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Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines learn a lot of important skills in the service for staying alive. But that’s all training for war, not business.
That reality has always made jobs hard to find for recently discharged veterans. Today, that’s even harder for one reason in particular: a college education is key to landing high-paying jobs.
According to 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost a quarter of all civilian jobs required a bachelor’s degree or higher. Just as important, in 2020 the Bureau found that weekly pay for workers with a bachelor’s hit an average of $1,305 versus only $781 for those with only a high-school diploma.
The military gave you a lot of training and instilled a sense of personal discipline. Those things will serve you well when earning your bachelor’s degree.
While other high-school graduates were heads-down in class, you were learning how to strip and clean an M4 and call-in airstrikes.
Turns out those are not exactly transferable skills to jobs in the civilian world. But the grit and determination you picked up in the military sure are. All you need to get a college degree after discharge is someone to help you pick up the tab.
And thanks to past generations of returning warriors, you’ve got it: when it comes to benefits, GI Bill® entitlements give you all the tools you need for university success.
Explore Your Benefits Options
GI Bill® Education Benefits Solved the Old Problem of Veteran Education After World War II
Returning veterans have had trouble getting a fair shake back home ever since Odysseus got stiffed on his DEROS from Troy. No one expects you to get the reference, but let’s just say it took a long time and a lot of wars before soldiers got what they deserved when they returned from service. But with World War II, the issue reached epic proportions.
In the United States, World War II saw nearly 16 million men and women in uniform. More than seventy percent of them were shipped overseas. On average, they spent more than a year risking their lives and doing their best to fight and win for the $70-per-month they ended up getting.
Veterans of earlier wars knew all about the sacrifices that those troops were making. And they knew that when those WWII vets got home, not a lot would be waiting for them.
Thanks to immense national gratitude and extensive lobbying by the American Legion and Veteran’s of Foreign Wars (VFW), Congress stepped up to do something about it. Just two weeks after the Allies landed in Normandy and began to usher in the final phase of the war, President Roosevelt put his signature on their solution.
The Original GI Bill® Reshaped the Entire Country
Originally passed as the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the bill took the hard lessons the country learned after World War I and invested in helping the millions of returning GIs in buying homes, getting business and farm loans, or getting an education.
The original GI Bill® wasn’t just great for veterans—it offered a huge economic and civic boost to the entire country.
Nearly 8 million vets took advantage of their benefits through college or other professional training. They went on to found companies, invent new technologies, and become the next generation of political leaders. Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush got their degrees with GI Bill money; so did senators like Bob Dole and John Warner.
Four generations of American service members have gotten untold opportunities for a better life after discharge through these programs.
Now it’s your turn to take advantage of this legendary program.
What Are the Different VA GI Bill® Chapter Numbers All About?
The GI Bill® is a law, falling under Title 38 of the United States Code. Over time, it has been extended, updated, and amended. Usually, these updates have fallen into new chapters in the code, and sometimes they are referred to by those chapter numbers instead to avoid confusion. The most common are:
GI Bill® Benefits Cover a Lot More Than Just Education
Different versions have included:
- Home loans
- Student housing during school
- Test or certification exam expenses
- Tutoring expenses
- Unemployment coverage
- Vocational rehabilitation
All benefits are tax-free. Taken all together, they represent this country’s best efforts to pay its debt to the men and women who have helped keep it free.
Today, two primary versions of GI Bill® educational benefits are in effect.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill® Expands Education Benefits For Today’s Vets
The terrorist strikes of September 11th, 2001 were world-changing events. The United States plunged into the longest war in its history in Afghanistan, while simultaneously fighting another in Iraq—not to mention engaging terrorists in hotspots around the world from Syria to the Philippines to Somalia.
In the course of those operations, some 3.3 million Americans served in uniform—the second largest group, after Vietnam veterans, of any American war. They are also the most diverse, the youngest, and include the highest percentage of any wartime cohort suffering from service-related disabilities.
Chapter 33 of Title 38, the Post-9/11 GI Bill®, was passed to help them get back on track in civilian life. For most veterans today, Chapter 33 is the best and most generous set of VA GI Bill® educational benefits to choose.
