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Guide To The GI Bill

Guide To The GI Bill - What It's Used For & How To Apply

Your service has protected one of our greatest assets — our freedom. We cannot thank you enough. Now that you're thinking about higher education, you should remember to explore the options your benefits may provide.

If you are or were a member of active duty, Selected Reserves, or the National Armed Forces, then you are eligible for the GI Bill.

If you’re unfamiliar with the GI Bill, it’s a benefit of service that helps alleviate the cost of post-secondary education. You can use it to go to community college, trade school, or a university. It has helped servicemen and women achieve their educational goals since it started back in 1944.

Learn about the different benefits GI Bills may provide and how you can go about collecting them.

What the GI Bill Can be Used For

  • Associate through more advanced degrees
  • Non-degree programs such as trade school
  • Apprenticeships
  • Reimbursement for licensing or certifications
  • Flight training
  • Tutors
  • Tutorials
  • Work-study programs
  • Correspondence training programs

The money received from the bill is not taxable nor is it considered income. Find a trade school or college program now.

How to Apply for the GI Bill

Make sure the school you’re planning on attending accepts the GI Bill benefits before you apply. Call the admissions office and speak with someone there; they should let you know. Once you meet the criteria and are eligible for the GI Bill benefits, you can apply online, in person, or with a Veterans Affairs certified official located through your school of choice.

Things you’ll need in order to apply:

  • Your social security number
  • Your bank account and routing number for direct deposits
  • Paperwork proving your service status
  • Your copy of the DD Form 214 paperwork (for veterans)
  • Transcripts and other paperwork the school may require

Be sure to plan ahead. It could take longer than a month for your paperwork to be processed, and another 30 days for payments to be distributed. Be sure to leave yourself plenty of time to ensure that you're not going to miss your school's deadlines.

You should also speak with your school to learn about any late policies in place, and to understand the actions you may need to take should your first payment arrive later than the tuition deadline.

About the Forever GI Bill

In 2017, the GI Bill was updated to improve benefits and remove the 15 year limit on a veteran's eligibility. Now, veterans have access to the benefits provided by the GI Bill without any expiration date.

  • For all GI Bills, the Forever GI Bill eliminated the time limit if your last discharge was on or after January 1, 2013. If you were discharged before that date, you will still have a 15 year limit.
  • Guard and reserves mobilized after August 1, 2009 can receive payments for classes after August 1, 2018.
  • Reservists who were eligible for the REAP may now be able to use the Post 9/11 GI Bill, but as of right now, there are only 4,000 people who qualify.
  • If you received a Purple Heart, you receive full GI Bill benefits no matter how long you served.
  • Dependent benefits have increased by 50 percent, but you can only receive them for 36 months, down from 45 months, which was effective August 1, 2018.
  • If you have been awarded the Fry Scholarship, you are now eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program, as well.
  • It will now be easier to reallocate benefits if a spouse or dependent is deceased.
  • Benefit tiers have changed slightly. The most noticeable: if you served from 90 days to less than 6 months, you will receive 50 percent of the maximum amount (up from 40 percent). And if you served 6 months to under 12 months, then you will get 60 percent of the maximum pay (up from 50 percent). That should translate to approximately $2,000 additionally. This was put into effect on August 1, 2020.
  • If you used your benefits to attend any courses, programs, or schools that have been closed or discontinued as of January 1, 2015-August 16, 2017, you will have all your lost credits restored.
  • STEM is being pushed everywhere, and it’s no different with the GI Bill. The Edith Nourse Rogers Scholarship will pay you $30,000 if you’re in a program deemed STEM by the VA and have used up all your GI Bill benefits. If you already have a degree in one of the STEM careers and you’re working on your teaching degree, you’re also eligible. This came into effect on August 1, 2019.
  • The BAH, or the housing stipend, will now be based on the campus you attend, as opposed to the location of the main campus. And another change: The bill is prorated if you go to active duty, as opposed to it being paused.
  • The GI Housing Bill Allowance decreased $100/month starting January 1, 2019 for any service member receiving benefits after January 1, 2018.

Which GI Bill is Best?

All the bills offered have excellent benefits. You’ll need to decide which is best suited for your needs. In certain cases, they can be combined or piggybacked. The following programs are available.

Post 9/11 GI Bill

If you served active duty for 90 or more days after September 2001, then you’re eligible for this benefit. Your pay will depend on how much time you served.

What’s included in the Post 9/11 GI Bill:

  • Up to the full amount of your tuition and school fees
  • A monthly housing allowance
  • Up to $1,000/year for books
  • The ability to transfer this benefit to your dependents
  • The Yellow Ribbon Program

Active Duty Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB-AD)

You can receive monthly payments that will help cover your education or training costs. This program can provide up to $69,000, along with many support programs.

To be eligible for the MGIB-AD program, you must:

  • Contribute $100/month for the first 12 months of active duty. This is refunded to you and attached to your last housing payment.
  • Have completed high school or have your GED prior to applying
  • Have at least 2 years of active duty
  • Have received an Honorable Discharge

The payment rate for MGIB-AD fluctuates and readjusts every October. The current pay rate is given regardless of when you became eligible or began using it. You have 36 months, which is 8 semesters, to use it. They do not have to be consecutive.

Reserve and Guard Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB-SR)

Are you serving or have you served in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, or National Guard? Then you are eligible for the MGIB-SR. And if you were active for 90 or more days after September 10, 2001, then you can combine this with the Post 9/11 GI Bill. You can receive $11K, payable over 36 non-consecutive months, if you are a full-time student.

