Using the Post 9/11 GI Bill to go to college is a financial boon for many military veterans; it is a perk from serving that many students without military service envy … especially given the price of college today. However, there are some rules and procedures to follow when Uncle Sam is paying the bill. One procedure is how to drop or withdraw from a class should the need arise.

Training Time

Before getting into the specifics, one element that factors into dropping a class is training time status. Training time status is broken down into four categories:

  1. Full-time – 12 or more credits
  2. 3/4 Time – 9 to 11 credits
  3. ½ Time – 6 to 8 credits
  4. Less than ½ Time – 5 or less credits

Drop Period

Most schools have a drop period (typically the first 30 days of a term) where you can withdraw from a class without any penalties from the school. But if dropping a class changes your training time status, the VA will make the pay adjustment effective on the day of your withdrawal. As a GI Bill student, this may or may not create an overpayment situation with the VA.

If you drop a class after the school’s drop period, the VA will reduce your training time back to the beginning of the term instead on the day of as in the previous paragraph. This usually will create an overpayment situation and it can be quite large.

For example, you are a full-time student taking 12 credits using the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and you are getting $2,000 in monthly housing allowance (MHA). Your classes cost $400/credit and you decide to drop a 3-credit class two months into the term – obviously after the 30-day drop period. Dropping that class changes your training time status from full time to ¾ time.

Keep in mind, the VA goes back to the beginning of the term if you withdraw from a class after the school’s official drop period. At ¾ time, you are now authorized $1,500 per month in MHA instead of $2,000, which means you now owe Uncle Sam $1,000 ($500/mo. x 2 months) in MHA money that was overpaid to you. But it doesn’t stop there; you also owe additional $1,200 in tuition (3 credits @ $400 per credit). So now you owe Uncle Sam a total of $2,200.

Six-Hour Exclusion

The VA realizes things happen that may force you to withdraw from a class or two after the drop period has expired. Because of this, they have what is called the six-hour exclusion policy.

Under it, you can withdraw one-time up to six credit hours. The VA will still adjust your training time status, but you won’t incur an overpayment. Just to be clear, regardless if you drop 3, 6 or any number of credits in between, you can only use the exclusion once during the time you are using your Post 9/11 GI Bill.

Mitigating Circumstances

Sometimes things happen beyond your control that force you to withdraw from a class – these are mitigating circumstances. The VA has a list of the common ones on their website.

If you sustain an event that you think might fall under a mitigating circumstance, contact your school’s VA Certifying Official or send a letter to the VA explaining what happened that forced you to withdraw from the class(s). To validate your reason, the VA will require supporting documentation that serves a proof to substantiate your claim. If you claim is approved, the VA will pay you through the withdraw date with no overpayment incurred.

Failing versus Dropping a Class

Ironically, in some cases, it is better to continue taking a class … even if you know you are going to fail it. Why? Because if the class is one you need to graduate, the VA will pay you to take it again (and again and again until you pass it) and you don’t incur a debt with the VA like you would if you withdrew from it.

In the eyes of the VA, they paid you to take the class and you finished it – even if you got a failing grade. However, if you withdrew from the class, you did not finish it, therefore the VA sees no reason why they should pay you for it and in most cases you will create an overpayment situation with the VA.

Knowing these rules for using your Post 9/11 GI Bill will help keep you from creating a debt owed to the VA – something you want to avoid if at all possible. However, if you do incur a debt with the VA, go to the VA Debt Management website for advice.

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Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.