Vets may see benefit increase

By Keith Hernandez

NIU veterans may see more educational benefits by summer 2015 as the result of a proposed rule change to the distribution of Illinois veteran benefits.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs endorsed a proposed Illinois administrative rule change Friday that would allow Illinois veterans who do not qualify for full federal educational benefits to have their Post-9/11 GI Bill applied before state benefits. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules must first act upon the proposal before the rule can go into effect.

The new rule will allow affected veterans to save money and extend the duration of education benefits by using the Illinois Veteran Grant to waive the amount of tuition not covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill, said Rodrigo Garcia, acting director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Bottom line is, it provides more flexibility and more choices to student veterans with potentially tens of thousands of dollars in support that they could utilize at a later date as opposed to burning through them …,” Garcia said.

The federal Post-9/11 GI Bill pays a percentage of tuition and housing stipends for 36 months for all veterans who have seen at least 90 days of active duty. The amount toward a beneficiary under the federal program depends on the length of active duty and/or combat.

State education benefits, such as the Illinois Veterans’ Grant, which can waive up to 120 credit hours, are applied before the Post-9/11 GI Bill; however, veterans such as Army Reservists and National Guardsmen who were deployed overseas for a year or so are not able to maximize their federal educational benefits, Garcia said,

“Under the current scenario, somebody who is 50 percent [covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill], IVG [Illinois Veterans’ Grant] covers 100 percent tuition,” Garcia said. “The GI Bill says, ‘Well, there’s no remaining balance so we won’t pay anything, but here’s your housing stipend; we’ll still charge you a month of benefits.’”

Colleges and universities will also benefit from the rule by gaining income from federal grant money that will replace state waivers, Garcia said.