Most Service Members Today Are Eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill® Educational Support
Post-9/11 GI Bill® Chapter 33 eligibility requirements are a cakewalk. Basically, you just need to tick three boxes:
Oh, there are a couple of twists and turns:
And, as you’ll see below, there are also ways in which many family members of veterans may also be eligible for these benefits.
There’s no special provision for reservists or National Guard members (although they are eligible for the Montgomery GI Bill® Selected Reserve program discussed below). However, during the two decades of foreign wars that Chapter 33 covers, many if not most Reserve and Guard units were activated at some point. So if you participated in any active duty operation more than 90 days, you can still use this program.
When Can You Use Post-9/11 GI Bill® Benefits?
Chapter 33 eligibility isn’t hard to establish. And, as you’ll see in the section on the Top-Up program below, you can even start using some of your benefits before you are discharged.
As passed originally, you had to use your benefits within 15 years of separation. But recent updates to the bill have removed that limitation. Anyone discharged after January 1, 2013, including children or spouses of deceased service members, has an unlimited window for taking advantage of their benefits.
But even if you were separated before 2013, you may be eligible for an extension. If you were reactivated for 90 days or more, or had some illness or disability that kept you from using your benefits during your original period of eligibility, you can apply to the VA to have benefits reinstated.
What Are the Post-9/11 GI Bill® Benefits?
What does the GI Bill® cover? When it comes to the Post-9/11 version, just about everything!
Chapter 33 benefits are some of the most comprehensive ever offered to American veterans. Congress put a lot of thought into giving you an educational boost. You can get assistance with everything from moving to attend college to paying for housing once you get there.
Your Time in Service Directly Correlates to the Benefits You Receive
You will technically be eligible for some benefits if you meet the criteria above. However, if you served less than 36 months and were not wounded or discharged for disability, you won’t receive the full package. Instead, there’s only a certain percentage available based on months of active duty service:
- 90 days – 6 months – 50%
- 6 – 18 months – 60%
- 18 – 24 months – 70%
- 24 – 30 months – 80%
- 30 – 36 months – 90%
Anything less than 30 months of service also makes entry level skills training ineligible for coverage.
The reduction in benefits covers the dollar amounts you will receive, but not the number of months you are eligible for. So you can still get 36 months of coverage, you will just receive lower compensation during that time.
Some of the benefits, like housing and books, scale to the amount of time you are attending school. The VA bases that on the school’s definition of full-time and part-time attendance, however. So if you can find a school that says three credits are full-time, you can get your full stipend.
Post-9/11 GI Bill® Tuition and Fee Coverage
If you are attending a public school as an in-state student, then the Chapter 33 tuition benefits are super-simple: they pay for all of it. Nothing out of pocket, no calculations for you to make.
The benefit will also go toward out-of-state tuition payments, or for foreign or private schools. In those cases, it’s capped at $26,371.37 per year as of 2022. If that’s more than the cost at your school, you will either have to cover the difference, or, even better, see if you qualify for the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Post-9/11 GI Bill® Book Stipend
You can get a stipend of up to $1,000 each year, sent to you directly and paid based on your enrollment level. You can use this to cover books or any other kind of school supplies needed in your program.
Post-9/11 GI Bill® Monthly Housing Allowance
A monthly housing allowance (MHA) is paid directly to you depending on the primary location where your classes are offered. Rates actually vary per ZIP code, with higher cost-of-living areas receiving more compensation. The compensation is based on Basic Allowance for Housing rates at the level offered to an E-5 with dependents.
Post-9/11 GI Bill® Rural Benefit
If you live in a county with 6 persons or less per square mile and need to relocate by at least 500 miles, or by air, to get to where you will attend school, the VA will help cover your costs. A one-time payment of $500 will help you get your tickets or rent what you need to get all settled into your new digs near school.
