What Is the GI Bill?

TBS Staff Writers
Updated August 16, 2023
The GI Bill® helps qualifying veterans and their families pay for college, graduate school, and vocational training programs. Benefits can vary depending on

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The GI Bill® refers to a series of education benefit programs offered through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for members of the United States armed forces. The GI Bill® helps qualifying veterans and their families pay for college, graduate school, and vocational training programs. The GI Bill® covers some or all of the costs for school or training.

But figuring out how the GI Bill® works and how to use it can be complicated. Benefits can vary depending on several factors, including duty status, service dates, and service length.

A Short History of the GI Bill®

In 1944, the U.S. passed the first GI Bill® into law. It was first utilized by millions of World War II veterans to finish high school, earn a vocational certificate, or attend college, opening up a world of educational and professional opportunities that were previously unavailable for many Americans.

The bill has undergone numerous changes over the years. The benefits significantly increased in 2008 with the passage of the Post-911 GI Bill®, which is offered to those who served in the military after Sept. 10, 2001, covering payment of tuition and fees, a monthly housing allowance, and a stipend for textbooks and supplies.

The Forever GI Bill®, passed in 2017, further expanded those benefits. In particular, it eliminated a 15-year time limit on the use of services for National Guard and reserve members, Purple Heart recipients, students focused on STEM programs, and enrollees at defunct schools.

Service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, National Guard, or Selected Reserve are likely eligible for some benefits packages under the GI Bill®.

Eligibility Requirements

The GI Bill® incorporates many programs, grants, and scholarships aimed at assisting those who have served, plan to serve, or hope to advance an already existing career in the military.

Eligibility for these programs varies by individual and military branch, with one consistent restriction: the character of discharge. Generally, a veteran’s discharge must be honorable, under honorable conditions, or general.

However, the VA may still consider extending benefits to those who were dishonorably discharged on a case-by-case basis. If you fall into this category, don’t let it prevent you from seeking benefits, but be aware that it may negatively affect your eligibility.

You can learn about your personal eligibility through the GI Bill® Comparison Tool. Visit the Veterans Benefits Administration’s website to learn more about character of discharge eligibility conditions.

Post-9/11 GI Bill®

The Post-9/11 GI Bill® provides education benefits for those who have served in active duty for more than 90 days after Sept. 10, 2001. The size of your benefits package depends on the length of active service. For many veterans, the Post-9/11 GI Bill® is the most accessible form of educational benefits, making it a good place to start when applying for yours.

Eligibility Criteria

According to the VA, you must:

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    Have served an aggregate of at least 90 days active duty service following Sept. 10, 2001, and have received an honorable discharge; or

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    Have served a minimum of 30 days of continuous active duty service after the date of Sept. 10, 2001, and subsequently have received a discharge due to a service-connected disability.

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    The following additional eligibility requirements concern what qualifies as active duty for reservists and National Guard.

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    All Title 10 active duty supporting named contingency operations

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    Title 32 service to organize, administer, recruiting, instructing, or training the National Guard

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    Title 32 service under section 502(f) to respond to a national emergency

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    All voluntary active duty, except active duty for medical care and medical evaluation

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

Benefits of Post-9/11 GI Bill®

The Post-9/11 GI Bill® program offers tuition and fee reimbursement at public, private, and foreign colleges and universities. The amount covered varies depending on your eligibility percentage, determined by the number of months you spent in active duty following Sept. 10, 2001.

For individuals who are 100% eligible receive the full benefit, the bill covers all tuition and fee payments at public schools and up to $25,162.14 at private or foreign schools per academic year. The remaining costs at private or foreign schools may be covered by scholarships, student loans, personal financing, or — depending on the school — the Yellow Ribbon Program.

Eligibility benefits vary, but you may be eligible to receive:

  • Up to 100% tuition and fee coverage
  • Monthly housing allowance
  • A stipend for books and supplies
  • A one-time rural benefit for certain veterans
  • In-state tuition rates regardless of your actual state of residence
  • Covered relocation expenses depending on your geographic location
  • Ability to transfer your GI Bill® to family members

Ways to Use Post-911 GI Bill® Benefits

  • College degrees, including associate, bachelor’s, and graduate
  • Vocational/technical training, including non-college programs
  • On-the-job/apprenticeship programs
  • Licensing and certification reimbursement
  • Flight training
  • National testing programs, including SAT, CLEP, and AP
  • Correspondence training
  • Work-study
  • Tuition Assistance Top-Up program
  • Tutorial Assistance program

How To Apply

Apply now by filling out VA Form 22–1990. You can also request an application by phone at 888-442–4551 (or 001-918-781-5678 if calling from overseas) between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. CST, Monday-Friday. You can also visit a VA Regional Office to complete your application in person.

