Veterans & Military Student Benefits

The largest of a variety of federal programs supporting veteran and service member education is the post-9/11 GI Bill administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  Substantial education support is also made available to active-duty service members by the Department of Defense through its Tuition Assistance program.

The Yellow Ribbon program is of particular interest to independent colleges.  This program expands institutional choice for veterans, and offers an excellent example of the ways in which public/private partnerships can help assure a good institutional “fit” for students.  Federal incentives for private colleges to further increase the scholarships veterans receive have made it possible for independent colleges to serve thousands more veterans than otherwise would have been possible.

As participation in and expenditures on these programs has grown, there has been increased scrutiny of the educational outcomes of their veteran students.  Among other steps, the VA has developed a GI Bill® Comparison Tool to assist veterans in selecting a school.  The tool provides a variety of information regarding an institution’s price, participation in veteran support programs, outcomes (retention, graduation, average salaries, repayment rates), acceptance of military training credit, and reported complaints. 

Colleges remain committed to providing a supportive and flexible educational environment for student veterans and their families. NAICU works with the VA and congressional committees to address issues affecting veterans' education in a manner that maintains support for veteran students and limits burden to institutions.


The federal government provides over $16 billion annually, to approximately 1 million veterans and service members, for a variety of education benefits.  These programs have not only opened educational opportunities, but also enhanced institutional choice through the Yellow Ribbon program. 

The enactment of the post-9/11 GI Bill in 2008, and the expansion of these benefits through the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, known as the “Forever GI Bill,”  spurred substantial growth in these education benefits.  This growth presented administrative challenges, and raised program integrity concerns.  It has also focused attention on the educational performance of, and supportive services for, veteran students.  As such, the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020 ("Isakson-Roe"), signed into law in January 2021, and the Training in High-Demand Roles to Improve Veteran Employment (THRIVE) Act, enacted later that year, provided relief related to the COVID-19 emergency and made several changes intended to protect veterans education programs from abuse.


The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, better known as the GI Bill, was enacted in 1944, opening the doors of higher education to millions of returning World War II veterans.  The GI Bill, and other veteran education programs, remained in force, but diminished in their generosity over time. 

That changed with the enactment of the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2008.  Launching the massive new program was an administrative challenge.  Much congressional attention focused on VA systems, and colleges struggled to address differences in student aid policies, systems, and terminology between the VA and the Department of Education. 

As the program grew, questions of program integrity and performance came into play.  In 2012, President Obama issued a broad-ranging executive order outlining “Principles of Excellence” for veteran and military-related education.  Among other things, the executive order led to the development of the GI Bill® Comparison Tool by the VA, and the formalization of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Department of Defense and institutions participating in the Tuition Assistance Program.  In January 2017, the Department of Defense notified participating institutions that it had established a new Voluntary Education Institutional Compliance Program to assure institutional compliance with the MOU.  

What You Can Do

Let your Senators and Representative know of your appreciation for the support they provide to veterans and service members—particularly through the Post-9/11 GI Bill and its Yellow Ribbon program.  In preparing for your meetings or communication with elected officials:
  • Identify the steps your institution has taken to create a welcoming and supportive environment for veterans.  
  • Gather examples of successful outcomes for veteran students on your campus.
  • Be ready to address questions related to college prices, as many elected officials are concerned that rising college prices are pushing program costs to unsustainable levels.


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