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New opportunities: Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits usage

3-minute read

February 14, 2022

Every year, approximately 200,000 individuals separate from the U.S. military and return to civilian life, adding to the approximately four million Veterans who have served from 2001 to present. Not your grandparent’s GI Bill® from 1944, today’s Post-9/11 GI Bill covers a wide range of post-secondary programs, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veterans Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC) pilot, which helps Veterans upskill for high-technology careers.

In Fall 2021, Accenture surveyed 1,507 individuals who interact with the VA education benefits process to better understand how they use the benefits, and opportunities to increase GI Bill utilization.

What we found

Our research indicated declining utilization of Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits over the last six years. This data points to new trends in how Service members, Veterans, and their families interact with education benefits and approach education overall, including:

1. Changing mindsets toward education

With increasing flexibility in when and where Veterans want to pursue post-secondary education, they are adopting a lifelong learner mindset, potentially deferring benefits now to reskill later in life. For example, with the passage of the Colmery Act (Forever GI Bill) in 2017, the 15-year limit on using benefits was removed, meaning Veterans can take advantage of benefits on longer timelines. Individuals joining the workforce today also could have multiple career transitions in a shifting digital economy. Accordingly, such changes may be encouraging eligible candidates to defer their benefits usage to reskill later in life.

We are also seeing an increasing number of transfers of educational benefits to children or spouses. Overall, we found that 7% of respondents joined the military first and foremost to obtain an education benefit which they could transfer to a family member (an equal number identified obtaining the benefit for themselves). However, our findings point to a much higher rate of transfers presently happening and forecasting into the near future. Nearly one in five (19%) of all Fiscal Year 2020 beneficiaries were family members who received full or partial transfer of eligibility, and 32% of eligible Active-Duty Service members (separating in the next 5 years) plan to transfer some or all of their benefit.

2. Industry shifts

Veterans are increasingly joining industries which may reward work and military experience as much as a credential. For this reason, some Veterans are opting for certificate programs, such as those offered through VET TEC, or Non-College Degree programs that help them secure a job in a specific field.

For those who are currently active duty, we found that the industry they wish to enter significantly affects whether they pursue additional education using their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. Specifically, our findings show that for Active-Duty Service members who will exercise the benefit, the top industries they pursue are: Government, IT, and Manufacturing. Those enlisted and pursuing careers in Science, Agriculture, or Hospitality are least likely to pursue additional education or job training.

3. Increasing expectations for high-quality customer experience

For those who have questions about their benefits, high-quality customer experience is key to optimizing GI Bill utilization. Our survey found that those who felt knowledgeable about their benefits at separation are two times as likely to use them.

Users’ evolving expectations for customer experience will require new approaches in the coming years. For example, conversational artificial intelligence can power an array of basic question-and-answer services, provided in real-time, improving the overall efficiency and effectiveness of customer service.

Moving forward

These trends underscore how new approaches help meet the changing needs of Service members and Veterans. VA is already applying new tactics to meet the moment. Through VET TEC, VA offers industry-approved credentials to Veterans within a matter of weeks and helps pair graduates with employers in the high-tech field. This program has been successful and popular in helping Veterans transition to the job market; graduates typically find employment soon after separation with an average starting salary of 1.5x median earnings in the United States.

In 2021, VA launched the Digital GI Bill, a modernization effort that will transform the GI Bill user experience. Using human-centered design and agile project management, VA and Accenture are building a new GI Bill platform designed to meet the needs of users. Within just one year of launching this effort, the team has already held over 135 focus groups and usability testing sessions, and their input will be incorporated in delivering a new customer experience.

The decision to pursue an education is a personal one, but its implications are national. This research helps identify specific areas to target to help drive meaningful outcomes for Veterans. Increasing GI Bill usage and transforming the GI Bill experience stands not only to improve the financial wellbeing and career growth of our nation’s Veterans, but also promises to contribute to the country’s economic competitiveness and innovation on a broader scale.


Maggie Pollard

Managing Director – Accenture Federal Services, Strategy and Consulting Account Lead