Active Duty Montgomery GI Bill®

The Active Duty Montgomery GI Bill® (MGIB-AD) provides education benefits for veterans and service members with at least two years of active duty experience.

Eligibility Criteria

In addition to service length, eligibility for MGIB-AD requires you to have an honorable discharge and a high school diploma or GED (or, in some cases, at least 12 hours of college credit) and fit into one of the following categories:

Category I

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    You entered active duty for the first time after Jun. 30, 1985;

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    Had military pay reduced by $100 a month for first 12 months; and either

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    Continuously served for two or three years, if that is what you first enlisted for; or

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    entered the Selected Reserve within a year of leaving active duty and served four years (the 2 by 4 program).


Category II

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    You entered active duty before Jan. 1, 1977;

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    Served at least one day between Oct. 19, 1984, and Jun. 30, 1985;

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    Stayed on active duty through Jun. 30, 1988 (or through Jun. 30, 1987, if you entered the Selected Reserve within one year of leaving active duty and served four years); and

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    On Dec. 31, 1989, you had entitlement left from the Vietnam-era GI Bill®.

Category III

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    You are not eligible for MGIB under Category I or II; and

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    Before separation, you had military pay reduced by $1,200; and either

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    You were on active duty on Sept. 30, 1990, and separated involuntarily after Feb. 2, 1991;

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    You involuntarily separated on or after Nov. 30, 1993; or

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    You voluntarily separated under either the Voluntary Separation Incentive (VSI) or Special Separation Benefit (SSB) program.


Category IV

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    You had military pay reduced by $100 a month for 12 months or made a $1,200 lump-sum contribution, and either:

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    Were on active duty on Oct. 9, 1996; you had money remaining in a VEAP account on that date; and you elected MGIB by Oct. 9, 1997; or

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    Entered full-time National Guard duty under title 32, USC, between Jul. 1, 1985, and Nov. 28, 1989, and you elected MGIB during the period of Oct. 9, 1996-July 8, 1997.


Benefits of Active Duty Montgomery GI Bill®

If qualified, you can receive up to 36 months of education benefits. The actual length of your monthly benefits will depend on several factors, including:

  • Type of training or education you pursue;
  • Service length and your category (I-IV, as listed above);
  • College fund eligibility; and
  • Contributions you’ve made to a buy-up program.

The buy-up program allows you to contribute up to an additional $600 from your income while on active duty, increasing your monthly benefits when it comes time to finance your education. Total benefit increases vary by contribution, but at the $600 level, they can add up to $5,400.

Ways to Use Active Duty Montgomery GI Bill® Benefits

  • Licensing and certification tests
  • Entrepreneurship training
  • Certain entrance examinations
  • Certain correspondence courses
  • Remedial, deficiency, and refresher courses

For more detail on your eligibility requirements, benefits, or ways to use your services, check out the Montgomery GI Bill® Active Duty pamphlet.

How To Apply

Apply by filling out VA Form 22–1990 (Application for Education Benefits), calling 888-442–4551, or visiting a nearby VA Regional Office in person to complete your application.

Montgomery GI Bill® Selected Reserve

The Montgomery GI Bill® Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) provides up to 36 months of education and training benefits for the Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Coast Guard Reserve, Army National Guard, and the Air National Guard.

Eligibility Criteria

Payments are made by the Department of Veterans Affairs and determined based on several Selected Research eligibility factors. To qualify, you must have:

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    Signed a six-year obligation to serve in the Selected Reserve after Jun. 30, 1985;

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    Completed your Initial Active Duty for Training (IADT);

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    Received a high school diploma or equivalency certificate before completing IADT; and

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    Be in good standing while serving in an active Selected Reserve unit.


Eligibility typically ends the day you leave the Selected Reserve, but it may be extended if you were unable to train due to a service-related disability.

