College Benefits for Military Service Members and Veterans


College Benefits for Military Servicemembers and VeteransObviously, the veterans benefit that we like the best here at Low VA Rates is the VA loan program, but even though it’s our favorite, it’s far from the only benefit out there. One of the most valuable and popular benefits that the VA has to offer its veterans is the GI Bill. The GI Bill helps servicemembers and veterans pay for higher education and training to help them improve their lives and find better employment and advancement opportunities in the private sector, both during and after military service. There are two GI Bills that a veteran may be entitled to: there is the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB), and the Post 9/11 GI Bill. You may have heard the MGIB referred to as “Chapter 30” benefits and the Post 9/11 GI Bill referred to as “Chapter 33”. The available benefits with each GI Bill are very different.


If you’re eligible for both the MGIB and the Post 9/11 GI Bill, chances are you’ve already been required to decide which one you would like to receive. A veteran is only able to choose one. If you’re having a hard time choosing, this guide is the perfect place for you to be. As you probably have guessed, the primary factor in determining which GI bill is available to you is whether you served pre or post 9/11/2001. Those who were already serving before 9/11 and continued to serve after are those who have their pick of either benefit. Each GI Bill also has its own eligibility requirements and education and training that it can be used for. We’re going to cover the eligibility requirements and benefits of the Montgomery GI Bill first, then cover the requirements and benefits of the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The sections are clearly labeled, so feel free to jump to whichever section applies to you.


The Montgomery GI Bill


Eligibility Requirements


The MGIB is different from the post 9/11 GI Bill in that it requires the veteran to contribute $100 per month for the first 12 months that the veteran is in active duty. Alternatively, if the veteran paid into the Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP) instead, then they can convert the funds contributed to VEAP to the MGIB. The VEAP is no longer around, and like the MGIB, it expires 10 years after discharge on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. In addition to the $1,200 buy-in to the program, the MGIB also requires that the veteran has either completed high school or has an equivalency certificate such as a GED before the veteran can apply for benefits. The MGIB is for higher education, and as such, requires that the veteran has already completed primary education.


As touched on above, the MGIB benefits expire 10 years after discharge, which means you have 10 years to use your benefits or you lose them. To be clear, any amount remaining after 10 years is lost to you, so if you were planning on using all 8 semesters of benefits, you’d need to start before the end of the 6th year after discharge (2 semesters per year). In addition to losing the benefit after 10 years, you will not receive a refund for the initial contribution of $1,200.


Applying for the MGIB is a fairly simple process. First, you need to find a school that has VA-approved courses, degree programs, or other training. Generally speaking, if the school is either regionally or nationally accredited, it probably has VA approved programs. Second, you’ll need to fill out the VA Form 22-1990, the Application for Education Benefits. If you can’t print one out using the link here, the school’s registrar office probably has a few on hand or can print one out for you. Third, you need to send in your application to the VA regional office. Chances are, the school will be willing to take care of this for you, but if you haven’t decided on a school yet, you can always send it in yourself. After a few weeks (4-8), you should receive a Declaration of Eligibility from the VA that shows and explains your GI Bill benefits. You may be required to provide more information to the VA. If that is the case, they will clearly explain what they need and how you can get it.


Additionally, once you are approved for benefits, in order to begin using them, you’ll need to use the VA’s Web Automated Verification of Eligibility (WAVE) every single month that you want to receive a payment. Going through WAVE only takes a few minutes, but you’ll need to do it every month in order to receive a check. You will not receive a check for that month until you have gone through WAVE.


Benefits and Advantages


The Montgomery GI Bill is more flexible of the two GI BIll options. You can use the MGIB for traditional colleges and universities, but you can also use it for technical and vocational courses and programs, as well as distance learning, professional certifications, and apprenticeships or job training. If you have a specific question about whether a program or course you are interested in would be covered by the MGIB, give your VA regional office a call and they should be able to help you out. The MGIB is often looked-down upon as the less-awesome predecessor of the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and while the Post 9/11 GI bill is better in many respects, the MGIB is still a fantastic benefit that can really make the difference for a veteran’s future.


