By Walter Ochinko, Research Director, Veterans Education Success


This paper (1) examines the challenges researchers face in using publicly available databases to track veterans use of GI Bill benefits and their success in earning postsecondary credentials, and (2) presents the methodology and findings of several Veterans Education Success reports that, despite these challenges, teased out important insights on veteran outcomes.

Several Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) databases provide information about the use of GI Bill educational benefits, but they do not allow researchers to differentiate among veterans and other individuals who use those benefits, such as eligible family members or individuals who are still serving. Moreover, the VA data focus on beneficiaries who are using benefits even though some individuals may have exhausted their benefits yet may still be attending school. Our research has shown that GI Bill beneficiaries consist of distinct cohorts having different characteristics; these cohorts’ merit separate investigation, e.g., veterans vs. GI Bill eligible dependents; graduate vs. undergraduate student veterans; or veterans using vs. not using benefits.

Among publicly available data sets, only the Department of Education’s (ED) nationally representative surveys allow researchers to differentiate among beneficiary cohorts and assess student veteran outcomes, including their graduation rates, non-completion, the impact of disabilities on outcomes, and student loan debt both for veterans using and not using benefits. For example, our research suggests that about 41 percent of veterans who graduated in 2015-16 enrolled for the first time in 2005 or earlier.1 Given such long matriculation, these veterans likely exhausted their 36 months of GI Bill benefits well before graduation. As a result, student loan debt may be necessary for some veterans to cross the finish line. If VA shared data with ED on all individuals who are eligible for or who have received GI Bill benefits, including their remaining months of entitlement, researchers could obtain a better understanding of the factors that result in many veterans not using GI Bill benefits.