Post-9/11 GI Bill® Transfer of Entitlement (TOE) Gives Your Benefits to Those Who Depend on You
One of the killer features of the Post-9/11 GI Bill® are the provisions in it to spread your benefits to those you love. Unlike the MGIB, Chapter 33 benefits can be transferred to a spouse or dependents.
There’s a catch, however—you have to initiate it before you are discharged.
You also need to make sure you meet all the regular qualifications to receive Chapter 33 benefits in terms of service dates. On top of that you have to meet two other special conditions:
Although the GI Bill® is administered by the VA, it’s up to the DoD to make administrative decisions about benefits transfer under Chapter 33.
The recipient of those benefits must be a “qualified dependent.” That category includes:
The dependent has to be enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). In most cases, they’re probably already enrolled since DEERS is also used for TRICARE services and other common family support functions unrelated to education.
Although the benefits that you can transfer to them are the same as you could tap into yourself, they have different restrictions on when and how they can use them. For example:
Post-9/11 GI Bill® Transfers Offer Flexibility for a Changing World
One of the best things about TOE is the flexibility it offers. It’s not a one-and-done decision. Your can shuffle your benefits in response to family changes or new priorities.
That flexibility includes changing schools, switching educational programs, or even transitioning back onto active duty while continuing to pursue your degree program.
Montgomery GI Bill® Benefits Are Open To Most Veterans Today
The other major GI Bill® option open to today’s veterans is an older program that is still in effect. Although it’s not as generous or as flexible as the Post-9/11 GI Bill®, it may still be the right choice for some vets. And as we’ll discuss below, there are some circumstances in which you may be able to take advantage of both programs.
VA Education Benefits in the Montgomery GI Bill® Came After the Turmoil of Vietnam
The Vietnam era was rough on the U.S. military and on veterans. Although there was a Vietnam-era GI Bill®, it ended when the war was over.
Between 1977 and 1985, a very basic stopgap called the Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP) offered service members a kind of matched savings benefit that could be used for education.
But in the wake of Vietnam, all service branches were having a tough time attracting quality candidates.
In 1984, Congress put together a substantial update to the Vietnam Era GI Bill.
Congressman Sonny Montgomery, a WWII Veteran and a major general in the Mississippi Army National Guard, came up with a package to try to fix the problem. Chapter 30 is now known as the Montgomery GI Bill® in his honor. Service members today are still allowed to use this program.
The Montgomery GI Bill® Covers Both Active Duty Veterans and Current Reservists
There are two parts to the Montgomery GI Bill®:
MGIB only kicked in for those serving after 1985, or 1990 in the case of some reserve or Guard members. But some exceptions allow those who enlisted earlier to take advantage of MGIB instead of other GI Bill® programs.
Montgomery GI Bill® Eligibility for Active Duty Veterans
There are actually four—that’s right, count ‘em, four—different categories you can fall into to qualify for some level of MGIB-AD benefits. But don’t worry—even if your MOS wasn’t in intelligence, we can help you figure them out.
For starters, you don’t even have to worry about three of those categories unless you’re a lifer with hash marks reaching up to your elbow—they only apply to those who joined up prior to 1977 or who were somehow separated or shuffled into the reserves during the big drawdowns after the first Gulf War.
So how do you know if you qualify? There’s one big clue:
In almost every case, the Montgomery bill requires that active duty service members and reservists who want to participate make a contribution of at least $1,200 to their own benefits.
If you didn’t agree to forfeit $100 a month from your pay during your first 12 months of service (or giving up the $1,200 in one chunk prior to your discharge), you almost certainly aren’t eligible. The only exception is a very tiny chunk of vets with eligibility for Vietnam Era (Chapter 34) benefits with service in the mid-1980s.
Most people fall into Category I:
The other rare cases for qualification are all just extensions to eligibility. You must have made the $1,200 payment in every case, and not already qualify for Category I.
MGIB-SR is the GI Bill® for Reservists
For MGIB-SR, the rules are little different—there’s no minimum time during which you must have served. But you had to have agreed to take on a 6-year service obligation. For officers, that’s even longer—the 6 years must be in addition to your initial service obligation.