For full-time training and education, as of October 1, 2014, the monthly payment rate is $1,717. If you multiply that by the 36-month limit on the benefits, that means that the MGIB is worth $61,812 to you. That’s no laughing matter. That is enough to completely cover a great deal of degrees and programs. That number will vary depending on what type of training you are doing – if  you are doing an apprenticeship or flight training, the numbers are different. Check here for a comprehensive listing of the current rates. Not only that, but you may actually get more if you signed up for the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps College Fund. Even for those who did not sign up for the College Fund, you may be eligible for the GI Bill Buy-up. If you make a one-time payment before starting to use your benefits, you can increase your monthly payments by 25% of your one-time payment. In other words, if you pay $100 once in a buy-up, then go to school full-time, you will get $25 more each month for the full 36 months. Ask any investor if paying $100 and getting back $900 is a good return on investment. You can pay as much as $600 in your buy-up, which gets you $150 per month more each month. For $600,  you can get $5,400. In order to be eligible for the Buy-up, you have to have joined the military after June 30, 1985, and still be on active duty. You must elect to contribute the amount before you separate, and do so using form DD-2366-1. When you start to use your MGIB benefits, you’ll need to work with the VA to make sure they get the information they need.


Post-9/11 GI Bill


Eligibility Requirements


Different from the MGIB, the Post-9/11 GI Bill does not require any sort of buy-in or payment during the first year of service. Veterans and active service members are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill if they have put in 90 days of active duty after September 10, 2001. This is the case for those in the active military, and also includes any time spent on an order to active duty from the National Guard or the Reserves. Also, time spent by National Guard members organizing, administering, recruiting, instructing, or training the National Guard, or responding to a national emergency counts towards the Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility requirements.


As with every rule, there are exceptions. Time spent in ROTC, on a service academy contract period, service that was terminated due to defective enlistment agreement, service used for loan repayment, and selected reserve service that was used to establish eligibility for the MGIB or REAP are all not able to be used to establish eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The VA also allows that a veteran who was discharged due to a service-connected disability only need have 30 days of continuous active duty service after September 10, 2001. Unless discharged due to a service-connected disability, the veteran must have at least 90 days of active duty, and any of the following possibilities:


  • Be honorably discharged from Armed Forces; or
  • Be released from Armed Forces with service characterized as honorable and placed on the retired list, temporary disability retired list, or transferred to the Fleet Reserve or the Fleet Marine Corps Reserve; or
  • Be released from the Armed Forces with service characterized as honorable for further service in a reserve component; or
  • Be discharged or released from Armed Forces for:
    • EPTS (Existed Prior to Service)
    • HDSP (Hardship) or
    • CIWD (Condition Interfered with Duty); or
    • Continue to be on active duty.


In addition to eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill in general, there are specific benefits inside the Bill that you may or may not be eligible for depending on your current status. There are 7 ‘pieces’ of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and your eligibility for the individual pieces will depend on whether you’re active duty, an eligible Guard or Selected Reserve member, or a veteran. The 7 pieces of the Post-9/11 GI Bill are as follows: Tuition and Fees, Monthly Living Stipend, Book Stipend, Transfer Benefits, Yellow Ribbon Program, Relocation, and Licensing and Certification. As an active duty service member, you are only eligible for four of the seven pieces: tuition and fees, book stipend, transferring your benefits, and Licensing and Certification. For eligible Guard or Selected Reserve members, all 7 pieces are available, though in order to be eligible for the monthly living stipend, you must be taking full-time school and not currently be on active duty. The same is true for veterans, who are also (sort of) eligible for all 7 pieces.


A veteran is eligible for the monthly living stipend under the same terms as an Eligible Guard or Reserve member, and is eligible to transfer their benefits as long as they are still serving in the military. It’s important to realize that one cannot be eligible for the monthly living stipend and transferring their benefits to a spouse or dependent at the same time, as one requires you to not be on active duty and the other requires you to be. In the following section, we’ll cover all 7 pieces of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and explain the benefits associated with each piece and how they work.


