If you joined the military in the days of the Montgomery GI Bill, you and I are in the same boat. I don’t know about you, but the last detail I was concerned about double-checking in my enlistment contract was the education benefits I wouldn’t be using for the next decade. But it turns out, my lack of asking questions and only making sure I wasn’t getting screwed over on the big things in the beginning (MOS, duty station, rank) has left me worried I might end up getting screwed over now.
Sure, the Post-9/11 GI Bill appears to provide the best bang for your buck when it comes to pursuing education after the military. But is it really the best choice for everyone? Unless you’re prepared to read through the pages…and pages…of government literature on the benefits and regulations regarding each GI Bill, it really is hard to tell which one you could end up benefiting from the most. Lucky for you, I did the legwork for you.
DISCLAIMER: In case you haven’t read one of my previous articles, 15 Things Transitioning Veterans Should Never Say, you should know my unofficial motto of post-military transition is “Results not typical, individual experiences may vary.” While there are several examples covered below, what worked for someone else may not work for you. Do your research and be informed of your options.
You should also read about other ways to use your GI Bill.
Let’s discuss the Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits first. Because it’s the most talked about, the benefits should seem rather familiar to you.
Term: Up to 36 months of eligibility.
Housing Allowance: The housing benefit paid under the Post-9/11 GI Bill is equivalent to the BAH of an E-5 with dependents in the ZIP code of the school.
Books: Up to $1,000 stipend per year for books and study materials.
Payments: At a public school, the Post-9/11 GI Bill pays all tuition and fees for an in-state student (assuming 100-percent eligibility). For those attending a private or foreign school, it pays up to $20,235.02 per academic year (edit as of 8/15 – $21,084.89). School costs are paid directly to the school; housing and book money is paid to you.
Yellow Ribbon Program: Schools may voluntarily waive a portion of the remaining tuition not already covered and the VA will match that contribution dollar for dollar.
Now, how does the Montgomery GI Bill stack up in the same categories?
Term: Up to 36 months of eligibility.
Housing Allowance: None
Payments: One flat rate (for the 2014-15 school year this is $1,717 per month, regardless of location or chosen school) is sent to you; you are then required to pay fees to the school.
Yellow Ribbon Program: All costs, fees and tuition exceeding the MGIB payment are the responsibility of the student.
The Montgomery Bill has no housing allowance, no books, no Yellow Ribbon Program. I already know what you’re thinking. But before you go cashing in your Montgomery Bill for the Post-9/11 (it’s irrevocable, ya know), let me explain when and why you might want to keep it.
1 – You don’t plan on going to school full time
One of the biggest caveats with the Post-9/11 GI Bill is your “rate of pursuit”. In order to receive all of the benefits listed above, you must enroll and continue to attend at a full-time pace. If you drop to a half-time rate or less for whatever reason, you can say goodbye to your monthly housing allowance. The Montgomery GI Bill, however, still allows you to receive funds at a prorated amount even if you’re enrolled at only 50 percent. This is where your math skills are going to come in:
- The Post-9/11 pays all tuition costs, at 50%, which is all you would receive.
- The Montgomery, at 50%, still pays $858.50.
Once you figure out how much your tuition costs are for only half the amount of classes, whatever is left over is yours.
2 – You’re planning on taking only online classes
Another stipulation with the Post-9/11 GI Bill is that you must take one class, per term, on an actual campus. If you don’t, you forfeit a significant portion of your housing allowance, dropping the rate down to a flat $754.40. If you’re using the Montgomery, there is no online vs. campus stipulation. You could take all classes from the comfort of your living room and would continue to receive the $1,717 each month regardless. (Just remember, you still have to pay tuition costs with the $1,717.)
3 – You weren’t on active duty long enough to receive 100 percent of the GI Bill
If you left the service before you served 36 months of eligible time on active duty, this could make your GI Bill decision much easier. The Post-9/11 simply prorates your benefits in accordance with the amount of time you did serve. If you’re only eligible for 50 percent of the GI Bill, you only receive 50 percent of the benefits. Period. The Montgomery, however, is a little more gracious. You actually have the option to pay whatever amount of money you’re short due to not serving the full 36 months, and still receive the full MGIB benefits. So if you’re only a few bucks short, it would be far more beneficial to pay that than have to pay the other half of your tuition the Post-9/11 wouldn’t cover.
4 – You’re joining the Guard or Reserve after active duty
This fact is one of the lesser-known, yet slightly complicated – so follow along closely. The GI Bill regulations say that anyone who qualifies for two or more VA education benefits must give up one in order to accept the Post-9/11 GI Bill. (So that includes you if you still have the MGIB and are eligible to switch to the Post-9/11.) Here’s where it gets tricky. If you join the Guard or Reserve, they have education benefits separate from those earned on active duty (i.e. Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserve and/or Reserve Education Assistance Program). So if you come off active duty and are now in the Reserve, your VA education benefits include:
Montgomery GI Bill
Post-9/11 GI Bill
Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserve
You can “give up” the Reserve GI Bill and keep the other two. In most cases, this process could net you an additional $14,000 worth of school.
*As always, be sure these benefits are written in your contracts. If they’re not, your eligibility would be in question.
5 – You have additional, non-military, education money
Contrary to popular belief, having a GI Bill doesn’t preclude you from utilizing other education funding sources. Apply for grants. Apply for scholarships. Additional money from outside sources puts money from your GI Bill in your pocket. Let’s use another example. This time you’re attending a local community college that has a fairly low BAH amount, let’s say $1,256. Now, you’re given a scholarship that completely covers the cost of your tuition and books. Would you rather have the Post-9/11 GI Bill that still just pays $1,256 or the Montgomery that pays the $1,717 and you don’t have to worry about the book cost?
There’s one additional instance where using all of your Montgomery GI Bill leaves you eligible to receive one year of Post-9/11 benefits at the 60 percent rate up to/not to exceed 48 months of VA education benefits. This is accomplished by taking advantage of a small loophole in federal regulation verbiage. However, I personally am not recommending this as a viable option as it runs a high risk of leaving you with debt to repay.
As you’re well aware, anything concerning military benefits is always clear as mud. While the research I did gave me, and hopefully you, a better understanding of the GI Bill differences, there are going to be numerous differences between each veteran and their situation. Continue to do your research and evaluate which choice will be the best for you; you earned it.
Click here To learn about post 911 GI Bill Benefits.
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