By Rita Graham MPP 2025

Are you a U.S. veteran or active-duty service member starting at Harvard Kennedy School in the fall? I’m writing to share some tips to ensure your transition to civilian schooling is a success.

My name is Rita Graham, and I’m a first year MPP student at the HKS. I served for six years in the Army in the Field Artillery. At HKS, I am the Admissions and Communications Chair of the Armed Forces Committee (AFC),  a student organization at HKS dedicated to building community for servicemembers. I transitioned from service in August of 2023 (48 hours before classes started!), and I want to share five things you can do to ensure early success at HKS.

Confirm Sources of Funding

Through the VA

  • Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E): If you have a predischarge rating of 20% (or post-discharge 10%) and qualify for GI Benefits, you can apply for Veteran Readiness and Employment funding. VR&E gives you the same BAH rate as the GI Bill and leaves your GI Bill completely untouched for later use.
  • GI Bill: HKS is a Yellow Ribbon school, so if you qualify for 100% of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, then you are also eligible for Yellow Ribbon funding. HKS will match up to $7,500 in Yellow Ribbon funding from the VA, so the Yellow Ribbon Program will cover up to $15,000 in addition to your Post-9/11 GI Bill amount.  
  • If you have questions about using your VA educational benefits at HKS, you can reach out to your program’s financial aid contact for assistance. 

Through HKS

While the deadline for applying for financial assistance through HKS has passed and financial assistance decisions have been made, many veterans receive the following awards. 

  • Black Family Fellowship, offered through the Center for Public Leadership, is open to veterans and those currently serving.
  • Belfer Young Leaders Fellowship, offered through the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, is for students interested international affairs or U.S. national security.

Others

Find a Place to Live

  • Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH): With both the GI Bill and VR&E, you should expect to make E-5 with dependent (whether you claim a dependent or not). The 2024 rate for the Boston area $4,638.
  • The VA loan is complicated in a market like Cambridge. Many homes in the area are duplexes and require different VA loan paperwork. Plan accordingly, work with an agent comfortable with the process, and start early.
  • The Cambridge/Boston rental market is unique. Nearly all leases will start on September 1, so plan accordingly!
    The Armed Forces Committee’s Nils Olsen leads a panel discussion with special guest Alexander Vindman, former director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council. 
    The Armed Forces Committee’s Nils Olsen leads a panel discussion with special guest Alexander Vindman, former director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council. 

Establish Medical Care

  • Upon your ETS from active duty and depending on your disability rating, you may be able to establish care in the VA system. The location closest to HKS is the Jamaica Plain VA Medical Center, and it is accessible via MBTA, Boston’s public transit system.
  • Through Massachusetts General Hospital, Homebase offers specialized care for free to active duty servicemembers and veterans, including mental health care, workout programs, out/inpatient care for specific issues, and family care and support.

Identify Future Military Obligations

Still in the guard or reserves? Professors are incredibly flexible with drill obligations (and they are counted as excused absences). Be sure to communicate conflicts early and have a plan to make up any work missed.

Join the Armed Forces Committee (AFC)

As a student organization on campus, we offer both academic and professional support along with a social community of like-minded and experienced veterans and defense-interested civilians.

Members of the Armed Forces Committee excitedly welcome new students during the Student Organization Fair in September.
Members of the Armed Forces Committee excitedly welcome new students during the Student Organization Fair in September.

We invite you to join the Armed Forces Committee Q&A Virtual Session for admitted students on Friday, April 12, 2024 at 1400. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at ritagraham@hks.harvard.edu for more information.

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