Benefits and Advantages


Tuition and Fees: For eligible servicemembers and veterans, the GI Bill will pay the entirety of your tuition and fees directly to the school depending on how many months of active service you have since September of 2001. The GI Bill will pay up to the full amount of tuition and fees, but not more than that, and the checks will go directly to the school as payment rather than going through you. The VA uses the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition rate as the limit that it will cover for the veteran. For a veteran wanting to attend school out-of-state, or attend a private university or other institution that is more expensive than a public university in-state, then that amount will have to be covered either by the veteran themselves or through the Yellow Ribbon Program.


Yellow Ribbon Program (YRP): The YRP program is something that schools partner with the VA to provide to some students who need extra help to avoid all out-of-pocket costs from going to school. For those students eligible, if the institution you are attending is willing to work with the VA to share the expense on your behalf, you can get extra help with the costs of going to school. To be eligible for the YRP, you need to meet one of the following criteria:

  • Served an aggregate period of active duty after September 10, 2001, of at least 36 months
  • Were honorably discharged from active duty for a service-connected disability and have served a minimum of 30 continuous days after September 10, 2001
  • Are a dependent eligible for Transfer of Entitlement under the Post-9/11 GI Bill based on a veteran’s service under the eligibility criteria listed above


The school you are attending must agree with the VA to waive 50% of the portion of the cost that exceeds the highest in-state public undergraduate tuition, and the VA agrees to pay the other 50%. Nothing forces the institution to cooperate or participate in the YRP, and the only reason an institution would do so is as a favor to our nation’s veterans. If you’re planning on attending an out-of-state school or private institution, you should check with them to see if they are willing to participate in the YRP on your behalf.


Monthly Housing Stipend: This is an awesome benefit for those who have already been discharged from active service or who are currently serving in the Guard or Reserves and have served long enough to be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Through the monthly housing stipend, you can receive a substantial amount of money each month to help pay for your housing expenses. The amount you will receive is based on the zip code in which the school you are attending resides. Note, this is not the zip code in which you live. Weird, but there you go. The VA uses the DoD’s Basic Allowance for Housing for an E-5 with dependents, and the average amount is $1,509 per month.


For those attending school completely online, you are still eligible for a housing stipend, but it will be exactly half of the national average, which is $754.50 for 2015. While going to school online does not change the fact that you have to live somewhere, the VA assumes that a student attending school online has more flexibility to choose which zip code you live in, and therefore wants to provide an incentive to choose the cheapest zip code available to you.


Book/Supply Stipend: The book stipend is paid out to you at the beginning of each term (usually a semester), and you get paid $41 per credit hour for books, with a maximum payout of $1,000 per year. Theoretically, that should be enough for your books and materials for two full-time (12 credits) semesters. It really is a fair amount of money, and if you work hard to get used copies of as many of your books as possible, you should be able to save some of the $1k or do more than 12 credits without exceeding it. The other great thing about the book stipend is that anyone who is eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill is eligible for the book stipend.


Benefit Transferability: Your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits can be transferred to a dependent or spouse, but only very specific conditions, which many find somewhat onerous. In order to transfer your GI Bill benefits to your spouse, you need to have served for at least 6 years, and be signed on to serve at least 4 more at the time your spouse begins to use the entitlement. In other words, you must be serving the entire time that your spouse is using your GI Bill benefits. You can only transfer your GI Bill benefits to a dependent after you have served for 10 years or more, and you must continue to serve while your dependent uses those benefits.


So your benefits can be transferred to a spouse or dependent, but at great personal cost to you. Use only at great need.



So there you have it! Hopefully now you understand enough about the two different GI Bills that you know which one you qualify for (or which to choose if you qualify for both), and you’ll be able to make plans to best use the benefits that you’ve worked hard and put up with a lot of crap to earn! All of us here at Low VA Rates give our thanks for your service and wish you the best of luck as you work on improving your future.

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