A Complete Guide To Using Your GI Bill®

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The GI Bill® refers to several education benefits programs that members of Active Duty, Selected Reserve, and National Guard Armed Forces can earn through the Department of Veterans Affairs. The benefits associated with the GI Bill are designed to help you or members of your family pursue your educational or professional training goals by covering some or all of your costs.

Your benefits may vary, and there are a number of different benefits programs that operate under the umbrella of the GI Bill. Your duty status, service dates, length of service, and other eligibility requirements will determine the size of your benefits package as well as the program under which you are best served.

Covered in this article:

What follows is designed to simplify the process of accessing and using your GI Bill to get the most out of your benefits . . .

A Brief History of the GI Bill

In 1944, the U.S. passed the GI Bill into law. Among the sweeping promises that this bill made to the generation of soldiers who served honorably in World War II was access to a quality education. In the next decade, the GI Bill helped to send more than two million soldiers to college and another 5.6 million into trade schools, training, and certification.

The GI Bill was game-changer for American education, opening a world of educational and professional opportunities to an entire generation of Americans. The bill has undergone numerous changes over the course of its existence, often to accommodate changing realities at home and abroad. Recent, significant changes include the 2008 passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which included an expanded set of benefits for veterans of the War on Terror, and the 2017 Forever GI Bill, which eliminated the 15-year time limit for the use of veteran benefits and expanded benefits for National Guard and Reserve members, Purple Heart recipients, students focused on STEM programs, and enrollees at defunct schools.

Though the GI Bill was signed into law almost 75 years ago, its promise is even more vital today. More than 1.4 million Americans are standing on the front lines to protect our Republic, many with the expectation of ultimately attending college, training, or certification programs. A great many others view college as an excellent path to beginning a military career. In either case, you have a few advantages over the average student. As an affiliate of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, National Guard, or Selected Reserve, you are likely eligible for some package of benefits under the GI Bill.

For more on the history and transformation of the GI Bill, check out Making the Most of Your GI Bill.

Eligibility Requirements By Program

Today, the GI Bill incorporates a variety of programs, grants, and scholarships aimed at assisting those who have served, who plan to serve, or who hope to advance an already existing career in the military. Your eligibility for these programs will vary, with one exception. A Veteran’s “character of discharge” is taken into consideration when determining eligibility for benefits. Generally, a character assessment other than “dishonorable” is expected.

Assessments of “honorable,” “under honorable conditions,” or “general” are preferred, though the Department of Veterans Affairs may make the determination to award benefits to those have been dishonorably discharged after case review. If you fall into this category, don’t let it prevent you from seeking out your benefits, but be aware that it is something that will be weighed when considering your eligibility. While a “dishonorable discharge” may not be an automatic disqualifying factor, it could nonetheless be a disqualifying factor.

To learn more about the Character of Discharge eligibility conditions, visit the Veterans Benefits Administration.

Post-9/11 GI Bill

The Post-9/11 GI Bill was established to provide education benefits for those who have served in active duty for more than 90 days following the date of September 10th, 2001. The size of your benefits package will depend on the actual length of your active duty time.

Eligibility Criteria

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, you must:

The following additional eligibility requirements concerning what qualifies as “active duty” will apply for Reservists and Guard:

For details on what distinguishes Title 10 and Title 32 service in the U.S. Code, read more at Military Officers of America.

Your Benefits

Your benefits as an active duty serviceman or woman may vary based on a few factors. First and foremost, it’s worth noting that the cost of a public college or university may be covered in its entirety, depending on the length of your service time. Another benefit to choosing a public school is that — as a veteran who has been out of the military for less than three years, or the dependent of this veteran — you will be charged the lower in-state resident rate regardless of your actual state of residence.

By contrast, there is a ceiling to how much the GI Bill will cover for a private or foreign school, regardless of your length of service. As of August 1st, 2018, the GI Bill makes up to $23,671.94 available to you per academic year to attend a private college or university. It will then be up to you to pay the difference either through scholarship, student loans, personal financing, or, depending on the school, the Yellow Ribbon Program (an agreement in which participating private schools cover the difference in your costs).

The size of your GI Bill benefits package is determined by your Post-9/11-GI Bill entitlement percentage. This is a calculation based on the number of months you’ve served active duty following September 10th, 2001. Visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to see how this calculation is made.

As per these factors, your eligibility for benefits will vary, but can include:

Ways To Use Your Benefits

The Department of Veterans Affairs indicates that your GI Bill benefits can be applied to a wide spectrum of educational and training opportunities, including:

How To Apply

Apply now by filling out VA Form 22–1990 (Application for Education Benefits).

