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Operation seminary: using your VA benefits for training

You’ve served your country faithfully. Now, you desire to serve the church more strategically.

How can you best use the VA benefits you’ve earned to get the biblical training you want?

By Josh Bleeker

CONT. EDU ICONSince moving to the Washington, DC area to serve as campus director for DTS-DC, I have had the honor of meeting veterans, and quite a number of them actively serve in their local church. Their experience and training through military service equipped them to lead and serve effectively in various ministry settings.
Yet, more and more recognize the opportunity before them: their VA benefits will pay for additional education, and this education can develop them in ways no other training ever could — by equipping them to communicate God’s truth and conforming them to Christ’s image.

Does this ring true in your heart? If so, consider these simple action steps:

SOLDIER WITH BOOKS#1: APPLY for your benefits.

You have “free” money sitting there with your name on it. Use it! If someone were willing to keep your fridge stocked with fresh food, would you decline and spend your own money?
So, confirm your particular GI Bill* and then visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) Education and Training page to apply.

#2: ITEMIZE* the specifics.

The DVA will send you an eligibility letter which delineates three critical pieces of information:

1) Your eligibility level. Depending on a number of measures, including your term of service, the DVA articulates a percentage of benefits due to you.

2) The number of months of benefits available. Think of it in terms of “months when I am actively drawing benefits.” In other words, in a 12-month calendar year, you might only use three or four months of benefits when school is in session. When school is not in session, your VA benefits are not being used, permitting you to stretch out the use of benefits over several calendar years. This is why you need the subsequent data point.

3) The expiration date of your benefits. With this piece of information, you’re positioned to take the next step.

#3: STRATEGIZE your degree completion.

In general, you can map out your route based on the standard seminary degree models. Many schools offer one-, two- and three-year programs if going full-time. Each school sets its own definition of “full-time,” so be sure to check. The amount of housing benefits you draw — and when you can draw them — depend on this definition.

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As an example, the DTS-DC campus hosts hybrid classes, which combine the best of online and on-campus instruction. The hybrids minimize the students’ commute (only three Saturdays on campus) and maximize their benefits (more time for family, and students draw VA benefits the entire semester).

Make a rough sketch of how many months of study you need to finish a certain degree. Check out SeminaryComparison.com to whittle down the list of potential degrees. Once you determine the credit hour requirement, you can strategize how many classes you need to take each semester to finish the degree within a given time frame.

#4: GET ADVISED by the experts.

Want to know the biggest mistake you can make? “Too much too fast.”

I’ve heard this repeatedly. Pull back from the drive to crank out the entire degree in 12 months just because you have 12 months of benefits available. Yes, you want to get the most out of your benefits, but is it worth it if you burn out before you even graduate?
Academic advisors strive to match students with schedules that promise success. Advising staffs can provide tips on time management, online learning techniques, and degree planning. As you bring all this together, you might find that the best decision for you means taking a bit more time in order to remain healthy.

Your opportunities await. Apply, itemize, strategize — and get advised!

Josh Bleeker graduated in 2004 with his ThM in Systematic Theology. Soon after, he joined Dallas Theological Seminary’s Team Admissions full-time and was appointed Director of Admissions in 2007. In 2014, he became Director of DTS-Washington, DC

* The following examples assume using the Post–9/11 GI Bill (Ch 33). Other common ones are Ch 30 (Montgomery GI Bill), Ch 1606 (Select Reserve GI Bill), Ch 1607 (REAP GI Bill), and Ch 31 (Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment). DTS is approved to certify all of these at our Virginia, Texas, and Online campuses.

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