Benefits of Montgomery GI Selected Reserve

Eligible reserve members can get up to $384 per month for up to 36 months of education. The actual amount of those monthly payments is determined by the type of training and training format (full-time, half-time, etc.) you select.

Ways To Use Montgomery GI Bill® Selected Reserve Benefits

  • College, business, and technical or vocational school
  • On-the-job training and apprenticeship programs
  • Tuition assistance
  • Remedial courses (classes that build basic skills in math, reading, or English)
  • National tests
  • Deficiency courses (makeup classes required for admittance to a particular college)
  • Refresher courses (classes that review information or teach skills needed before studying a specific subject)

How To Apply

To determine your eligibility, you must take the following steps:

  1. Get your Notice of Basic Eligibility (DD Form 2384–1) when you become eligible for your unit’s program.
  2. Make sure the VA has approved the program for education benefits at your selected school. To check this, contact the school, use the GI Bill® Comparison Tool, or call the VA at 888-442-4551. If you want to enroll in a program the VA hasn’t approved, make an official request with your school.
  3. After you find a VA-approved training program, apply online. You can also call 888-442-4551, or 001-918-781 if you’re overseas.

Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E)

The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program supports veterans with job training and employment services. VR&E is particularly beneficial to those who are ill, injured, or facing service-related health challenges.

Eligibility Criteria

  • check Injured or ill service members, with or without an SCD rating
  • check Servicemembers expecting a discharge that is not dishonorable who also possess a VA memorandum or Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) rating of 20 percent or more
  • check Servicemembers currently going through a Physical Evaluation Board

Benefits of VR&E

The benefits of VR&E encompass a wide range of career- and employment-centered services and resources, including:

  • Job training
  • Employment accommodations
  • Resume development
  • Job-seeking skills coaching
  • Business start-up assistance
  • Independent living services for the severely disabled

Ways to Use VR&E Benefits

  • Education and career counseling
  • Readjustment counseling
  • Benefits for children with disabilities (Chapter 18)
  • Career assessments
  • Dependent educational assistance (Chapter 35)
  • Choosing a school

How To Apply

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

  • Create/log in to your eBenefits account
  • Select “additional benefits” from your dashboard
  • Select the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program
  • Apply for either the VR&E program or the Education and Career Counseling Program
  • If eligible, you will be invited to attend an in-person orientation session at your nearest VA Regional Office

If you are a service member with a disability that began or became worse during active duty, you do not need to wait to apply, even if you have not yet received a service-connected disability (SCD) rating. Check out VA Form 28–0588 for more information.

The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship (Fry Scholarship)
Available for children and spouses of service members who died in duty after Sept. 10, 2001.

The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance(DEA)
This program provides education and training opportunities for eligible dependents of veterans who are permanently and totally disabled due to a service-related condition or who died while on active duty or as a result of a service-related condition.

Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP)
Available to servicemembers who elected to contribute to it from their military pay. The government matches contributions on a 2-for-1 basis.

Foreign programs
Often accept GI Bill® benefits or even offer their own — with some limitations — to servicemembers who elect to study abroad.

Allows you to “earn while you learn” through on-campus work-study programs and an allowance from the VA.

College credit for military experience
Available to servicemembers through the American Council on Education’s collaboration with the Department of Defense. Servicemembers can use their Joint Services Transcript to receive college credit at most institutions of higher education.

Yellow Ribbon Program
Only offered at participating schools, offsets tuition costs not met by the Post-9/11 GI Bill®. Other tuition assistance programs may also be available.

Accessing and Applying for Your Benefits

If you meet the eligibility requirements for at least one of the programs outlined above, you have a number of ways to apply for your education or training benefits.

If you have questions or need help navigating the application process, you have a couple options.

  • Ask a Question: The GI Bill® help portal allows you to submit inquiries online. This method typically takes 4-5 working days for a response.
  • Consult with a VA Certifying Official at your school. These officials usually work in the registrar’s or financial aid office. They keep application forms on hand and are an excellent resource during the application process.

Quick Tools to Pay for College or Training

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a portal to help you narrow down your choices when seeking a college, university, or training program compatible with your benefits.

Here are some additional resources for helping to choose a school or training program:

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

Header Image Credit: Ariel Skelley | Getty Images

Military Education Headquarters

More topic-relevant resources for military education.