You can also request an application by phone seven AM-6 PM CST, Monday-Friday at 8–888-GIBILL-1 (888-442–4551).

Or you can visit a nearby VA Regional Office in person to complete your application.

Active Duty Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB-AD)

The Active Duty Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB-AD) — also sometimes referred to as Chapter 30 — provides education benefits to veterans and servicemembers with at least two years of active duty.

Eligibility Criteria

Eligibility for MGIB-AD requires you to have:

Your Benefits

If eligible, you can receive up to 36 months of education benefits. The amount of your monthly benefit program will depend on:

The buy-up program mentioned above refers to a program in which you can contribute up to an additional $600 from your income while on active duty to increase your GI benefits by an additional $5400 as you finance your education.

Ways To Use Your Benefits

For more detail on your eligibility requirements, benefits or ways to use your benefits, check out the Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty pamphlet [PDF] (PDF).

How To Apply

Apply now by filling out VA Form 22–1990 (Application for Education Benefits).

You can also request an application by phone between 7AM-6PM CST, Mon-Fri at 8–888-GIBILL-1 (888-442–4551).

Or you can visit a nearby VA Regional Office in person to complete your application.

Reserve and Guard Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB-SR)

Montgomery GI Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) provides education benefits for those serving in the Selected Reserve, which includes the Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve and Coast Guard Reserve, as well as the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard.

Eligibility Criteria

Payments are made by the Department of Veterans Affairs based on several Selected Research eligibility factors:

There are a few other factors that enter into determining your eligibility:

Your Benefits

You may be entitled to up to 36 months of education benefits. View current payment rates here.

Ways To Use Your Benefits

For more detail on your eligibility requirements, benefits or ways to use your benefits, check out the Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty pamphlet [PDF] (PDF).

How To Apply

There are a few steps to determining your eligibility and submitting your application:

Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP)

The Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) provides educational assistance to members of the Reserve who have been called to active duty in response to a war or national emergency. This program was technically discontinued by The National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 and ceased adding beneficiaries on November 25, 2015.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the extension of benefits to Reserve and National Guard members through the Post-9/11 GI Bill has superseded the need for the Reserve Educational Assistance Program by not only supplanting but, in many cases, expanding upon REAP benefits.

Eligibility Criteria

Some individuals will remain eligible for REAP benefits until November 25, 2019. Others are no longer eligible for REAP benefits. This change affects all beneficiaries differently:

Your Benefits

Any new applications for REAP will be considered for eligibility benefits under an all qualifying programs, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill. If, based on your dates of service, you are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Department of Veterans Affairs may make the determination to award you these benefits in lieu of the discontinued REAP benefits.

Ways To Use Your Benefits

To learn more about ways of using your benefits, return to the section above on the options available to you under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

How To Apply

The Department of Veterans Affairs notes that if you are using the REAP program to leverage your benefits, you are now eligible to make “an irrevocable election” to instead use the Post-9/11 GI Bill to receive your benefits.

Reach out by phone to a VA Education Call Center agent between 7AM-6PM CST, Mon-Fri to find out how: 1–888-GIBILL-1 +1 (888) 442‐4551).

Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E)

The GI Bill also makes provisions for opportunities that can help you with job training, employment services, and job coaching. The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program provides employment support for veterans and is particularly beneficial to those who are ill, injured, or otherwise have service-related challenges when it comes to gaining or keeping employment.

Eligibility Criteria

Your Benefits

Benefits emcompass a wide range of career and employment centered services and resources, including:

Ways To Use Your Benefits

How To Apply

You can apply for either the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program or the related Education and Career Counseling program through the online eBenefits portal. Follow these steps to complete and submit your application:

If you are a servicemember with a disability that began or became worse during active duty, uou do not need to wait to apply, even if you have not yet received a service-connected disability (SCD) rating.

If this describes your circumstances, see VA Form 28–0588 [PDF] for further instructions.

Additional Programs

Applying For Your Benefits

If you meet the eligibility requirements for at least one of the programs outlined above, you can apply for your education or training benefits:

There are a few other support resources that can help you through the application process:

Using Your Benefits to Pay For College or Training

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers a portal for helping to winnow down your school choices and find a college, university or training program that is compatible with your particular set of benefits.

Additional Resources for helping to choose a school or training program include:

You can also jump to The Best Online Colleges for Military Personnel & Families, our look at the best accredited online colleges offering programs and support for military service personnel, veterans, and their families.

Other Key Links and Resources

For more information and resources on getting a quality education, earning a degree or getting a great job, return to the Military Education Headquarters.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at https://benefits.va.gov/gibill/index.asp

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