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Use Your GI Bill Benefits to Get a College Degree

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The GI Bill is a federal law that provides education assistance to military veterans, service members, and their dependents through a group of benefit programs offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The GI Bill version in effect today is the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB), established in 1984. In August 2009, the new Post-9/11 GI Bill took effect. The Post-9/11 GI Bill will not replace the Montgomery GI Bill, and there are pros and cons to both programs. Some service members currently using Montgomery GI Bill benefits may choose to stay in that program, while other service members find that the benefits of the Post-9/11 Bill suit them better.

The original GI Bill was enacted in 1944 to help WWII veterans get the education and financial resources they needed to successfully transition back into civilian life. Since then, the GI Bill has had several updates for veterans of both wartime and peacetime service. GI Bill benefits always include grants for college degree and career training programs. Typically, GI Bill education funding does not have to be repaid.

The Montgomery GI Bill

The current version of the GI Bill is the Montgomery GI Bill. The Montgomery GI Bill, or MGIB, offers up to 36 months of education funding to both Active Duty veterans (MGIB-AD or Chapter 30) and Selected Reserve veterans (MGIB-SR or Chapter 1606). The Selected Reserve includes the Army Reserve, the Navy Reserve, the Air Force Reserve, the Marine Corps Reserve, the Coast Guard Reserve, the Army National Guard, and the Air National Guard.

MGIB-AD (Chapter 30) benefits are usually available to veterans who have:

  • Served at least 3 years of Active Duty
  • Earned a High School Diploma or GED
  • Received an Honorable Discharge, if discharged

Education and Training covered by the Montgomery GI Bill

MGIB-AD (Chapter 30) benefits may be used to pay for:

  • Undergraduate, graduate, or post-graduate college degrees
  • Technical or vocational courses
  • Correspondence courses
  • Apprenticeship or on-the-job Training
  • Flight training
  • High-tech training
  • Licensing & certification tests
  • Entrepreneurship training
  • Entrance examinations
  • Online classes or programs

MGIB-SR benefits may be used for:

  • Degree and certificate programs
  • Flight training
  • Apprenticeship or on-the-job training
  • Correspondence courses

Montgomery GI Bill Benefit Amounts

On August 1, 2008, monthly rates for Montgomery GI Bill benefits were increased. The new education assistance benefit ranges from $268.25 to $1,321.00 a month, depending on a number of factors, including:

  • Length of service
  • Type of education program you're enrolled in
  • Amount of time you're enrolled in school (full-time, part-time)

How to Obtain Your Montgomery GI Bill Benefits

One MGIB eligibility requirement is a $1200 program enrollment fee, which is usually deducted in small installments from monthly pay until the $1200 total is met. A thorough description of all eligibility requirements and service categories can be found at AllThingsMilitary.com, along with a downloadable Application for Education Benefits. Many schools also offer help with navigating the MGIB-AD benefit process.

Montgomery GI Bill Vocational Rehabilitation Program

The Vocational Rehabilitation program (Chapter 31) of the Montgomery GI Bill provides additional support for service-disabled veterans. If you are a service-disabled veteran, the Vocational Rehabilitation program's benefits help you pursue whatever additional education you may need to get trained for appropriate and steady employment. Program benefits may cover tuition, fees, a parking permit, any needed educational aides such as a customized computer or software, a supply stipend, and a monthly housing stipend.

Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP)

The Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP or Chapter 1607) is available to all reservists who, after September 11, 2001, complete 90 days or more of active duty service "in support of contingency operations." This benefit provides Mobilized Reserve service members with up to 80% of the active duty (Chapter 30) GI Bill benefits as long as they remain active participants in the Reserves.

The amount of financial aid you can be awarded through REAP is determined by the length of your tour of duty. The monthly benefit was increased on August 1, 2008, and new provisions may allow Reservist program participants who accumulate three years on active duty—regardless of breaks between tours—to be eligible for the maximum payment, assuming all eligibility requirements are met.

Reservists should talk to a Veterans Affairs Department advisor about which Reserve GI Bill program, MGIB-SR or REAP, is the appropriate program for them.

Survivors' and Dependents' Education Assistance Program

The Survivors' and Dependents' Education Assistance Program (Chapter 35) was enacted to honor 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. The Program provides up to 45 months of education and training opportunities to eligible dependents.

The Montgomery GI Bill and... student loans, multiple benefits, and transferring benefits

You can't request VA education assistance benefits specifically to repay a student loan, but if you're enrolled and receiving benefits through the VA Education Assistance program, you can use your benefit payments in whatever way you choose, including student loan repayment.

You may be eligible for more than one VA education benefit program, but you can only receive payments from one program at a time. Generally, 48 months is the maximum amount of benefits you can receive through any combination of education assistance programs that you qualify for.

You can transfer your GI Bill benefits to your spouse after you've completed six years of service and if you commit to serve in the military for at least four more years. You can transfer your GI Bill benefits to your children after completing 10 years of service. A number of schools now offer a tuition discount to military spouses, as well.

The New GI Bill

The Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) will go into effect on August 1, 2009. This new GI Bill will make sure that GI Bill benefits are extended to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not replace the Montgomery GI Bill, but has some updated and some new features. Information on the new GI Bill and its benefits will be posted soon. Please check back!


Sources:
1) http://www.gibill.va.gov/
2) http://www.gibill.va.gov/pamphlets/ch30/ch30_pamphlet_general.htm
3) http://images.military.com/Resources/Forms/VA_22_1990.pdf