You also have to complete your initial active duty training and remain in good standing with your unit while meeting your obligation.
When Can You Use Montgomery GI Bill® Benefits?
Both MGIB programs require that you have a high school diploma or GED. For AD participants, 12 hours of college credit also serve as qualification.
MGIB-AD users usually have ten years from the date of discharge to use their benefits.
If you are a reservist, you will lose your eligibility when you leave in most cases. That means you must be attending school while still in the reserves to take advantage of this program.
There are all sorts of different loopholes here, however. Your eligibility may be extended if:
You can receive up to 36 months of full-time benefits if you fully met the length of service required in your qualification category. Typically, that’s completing 30 months of service for a three-year obligation or 20 months for an obligation of less than three-years.
Even if you didn’t meet minimum length of service requirements for the MGIB, you may still qualify for partial benefits.
These qualifications are all about getting discharged early for reasons that weren’t your fault:
You can also receive some partial benefits if you were on active duty but then switched to Selected Reserve status.
MGIB doesn’t dock your benefit amount in those cases. Instead, the number of months of benefits are reduced.
In general, the way that works for each category is that you will receive one month of benefit for each month of active duty you actually served. If you went into the Selected Reserves, you get the month per month benefit for your active duty service, and then one month for each four months of reserve service.
What Are the Montgomery GI Bill® Benefits?
Some of the eligibility rules for Chapter 30 are a little confusing, but what you get is very straightforward: MGIB pays a flat rate directly to you each month you are in school.
That means you do have to pay out-of-pocket when billed for tuition by your school. But it also makes things simple, because you get the check directly and you get the same amount each month. There’s no need to separate out your book or supply costs or calculate your housing needs. You can use the money to pay for expenses toward:
The formula used to determine your benefit is also pretty simple. It’s only based on two things:
Rates change annually in October, adjusted by the VA based on the Chapter 30 statute. In October of 2021, the full benefit rates were set at:
- $2,150 for MGIB-AD
- $407 for MGIB-SR
One other good thing about the differential rates, though, is that your months of entitlement are also proportional to attendance. In other words, if you are attending half-time, you will receive only half the amount for full-time attendance—but you also only use up half a month of eligibility. So you can get 36 months of full payments, or 72 months of half payments.
Using the Buy-up Program To Boost Your Montgomery GI Bill® Benefits
There’s one more thing that can change you MGIB benefit rate. Known as the Buy-Up, this program allows active duty members to pay up to $600 more in contributions.
In return, the government would then contribute an additional $8 per dollar for post-separation benefits. That could add up to an extra $5400 in coverage.
Buy-up payments are just included in your regular MGIB checks, following the same scaled formula for attendance status. It’s an easy way to boost your checks while you are in school, covering extra expenses or just giving you peace of mind.
Is the Buy-up Program the Same as the GI Bill® Kicker?
You will also hear Buy-Up referred to as a GI Bill® kicker, since it kicks in some extra cash to your payouts. But a kicker is also what some GI Bill® incentive payments offered by the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps college funds are called. They all show up in your MGIB pay-outs, but they aren’t the same thing.
If you are a zoomie, you may be partly to blame for this confusion, because the Air Force does refer to Buy-Up as a GI Bill® Kicker. The Air Force doesn’t offer a College Fund program like the other services, so maybe they just call it that to help you feel better about coughing up the money yourself.
The College Fund program is used to offer incentive bonuses to service members who enlist into a critical MOS, re-enlist or extend, or do something else the service branch really wants you to do. As such, they are a bonus, not an entitlement—you have to follow through with the terms to get the benefit.
Your kicker eligibility as a veteran mirrors the amount of time you have to use your overall GI Bill® benefits. Kickers are typically pro-rated for less than full-time attendance just as MGIB payments are. They are available for both MGIB-AD and MGIB-SR, and in fact kickers are somewhat more common in the reserves and Guard.
Ultimately, your branch writes the rules for kickers, though, so don’t go whining to the VA if you don’t see it on your Certificate of Eligibility.
