The decision has been made and the paperwork submitted. Itís
time to hang up your BDUís and boots and replace them with
sneakers and a book bag. You have decided to leave the Army
and return to school to take advantage of the educational
benefits the recruiter promised you. But, before you run out
and fork over big bucks for tuition, there are some important
questions to consider.
What Do You Want To Do?
The first and most difficult question is, ďWhat do you want
to do for the rest of your life?Ē If you have not made this
decision, you definitely need to spend some time looking at
your career options. Many veterans have spent much time and
money pursuing a career for which they had neither the ability
nor the interest. Your Education Services Office, the library,
or the counseling center at a local university, are good places
to start investigating careers.
Once the decision is
made, you then need to look at the education options available
to you. If you are considering a certificate of licensing
program, then consider technical schools and community/junior
colleges (both residence and correspondence). If you prefer
a degree program, you need to consider public and private
two- and four-year institutions. Regardless of what type of
school you choose, make sure the school and the program are
both approved for VA benefits. The school can verify this,
or you can call the nearest Department of Veterans Affairs
regional office. This is critical, since you cannot receive
VA educational benefits if you choose a school or a program
that is not approved.
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Before You Leave The Army
You must make sure your Army records accurately reflect the
appropriate educational program. First, before your discharge,
ensure that your records show that you are eligible for the
correct program, and that you participated as required (contributed
to the VEAP program or had the required deductions made for
the Montgomery G.I. Bill). Second, when you are discharged,
ensure that your DD214 (Discharge Document) shows the correct
year and months you served, and that it reflect an Honorable
Discharge (any other type of discharge can make you ineligible
to participate in several educational programs). If you are
being release before your original separation date, then ensure
your DD214 reflects that you are discharge early for Hardship,
Medical Disability, or the Convenience of the Government.
If not, you may not be eligible for VA educational benefits.
Itís important that any corrections be made before your discharge.
Itís a very time-consuming and complicated process to try
to have your DD214 corrected once you are out. Also, remember
to take your DD214 to a Clerk of a Circuit Court or local
records office for recording. Theyíll keep a record copy in
case your copy is ever destroyed, and theyíll make certified
copies for you. Never mail out the original DD214.
Where can you get copies of your military records?
The individual military departments DO NOT maintain
files or records pertaining to individuals no longer on active
duty. When an individual is separated from military service
(because of retirement, discharge from active duty, or death)
his/her Field Personnel File (containing all military and
health records) is forwarded for storage to the National Personnel
Records Center (Military), 9700 Page Boulevard, St. Louis,
MO 63172. The Records Center is under the jurisdiction of
the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of
the U.S. Government.
Their web site is: National
Personnel Records Center
Apply For School
Now, itís time to apply to the school you have chosen. Depending
on when you want to begin classes and the type of school,
you may need to start this process well in advance of your
discharge. Many colleges, universities, and trade schools
require applications three to four months before the school
term begins. The veteransí coordinator or admissions office
at the school can provide that information. You may also want
to apply to more than one school. While you want to go to
the best school possible, those schools often have the most
competitive admissions policies, and you should be prepared
with an alternate plan.
While it is difficult to anticipate every requirement at
every school, the following is a list of information and items
which are commonly required when applying for admission:
Fully completed and signed application, with application
Official transcripts (high school and colleges).
Official DANTES or CLEP test results or transcript (if applicable).
Immunization records showing up-to-date immunizations.
Proof of residency.
ACT or SAT (and GED, if applicable) test scores, as required. Check with the school for test requirements;
many can be completed prior to discharge for little or no charge.
Record of military and civilian schools attended, including addresses, dates of attendance, hours attempted/earned,
grade point average (GPA).
Some form of identification, i.e. driverís license.
Apply For VA Benefits
Once admitted to the school itís time to apply for your VA
benefits. Here again, the veteran coordinator at your school
can help in this process. You will probably need the following
in order to complete the application process:
Copy of DD214.
Dependency documents, i.e. marriage license, birth certificates (if applicable).
Copies of Delayed Enlistment Contract (if applicable).
Adequate funds to cover initial living costs and school
expenses. Most schools have some form of VA deferment plan
to allow you to pay tuition and fees after VA benefits have
started, but other costs cannot be deferred.
To actually start receiving VA benefits, the school must
certify your enrollment to the VA, and you may be required
to verify your attendance. The veterans coordinator can provide
you with more specific guidance. In general, your first VA
check will arrive about eight to twelve weeks after classes
begin. In some cases you can request payment in advance (paid
at registration); check with your school to see if this is
available. Please note that you must request advance payment
at least sixty (60) days before classes begin.
In closing, you are about to make one of the most important
and rewarding decision of your life. You should carefully
decide about your career and the school you attend. The Education
Services Office, as well as your prospective schools, can
assist you in these decisions. You will need to make sure
your military records correctly reflect your eligibility for
VA benefits. Finally, when you apply to the school for your
VA benefits, make sure you have all the necessary information
and documents. If you have any questions, contact the Department
of Veterans or the veterans coordinator at your selected school.
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