To be eligible for the MGIB-SR, you must:

  • Have 6 years in Selected Reserve or Guard after June 6, 1985
  • Have an additional 6 years in service, as an officer
  • Have completed your initial active duty for training (IADT)
  • Have either your high school diploma or GED earned prior to your IADT
  • Remain in good standing if you’re still active

Vocational Rehabilitation and Education Program

This program is if you have a VA Disability rating and an employment handicap. Some of the services you can receive are training, job placement services, counseling, and education.

Through the Vocational Rehabilitation and Education Program, you may also get:

  • An evaluation to determine your needs and skills
  • Counseling and career planning
  • Skills to help you gain employment such as resume building, job seeking skills, interview practice, and other important employment skills
  • Help finding and keeping a job
  • Apprenticeships, on-the-job training opportunities, as well as non-paid job training
  • Financial assistance for post-secondary education
  • Rehabilitation services
  • Independent living services, depending on your disability

Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA)

If you are the survivor of a service-member or you are the dependent of a veteran who has been completely disabled in the line of duty, then you’re entitled to this assistance benefit.

In order to receive the benefits of the DEA, you must be a child or spouse of:

  • A veteran who is deceased or permanently disabled due to active service in the Armed Forces
  • A veteran who died from any cause related to his or her service
  • A service-member who is MIA or being held captive
  • A service-member who has been detained or interned by force through a foreign government while in the line of duty
  • A veteran who received a total disability while serving and is hospitalized or receiving long-term treatment, or is going to be discharged due to the disability

What your DEA benefits include and to receive them:

  • Up to 45 months of degree or certificate education assistance is available.
  • A child dependent must be between the ages of 18-26. Extensions may be filed but will end before your 31st birthday.
  • If you’re enlisted and active, you are not eligible for this benefit.
  • You will be ineligible if you receive a dishonorable discharge.
  • Spousal benefits end 20 years from the date of your veteran’s death, or 10 years from the date the VA finds you eligible (the date of the veteran’s death).

Fry Scholarship

This is a scholarship that was created in memory of Marine GySgt. John Fry who was killed after volunteering to do one last run to defuse bombs. Dependents of an active duty service member who died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001 may be eligible for this scholarship.

What the Fry Scholarship includes:

  • Up to 36 months of benefits
  • Tuition up to $22,805 per year for trade school, community college, or university
  • Money for housing, books, and supplies

How to qualify for the Fry Scholarship:

  • Spouse: You have up to 15 years from the date of your spouse’s death to use this scholarship. If you remarry, you become ineligible. You may also qualify for the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).
  • Dependent children: You’ll be eligible once you reach your 18th birthday or graduate from high school, whichever comes first. Once you are 33, you’ll no longer qualify for this scholarship. If your parent’s death occurred prior to August 1, 2011, you may also qualify for the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA). However, you can only use one at a time, with a cap at 81 months.

GI Bill Kicker

This is a benefit that can almost double the tuition payout, and one that is often forgotten about when applying. It is also referred to as the Navy, Army, or Marines Corp College Fund. The Air Force calls it the Buy-Up Program.

This kicker can boost your scholarship money by over $25K over the course of the 36 months as an addition to your housing fund. However, your actual amount will be determined by your rank and job.

  • You must have served at least 2 years of active duty.
  • You must have a kicker authorization, which is stored in the Department of Defense’s computer system.
  • You must be approved through a department of the military.
  • You must be eligible for the MGIB-Active Duty benefits.

The Yellow Ribbon Program

There are many schools who honor the Yellow Ribbon Program. The program takes over a large portion of tuition not covered by the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The minimal remainder will be paid by you, either through other types of financial aid or directly out of your pocket. The amount the Yellow Ribbon Program offers changes yearly, but it is generally over $20K.

To be eligible to use the Yellow Ribbon Program:

  • You must have served in active duty for a minimum of 36 months after September 10, 2001.
  • You had an honorable discharge for a disability related to serving, and still serviced for 30 days after September 10, 2001.
  • You are an eligible dependent.

Schools reserve the right to limit the amount of funds they accept, as well as the amount of students and the programs they allow to receive the benefits of the Yellow Ribbon Program.

Can GI Bill Benefits be Taken Away?

Under certain circumstances, your benefits may either be reduced or taken away.

  • If you are in jail for a felony, you may be eligible for education costs such as tuition, supplies, and fees. But if you’re receiving financial support from another source, then the VA will not contribute. However, if you are only getting half of the tuition paid, the VA will pay the other half.
    • With a misdemeanor, you will still receive full benefits for your education.
  • If you go to jail for a felony, after the 60th day of imprisonment, your disability compensation will be reduced. If you were at 20 percent on the 61st day of serving time, you will be dropped to 10 percent. If you were at 10 percent, then you will be lowered to five percent. Once you are released, you will be eligible to receive full benefits depending on your disability.
    • If you’re in for a misdemeanor, your compensation will remain the same.
  • Disability pension will stop at day 61 of time served but can be reinstated upon release.
  • Your dependents can apply to receive the benefits while you are in prison.

Once you are released, your benefits can be reinstated. You’ll just need to let the Department of Veterans Affairs know your release date, which must be confirmed within 30 days of release.

Please read this article if you are about to transition from active duty to civilian life and you’re feeling overwhelmed. There are many resources out there for you, and you don’t have to go at it alone.