The Montgomery GI Bill® vs. Post-9/11 GI Bill®
The top-line from the VA about using Post-9/11 or Montgomery GI Bill® benefits is strict and very clear:
You can use only 1 education benefit for a period of service. You’ll have to choose which education benefit you’d like to use. Once you make this choice, you can’t change your mind and use a different education benefit.
If you paid into MGIB while you were enlisted, and later choose to use Chapter 33 instead, the VA will refund your payments towards MGIB benefits.
So how do you make that choice?
Wait a Minute—Right Now You Can Take Advantage of Both Chapter 30 and Chapter 33 Benefits!
There is a big “but” that comes with the “use only 1 education benefit” rule, however. A 2020 court ruling determined that you actually can make use of both MGIB and Post-9/11 benefits—just not at the same time. It’s a bit of a technicality, but you can get an extra 12 months of GI Bill education benefits in the end.
Naturally, you first have to be eligible for both programs. That means having paid in to the MGIB plan before discharge, but also having served after September 10, 2001, and for at least two years. After using your 36 months of coverage under Chapter 33, if your eligibility hasn’t expired for MGIB, you can draw on that plan for another 12 months. Why not another full 36 months? Well, that’s something the lawyers came up with.
But an extra three semesters of tuition reimbursement is a big deal. You can stretch your bachelor’s degree out to five years, as many people do today. Or you can use it to get started on a master’s degree program and the extra expertise and salary that will get you.
This only works for individuals qualifying under both Chapter 30 and 33. There are also people who have served on active duty and then entered the reserves who might technically qualify under both MGIB-AD and MGIB-SR. But both MGIB programs count as one for purposes of this rule—so 36 months remains the ceiling.
On the other hand, if the courts decide differently on appeal, it’s likely to evaporate entirely. The whole thing is likely to be resolved in 2022, so stay tuned!
The default is pretty easy: pick the Chapter 33 benefits if you can get them.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill® is more generous in coverage in almost every way. It covers full in-state public school tuition rates no matter where you are; it kicks in extra money for housing and supplies; it even offers relocation benefits.
Another big factor in your decision might be that only the Post-9/11 GI Bill® works with the Yellow Ribbon Program. If you want to attend a school that is eligible for Yellow Ribbon benefits and charges more than your current benefits cover, you’re out of luck with the MGIB.
Sometimes Montgomery GI Bill® (Chapter 30) Benefits are the Better Option
There are a few circumstances where relying on the Montgomery GI Bill® are a better choice, however.
First, if you are a National Guardsman or reservist who has never been on active duty, the MGIB-SR is going to be your only real option. But even if you have been activated, it might still be the better choice if you weren’t active duty for very long. Remember, anything less than six months of service only offers 50% benefits under the Post-9/11 program. So you’ll need to do the math and see if your MGIB-SR benefits actually pay more in that scenario.
Next, some part-time students will come out ahead through the MGIB. That’s because Post-9/11 doesn’t offer MHA benefits if you are under half-time, and cuts those rates for part-time students. You might find that your MGIB benefits result in higher compensation rates overall depending on your school and living situation.
The VA calls the percentage of time you are attending school your rate-of-pursuit. Full-time students are considered to have a 100 percent rate-of-pursuit, with proportionally lower rates if you are taking less than a full load.
Also, some online students will receive higher benefits with MGIB. If you’re attending online, you may find that your MHA payments come in quite a bit lower than if you were on campus. MGIB doesn’t pay differently based on your location, however, so you may come out ahead with it if you are pursuing a remote degree.
MGIB can deliver special accelerated payments for high-technology programs. Chapter 33 is usually the better bet for STEM degrees for reasons we’ll focus on below. But in some special circumstances, a special provision in Chapter 30 can make it the right choice. If you are enrolled in a high-technology program, you may be able to get a single lump-sum payment up front instead of small monthly benefits. This helps you pay for high-cost programs that you might not otherwise be able to afford on the monthly plan.
Finally, if you aren’t eligible for 100 percent Post-9/11 benefits, the MGIB could be a better deal. There are some scenarios where you are eligible for full MGIB benefits with only two years of service. Since getting full eligibility under Chapter 33 requires three years, you might find your full benefits under MGIB offering better compensation than your partial benefits under Post-9/11.
