I have been through an absolute maze that has taken me from mid August 2008 until now, mid December 2008, and I still do not have any payments. With some luck, I have finally cracked the code on how to do it.
"What gives?" you ask. A lot. Here I will tell you how the process works from the bits and pieces that I have been able to glean from my experiences and phone calls. I will rant later on, but here is the information that you need now.
Step One: Application. You will need to first determine what school you want to go to, what you want to major in, and enroll. Even though you may be paying for tuition for a bit, you will be reimbursed by the GI Bill up to one year if you are qualified. Some schools will have special tuition rates for those who are active duty or reserve, or a veteran, and the savings are worth it. Be sure to have a military education counselor assigned as your financial aid officer and as your student advisor.
Step Two: Apply for a FAFSA Loan. After you apply for the school, you will need to go to the FAFSA home page, and apply for the Pell Grant, some subsidized loans, etc. You may kick and scream and try to avoid this painful process, but it is free money, a really great, low interest, government guaranteed loan, and some schools require that you do this before beginning classes. What you will need is a ton of information, which you will find on your last taxes and W-2's. Every June, you will need to reapply with last years tax return. It will take about 1 hour if you are a speed typer, and about 2 if you really do not like to use a computer.
Step Three: The GI Bill Application. Then you take your DD214, scanned in as a PDF on the computer you are using (all of them), your bank information, your school address (your school has a GI Bill VA Rep in thier office (most do), ask them for the correct address, very important!), home address (make sure that you are receiving mail there), and telephone number. Go to the GI Bill application web site. You will find the education forms site. You will then select the form 22-1990, and it will take you to the VONAPP site, where you will select "Start VONAPP". You will then either log in with your current user name and password, or create a new one. From here it is all you. Another form that you may be required to fill out is a form 22-1995, a change of enrollment. I was asked to do this and I thought "what the heck??" But it is just another stepping stone. You can fill this out and submit it via the VONAPP web site through the GI Bill site. Make sure you send a signed copy to your school so they have it on file. Your case will be handled by the region your school is located in. For example, Illinois schools are handled by the St. Louis regional office, who I have found to be less than able. Fort Lauderdale schools are handled by Atlanta, Georgia office, who have a very good 2-3 day turn around.
Step Four: Ask your school to send in a verification of enrollment. This is where you call your school, request to speak with a military education counselor or the VA representative. You then ask them to send in a form 22-1999. You will not be able to send this in yourself, it is only available at the school. Here are the items you will need to have filled out: when you enrolled, how many semesters have you completed and are enrolled in, how many credit hours in each semester enrolled in are, If there are any breaks, please note them. The school itself will send in the form. They know what to do, and if the person is clueless, it is ok to ask for someone who can help, don't just say, "oh, ok," and hang up the phone, GET IT DONE!!! This form will then be sent to a fax machine (very old fashioned), where it will be then hand scanned into your account, which could take weeks, but, read on....
WARNING!!! YOU COULD SCREW THIS UP!!!
BEFORE YOU HANG UP THE PHONE, GET THIS INFORMATION!!!
You will need the following information about this form before you call the GI BILL hot line:
---Certification ID Number---
---Facility code of the school---
---Date Sent In or submitted---
---Transaction ID Number or Retrieval receipt (same thing)---
---The date that GI Bill Absorbed the Document (a few days later)---
---And sometimes, the name of the person who sent it in!---
Step Five: Call GI Bill to ensure you have not fallen trough the cracks! This is where you can get a million answers and all of them are wrong. You will need to call 1-(800)-827-1000. It will ask the usual "are you on a touch phone" "calling about VA benefits" "questions regarding Active Duty GI Bill or Select Reserve", then it becomes more interesting: "type in you SSN," "type in your date of birth," and usually they will not find the file, so you will be connected to a real live person, GET THEIR NAME, PHONE NUMBER, AND SUPERVISORS NAME, they will try to feed you a line of bull about not giving that info out, so tell them that you have been getting all of the other names and extension numbers everytime you call, so they usually cave...if not, ask for another person if they are stubborn. Here is the catch: you will receive standard answers of "it will take 4-6 weeks", but only if you have applied during the fall or spring semester, then it will take that long; "we have not received such and such..." is another excuse, but everything you have done so far is electronic, so at the VONAPP site, it will post immediately to your account, and you will receive an email confirmation as such, tell the representative the confirmation numbers for your school verification, so they will then post that to your account and send it to a department for the scanning of the documents on to your account. Get any and all information for the next step, and get a second opinion. I received 5 different answers in one week. It will be frustrating!
Step Six: Recontact GI Bill if no response! If you do not hear anything for a few weeks, call. It should not take more than 4 weeks for the entire process, unless you decided to apply during the fall or spring semesters. They will not call you, email you, or sometimes even send you a letter. If you do not stay on top of this, then you will fall through the cracks, and no one will do anything more for your account. If I had not called, I would be still at the starting point. The call center people are either really knowledgeable, keep their info, and ask to be transferred to them; or really dumb, in that case, ask for someone else, you have the right to do that. These representatives do not record any calls you make to them in your file, so the next person you call may not realize how much of a run around you have been given, so be professional. It is ok to say "I am angry, please help me." I have also found that the GI Bill VA Rep at your school will have inside numbers to call directly to an effective case manager. I let mine go to bat for me, and she was able to get results in one call where it had taken me weeks of calling to get.
Step Seven: The Receipt of Certification. When it is all said and done, you will receive a certification of benefits. KEEP THIS DOCUMENT FOREVER!!! Then send a copy to your school. Every month, your school will send out a confirmation of enrollment. You will then need to sign into WAVES, at the end of every month, to verify that you have are enrolled in classes for that month to receive any money.
Whew! That was a lot of information for just one application, and trust me, it will be worth it.