

Veteran scholarships help military students overcome financial challenges to attending college. Find veteran scholarships for college. Military dependents make many sacrifices for their loved ones. Scholarships and aid for military dependents can help them achieve their educational goals. In recognition of military service, many organizations provide aid and services to help veterans pursue higher education. Learn more about these benefits.