The GI Bill® Comparison Tool Helps You Pick the Right Option
Clearly you have a lot to think about when you are choosing the right GI Bill® benefits to tap into.
Fortunately, the VA also put together a GI Bill® Comparison Tool to help you figure out exactly how much and what kind of benefits you can receive at any particular school or training program.
This is one piece of government issue equipment that works as advertised, every time. Plug in the name of a school, or search by a geographic location, and it will pop up a whole tech manual worth of information you can use to make your choices.
By putting in your military status, which benefit you want to evaluate, and some information about your service, you’ll get an up-front estimate about what will be covered. It’s easy to compare schools with one another, or compare your potential Post-9/11 versus Montgomery GI Bill® benefits. You can even plug in your kicker if you have on.
On top of that, you’ll get important information like:
You can even compare different campuses for the same school. And if there is some question the tool doesn’t answer, it gives you the contact information for the VA certifying official so you can follow up.
How To Use GI Bill® Benefits to Cover the Cost of Your College Education
It’s great to know you’ve got all these benefits waiting for you, but you’re probably wondering how exactly you will activate them after discharge.
Relax! Your mandatory TAP (Transition Assistance Program) will take you through all the gritty details within a year of your estimated separation date. But here’s a quick refresher in case you need it.
You Follow the Same Process To Start Using Either Chapter 30 or Chapter 33 Benefits
For receiving any kind of GI Bill® benefit, the process starts with creating an account on the VA website. It’s going to be the usual pack drill:
It shouldn’t take any more than 15 minutes to fill out your application. If you’re feeling particularly nostalgic for paperwork, you can also use VA Form 22-1990 and mail it in.
The VA processes most claims within 30 days. At the end of that period, you will get your all-important GI Bill® Certificate of Eligibility (COE) in the mail. Or, if you were rejected, you’ll find a denial letter explaining why and how to appeal.
Understanding Your Certificate of Eligibility GI Bill Statement
The COE you receive is more than just a pretty piece of paper. You’ll use it to prove your eligibility to the school you plan to attend. And it will also provide some details you might want to know about your status:
- How many months of full-time benefits remain in your account
- What time limits may apply to use those benefits
- What percentage of benefits you are allowed to draw on for your educational program
- You service dates and total service length that eligibility is based on
It should also detail whether or not you are eligible to take advantage of the Yellow Ribbon Program. And the certificate will explain what to do if you end up withdrawing from class or failing a course.
There’s also a section about how to appeal the decision. And that’s why you want to look at the details printed on your COE very carefully. Even if you are deemed eligible, you want to make sure you get everything you are entitled to. If any of the numbers are wrong with your service details or allowances, it’s time to speak up!
Your school will want a copy of your COE, so you’ll have to coordinate with them to find out where to send it. Different schools will have different processes, so check with the department on campus that specializes in assisting vets.
Using Your Montgomery GI Bill® Benefits
Nothing could be simpler than receiving MGIB benefits, whether you are in the AD or SR programs: a check shows up, you cash it, you’re done. If you opted for direct deposit, you don’t even have to do that!
Typically, you will receive your payments at the end of each month. But with MGIB, it’s possible to request an advance payment. Your school has to have a request for advance payment on file, and you have to be attending at least half time. And the check will go to the school, not to you directly.
Using Your Post-9/11 GI Bill® Benefits
Things work a little bit differently with Chapter 33. For example, rather than having to come up with tuition payments and wait for reimbursement, under Chapter 33 the VA will pay the school directly.
But because Chapter 33 also covers things like books or housing, it’s a little more complicated.
You’ll get your book stipend paid directly at the start of each term, so you have the money to buy supplies.
Housing checks, however, come at the end of each month. Your housing stipend will only be paid out if you are attending at more than half-time. At the undergraduate level, that’s calculated based on the course load the school defines as being full-time; for graduates, the school itself sets what it decides as full or part-time attendance.
