13 July 2015

Important Things You Should Know About the GI Bill

David Yoo, RallyPoint Civilian Careers.

GI Bill

The G.I. Bill was originally a benefits package created for returning WW2 veterans that covered things such as low-premium mortgages, tuition for education (vocational, university, or high school) and unemployment compensation. The GI Bill was inspired after seeing the treatment of WWI Veterans, who faced extreme challenges after transitioning. 

As time went on, the GI Bill has evolved as the needs and culture of businesses and society changed. In 1948, the bill was modified and called the "Montgomery GI Bill." Nearly 60 years later in 2008, the GI Bill was changed and called the "Post-9/11" GI Bill. 

Today, veterans can select from either of the bills to aid them in their pursuit for education and vocational training.

A lot of transitioning service members and veterans have used their GI Bill and taken advantage of the opportunity to use these funds. But many also find trouble knowing what the GI Bill is about and how to best make use of it. 

We're going to go over some important things you should know about the GI Bill and clarify how best to make use of these funds to get the most out of your grant. 

What's the Difference Between the two GI Bills?

Montgomery GI Bill 

The benefits received through this GI Bill are available to US Armed Forces and selected reserves. There are two main requirements that apply to all the categories receiving the benefit as outlined in a pamphlet from the VA:

  • You must have received a fully honorable discharge. "Discharges 'under honorable conditions' and 'general' discharges don’t establish eligibility for MGIB (Montgomery GI Bill). However, if you have more than one period of service, and receive an other than honorable discharge from one period, you may be able to qualify if you receive an honorable discharge from another period of service. (A period from which you were discharged in order to reenlist may meet the eligibility requirements)."
  • You must have completed high school or have obtained "an equivalency certificate, or complete 12 hours toward a college degree, before you apply for benefits."

Montgomery GI Bill
According to the VA, the Montgomery GI Bill essentially works like this: "Active duty members who enroll...pay $100 per month for 12 months and are then entitled to receive a monthly education benefit once they have completed a minimum service obligation."

The monthly education benefits (that are paid directly to you, not the schools) are up to 36 months, and the compensation rate depends on how many classes/credits you take. Check out the VA's link on all the rates so you can see which apply to you.

REMEMBER that those benefits do not simply apply for 36 consecutive months! Many school/academic years are around 8 months long, so you can technically get a bachelors degree using your GI Bill and even work up to or even obtain a masters degree if you can do so within 36 non-consecutive months. 

Post-9/11 GI Bill

Post-9/11 GI Bill
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is available for those who were in active duty within 90 days after September 11, 2001. Like recipients of the Montgomery GI Bill, qualified recipients must be honorably discharged.  

The Post-9/11 GI Bill also provides 36 months of benefits but the tuition is covered by paying the college or university directly (so you do not receive the money as you would with the Montgomery GI Bill). That being said, you still receive monthly housing and books/supplies allowance directly. 

If you were discharged as a result of a a service-related disability, you are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill if you have served for at least 30 days at the time of the discharge.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill pamphlet from the VA explains the specific benefits: 

  • A Tuition and Fee payment that is paid to your school on your behalf 
  • A Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA)** that is equal to:
    • The basic allowance for housing (BAH) payable for the zip code of your school to a military E-5 with dependents for students pursuing resident training 
    • One-half the BAH national average for students training solely by distance learning
    • The national average BAH for students pursuing training at foreign schools
    • A books and supplies stipend of up to $1000 per year

Choose carefully between the two GI Bills, as once you choose you cannot reverse your decision. There are many things to consider, such as, whether you plan on studying online (which would mean a drastic reduction in your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits) or how many classes you take and where you are planning to study. 

What is a "Month" of Benefits?

You might be having trouble grasping what a "month" entails. The GI Bill gives a veteran "36 months" of benefits, which doesn't mean that you only have 36 months to use it, or that you have to use it all in a continuous 3 year period. 

If you attend school for half a month, you use half a month's worth of benefits. 

Does GI Bill Benefits Count as Financial Aid?

No, the benefits you get from applying for a GI Bill do not count as federal financial aid. 

Since the GI Bill isn't considered financial aid, you are not barred from exploring and applying for other types of student loans or scholarships and grants. There are many scholarships for student veterans, and many schools also provide their unique benefits packages. It is worth exploring what different schools offer for their veteran students in order to supplement your education fund and minimize the need to take out loans. 

For example, the actual cost of your tuition and fees may "exceed these amounts if you are attending a private school or are attending a public school as a nonresident student." The VA mentions that "Institutions of Higher Learning (Degree Granting Institutions) may elect to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program (a Post-9/11 GI Bill provision) to make additional funds available for your education program without an additional charge to your GI Bill entitlement." These universities and colleges with who are Yellow Ribbon partners can contribute the needed funds to top off the outstanding debts that your GI Bill may not cover, so remember to consider institutions that are part of the Yellow Ribbon Program if you want to offset some additional costs. 

Be careful, though, as the VA still has the right to take the money back from you if you have been overpaying your tuition, i.e. you're receiving more in benefits than you actually need to pay. 

Can My Family Receive My GI Bill Benefits? 

The VA provides benefits for spouses and dependents of service members. For example, a service member can transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to his or her spouse or dependent (a child, for example). 

Transferring GI Bill Benefits
The VA notes that the "transferability option under the Post-9/11 GI Bill allows [service members] to transfer all or some unused benefits to their spouse or dependent children. The Department of Defense (DoD) determines whether or not you can transfer benefits to your family...Eligible [service members] may transfer all 36 months or the portion of unused Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits (unless DoD or the Department of Homeland Security has limited the number of transferable months)."

The option to transfer your benefits is open to any of those who meet the following requirement: 

First, you must be a member of the armed forces active duty or Selected Reserve, officer or enlisted who is eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Then, you must meet the following criteria: 

  • Has at least six years of service in the armed forces (active duty and/or Selected Reserve) on the date of approval and agrees to serve four additional years in the armed forces from the date of election. 
  • Has at least 10 years of service in the armed forces (active duty and/or Selected Reserve) on the date of approval, is precluded by either standard policy (by Service Branch or DoD) or statute from committing to four additional years, and agrees to serve for the maximum amount of time allowed by such policy or statute. 
  • Is or becomes retirement-eligible and agrees to serve an additional four years of service on or after Aug. 1, 2012. A service member is considered to be retirement-eligible if he or she has completed 20 years of active federal service or 20 qualifying years as computed (pursuant to section 12732 of title 10 U.S.C.). 
  • Transfer requests are submitted and approved while the member is in the armed forces.

To begin applying for GI Bills or to find out more about the GI Bill benefits, click this link here. Join more discussions or learn more about transitioning in our employment and transition thread here

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