The housing allowance doesn’t cover periods that are school vacation or term when you are not enrolled. Your check will be prorated for the number of actual school days in months that are not full-time.
What’s a Month of Benefits Mean Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill?
Glad you asked! Because it’s not what you think it is.
You may have done the math already and figured out that 36 months comes up a little short when the typical bachelor’s education in the U.S. clocks in at 4 years (48 months!). But the time limit doesn’t count calendar years. No, that ammo counter is only clicking down for months in which you are actually attending class.
It’s also possible to use fractional months—in other words, 15 days would be half a month of benefits.
This also comes into play when your rate of pursuit is below 100%. For example, at an 80% rate of pursuit, even if you attend school for a solid month, you’re actually only using up 25 days worth of benefit.
Verifying Your Enrollment Is Necessary To Keep the Benefits Coming
In order to keep the money coming, you may be required to verify your enrollment on a monthly basis. This is true if you get the MHA or kicker payments at any institution of higher learning or non-college degree facility. Since that’s most of the places that you might attend, that means most likely you will have to do this.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy—almost too easy. You get a text or email message monthly and just have to reply with a simple “Yes.” So, yes, it’s more pointless red tape. But remember, this is all being run by the same government that once classified Field Manual 10-16 “General Fabric Repair” as “Secret.” You already know the drill.
Top-Up Lets You Access GI Bill® Benefits Before You Become a Veteran
For the most part, anyone looking at tapping into GI Bill® benefits has either already been discharged or is pretty close to it. But there is one scenario in which you may be able to make use of your MGIB or Post-9/11 benefits even while you are still on active duty.
One of the best active duty educational benefits you can get is Military Tuition Assistance, the program that pays you college tuition if you enroll in classes on your own time while still serving. It’s a pretty generous arrangement, covering costs of up to $250 per credit hour and to a total of $4,500 per year.
But in some cases, that’s not enough. You might want to enroll in a program that costs more than MTA will cover.
If you are eligible for either Chapter 30 or Chapter 33 at that point, however, you don’t have to cover that extra yourself—you can apply your already earned GI Bill® benefits to cover the difference in cost.
There are a couple of extra qualifications you also have to meet, however:
Top-Up Sometimes Comes With a Catch
If this sounds like a neat trick, wait until you hear the catch: for every month of your GI Bill® benefit that you use for Top-Up, regardless of how much money, you are burning a month of post-discharge benefits you would’ve been eligible for.
In other words, if you are eligible for the full 36 months of benefits, but you use Top-Up (which grants up to $250 per credit) to help pay for a one-semester (3-month) course that costs $330 per credit, you saved yourself $80 per credit. But you now have only 33 months of eligibility to use after discharge.
Since your costs for post-discharge enrollment are likely going to be higher, you can see that using your GI Bill® benefits then is usually worth more money. For instance, if you took the same class after separation, you’d get the full $330 value, assuming it’s an in-state rate at a public school.
The Tutorial Assistance Program Offers Private Tutoring For Veteran Students or Dependents
If you are using any kind of VA educational assistance program, you may also be able to take advantage of a little-known program that helps pay for extra tutoring. That means GI Bill® students as well as dependents are eligible.
Tutorial Assistance offers up to $100 per month – as much as $1,200 total – toward a tutor to help you through the most challenging parts of your program.
To receive TA, you can’t just say you are having a tough time and get a tutor to show up. Instead, your course instructor has to verify that you would benefit from tutoring and approve it with the VA. The tutor must be assigned by the school and the rate verified for Tutorial Assistance.
If you are using the Post-9/11 program, this is all paid on top of your other benefits. For MGIB beneficiaries, tutorial assistance pays for up to $600 separately, and then is charged against your benefits.
The Forever GI Bill® Removes Time Limits on Using Benefits and Offers Even More Training Opportunities
In 2017, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act was signed into law. More popularly known as the Forever GI Bill®, this is the legislation that removed the time limits on using your Chapter 33 benefits. It also included a whole bunch of other little tune-ups and add-ons to improve your GI Bill® options and services.
The forever part of the Forever GI Bill® applies to all service members discharged in the past several years. If you completed your service on or after Jan 1, 2013, your GI Bill® benefits are yours for life. The forever clause even applies to the kids and spouses of service members who made the ultimate sacrifice and who are on the Fry Scholarship.
If you were discharged or released from active duty on or after Jan 1, 2013, and you meet the standard requirements for the Post-9/11 GI Bill®, then you’re in. The Forever GI Bill® essentially is the Post-9/11 GI Bill® – there are no separate eligibility requirements – it’s just the latest iteration that drops the time restrictions and adds some extras:
Expanded Reserve Duty Eligibility
Reservists ordered to active duty normally would accrue eligibility toward Chapter 33 benefits. But that wasn’t the case in the past for certain categories of activation, such as initial training or in certain emergencies. Now those count, and they do so retroactively, so any of your service after September 11, 2001 may apply to your Chapter 33 benefits.
Purple Heart Eligibility
The Forever GI Bill® also granted full benefits for veterans who were wounded in action, regardless of time served.
Yellow Ribbon Extensions
The Yellow Ribbon Program originally applied only to veterans themselves. But now it’s open to Fry Scholarship and Purple Heart recipients. And as of August of 2022, some active duty service members may also be able to use it.
Legend has it that Harry Colmery, former National Commander of the American Legion and the man who the Forever GI Bill® is named for, sketched out the first draft of the original GI Bill® on a napkin at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C.
Simplified Benefit Levels
It’s easier to figure out partial benefits for service of less than 36 months now.
Assistance for School Closures or Rejections
This was one part of the bill that almost no one realized would become so important at the time. A provision now allows the VA to restore benefits to vets whose school closed or where certain regulations might have disallowed benefits after they had enrolled. In 2017, that affected a tiny slice of vets. But with COVID-19 airdropping onto the scene in 2020, many universities and colleges were thrown into confusion. Now this is an important feature to allow many students to get back their benefits
Transfer of Benefits Expanded
This opened up more options for vets to transfer benefits to multiple dependents.
Removal of Benefit Time Limit
This is the reason it’s called the Forever GI Bill® in the first place—you now have forever to use your benefits, not just the original 15 year window.
The bill also had a bunch of smaller tweaks in areas such as:
But there were also some major new benefits added that many veterans can take advantage of…
GI Bill® Education Benefits for STEM Are Extended Through the Forever GI Bill®
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are big-ticket programs that many vets head into today. The Forever GI Bill® offers up to nine months of additional benefits through the Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship.
Edith Nourse Rogers volunteered with the American Red Cross in France in World War One. When her husband, a Massachusetts congressman, passed away unexpectedly in 1925, she ran for and won his seat in the House. Her experiences working with wounded vets led her to become one of the first representatives to support the original GI Bill®.
Since STEM degrees often take more credit hours to master, this offers veterans who have already completed 60 credit hours but who are about to run out of benefits a nine month extension to finish up. It can also be used by students who already have a STEM degree but are training to become teachers in the field.
The cost of those additional credits are not covered by the Yellow Ribbon Program tuition boost, unfortunately.
New Online and Non-traditional Learning Courses Are Now Covered Under the GI Bill®
Online degree programs were becoming more and more common even before COVID-19 poured JP-4 onto the fire. That’s particularly true in STEM, and particularly in non-traditional types of training… which previous GI Bill® offerings didn’t always cover.
The VET TEC (Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses) changes all that to open up coding bootcamps, software training, or other non-traditional technology training to GI Bill® payments.
Only approved providers are accepted under this program, but it is the perfect addition for veterans looking for specific skills courses online as a supplement to college training in information technology.
As you can tell, the GI Bill® is a massive program that has been updated continuously to serve the needs of veteran students such as yourself. And like all government programs with updates, it’s gotten a little twisty along the way. But now you should have a clear picture of all the benefits you are due, how to receive them, and when to use them along the way.
Good luck! You worked hard to earn your GI Bill® benefits. Now it’s time to put those benefits to work for you.