The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, aka the GI Bill, was launched during WWII but has undergone many makeovers in the past decades. There are three modern iterations — the Montgomery GI Bill, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and its successor the Forever GI Bill.
Passed unanimously by Congress, the Forever GI Bill, formally known as the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, is still being implemented. Not all elements of the new bill are in-place yet, so it’s important to keep up-to-date as things change.
The Ultimate GI Bill Users Guide for Military and Veteran College Students
This current guide is designed to help Active Duty, Reserve/National Guard, and Veterans students — and also qualified dependents — understand what GI Bill benefits you may be eligible for. Equally important, we’ll show you how to use those benefits to pay for education and training to boost your careers or launch into exciting new ones!
What Is the GI Bill and Who Can Use It?
As mentioned, there are basically three GI Bills so let’s take a look at them one at a time, starting with the Montgomery GI Bill.
Montgomery GI Bill (Chapter 30)
The Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) has been around since 1984 and is still an optional benefit for military and Veteran students to use. It is a buy-in program where members pay $100 a month for a year ($1,200 in total) while serving in their respective military branches. In exchange, they may receive over $77,000 worth of educational benefits back!
There is a version of the Montgomery GI Bill for Active Duty members and Veterans (MGIB-AD) and another version for Selected Reserve and National Guard forces (MGIB-SR). Let’s take a quick look at each.
Montgomery GI Bill- Active Duty (MGIB-AD)
According to MyArmyBenefits (part of the U.S. Army’s official website), the MGIB-AD offers up to 36 academic months of benefits to eligible active-duty service members and veterans. For fully qualified recipients attending college full-time, this adds up to over $77,000!
The MGIB-AD is designed to help pay for:
- Classes towards a college degree, up to a doctorate
- Vocational and technical programs leading to a degree or certificate
- Other accredited online studies or correspondence training
- Apprenticeship / On-the-Job training (paid at varying rates — 1st 6 months, 75% of the full time GI Bill rate; 2nd 6 months, 55%; remaining months, 35%. GI Bill compensation doesn’t affect wages paid by the employer)
- Flight training - up to 60%, if qualified
- Professional licensing or certification exams - up to $2,000 each
- Businesses classes from the Small Business Development Center or National Veterans Business Development Center
To be eligible for the MGIB-AD, active-duty service members must serve at least two years. Former active-duty service members who separated honorably may also qualify under one of four categories. Category criteria are based on many factors, including current educational levels, date of entry into the military, and how much (if anything) was paid into the program.
MGIB benefits generally expire after 10 years from their military separation date but can be extended through the $600 Buy-Up program. This option may add an extra $5,400 worth of monthly benefits.
As of October 2021, the MGIB-AD Educational Assistance Allowance basic monthly rates are as follows:
“For trainees on active duty, payment is limited to reimbursement of tuition and fees for the training taken. Rates for those completing an enlistment of three years or more.”
|Training Time||Monthly rate|
|less than ½ time more than ¼ time||$1075.00**|
|¼ time or less||$537.50**|
** Tuition and Fees ONLY. Payment cannot exceed the listed amount.
Apprenticeship and On-the-Job Training
|Training Period||Monthly rate|
|First six months of training||$1,612.50|
|Second six months of training||$1,182.50|
|Remainder of training||$752.50|
Additional types of training and applicable rates can be found on the VA’s MGIB-AD page.
Note, the above rates do not include additional payments added through the $600 Buy-Up program. As an example, if the member purchased the full $600 buy-up option and is attending an institution full-time, they will receive an added $150.00 to their monthly benefit.
Montgomery GI Bill - Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR)
Members of the Reserve are eligible for MGIB-SR benefits if they:
- Signed a 6-year service obligation or are a Reverse officer who agreed to serve 6 years on top of their initial service obligation
- Complete initial active duty for training
- Have a high school diploma or GED
- Remain in good standing during active Selected Reserve duty, or are discharged due to disability
Per the VA, under the MGIB-SR, students can get “up to $384 per month in compensation (payments) for up to 36 months.” Members can apply by sending in an Application for VA Education Benefits (VA Form 22-1990) online, by mail, or in person.
Members also need to obtain a Notice of Basic Eligibility (DD Form 2384-1) from their unit.
Those who’ve begun training should take their application and Notice of Basic Entitlement to the applicable school or employer, then request that party to fill out a VA Form 22-1999, too.
Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33)
Veterans Affairs writes that between the Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bills, “For most participants, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the best option. Other students would benefit more from the Montgomery GI Bill.” Let’s explore what makes the Post-9/11 so great for most students!
Passed in 2008, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act was designed to help military members who served on or after September 11, 2001. One of the biggest and most praised changes under the new bill was the ability to transfer GI Bill benefits to dependents (a military spouse or children) as long as they meet the general eligibility requirements.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill offers funding to help cover 36-month’s worth of costs for:
- Public, in-state college tuition and fees, as well as capped rates for private or foreign schools
- Other vocational training or education
- Books and supplies
- Monthly housing costs for students attending over half time
- Limited relocation expenses if the student must move from a sparsely-populated rural area
To qualify for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, per the VA, a Servicemember must have:
- “Served at least 90 days on active duty (either all at once or with breaks in service) on or after September 11, 2001, or…
- “Received a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged after any amount of service, or…
- “Served for at least 30 continuous days (all at once, without a break in service) on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged with a service-connected disability.”
Note, those requirements are just to qualify. Benefits are prorated based on a number of factors, meaning that you may qualify for a percentage between 50% and 100%. To get the full 100%, you’ll need to meet any of the below criteria:
- “Served on active duty and were awarded a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, or…
- “Served on active duty for at least 30 continuous days and were discharged because of a service-connected disability, or…
- “Served on active duty for at least 36 months.”
For those who do qualify for benefits but not for the full 100%, the below chart offers a percentage breakdown:
|Number of months served||Percentage of benefit|
|30 - 36 months||90%|
|24 - 30 months||80%|
|18 - 24 months||70%|
|6 - 18 months||60%|
|90 days - 6 months||50%|
Note, in military terminology, a service member or veteran is called a “sponsor” and their spouse and children are referred to as “dependents.” Qualified service members can transfer some or all of their remaining Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their dependents. In fact, they don’t have to choose only one person to pass the benefits to; they can divide the benefits up.
For example, the sponsor may choose to keep half the entitlement for themselves and transfer 25% to their spouse and 25% to their child. Or they can distribute half to one child and half to another. However, the transfer decision must be made prior to separation, and the sponsor has the option to revoke the transfer (to give it back to themselves) at any time.
To be eligible to transfer Post-9/11 benefits, the sponsor must be serving on active duty or in the Selected Reserve and must meet the below requirements:
- Completed at least 6 years of service on the date your request is approved
- Agree to add 4 more years of service
- The recipient is a “qualified dependent” enrolled in DEERS (the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System)
While Active Duty personnel are generally assisted by their base’s education office or use milConnect to transfer, change, or revoke a Post-9/11 GI Bill Transfer of Entitlement, veterans, military students, and qualified dependents may apply for GI Bill benefits directly through the VA online, by mail, or in person at a VA regional office.
The VA staff can also help over the phone, at (888) 442-4551. Applicants will need to complete an Application for Family Member to Use Transferred Benefits using the VA Form 22-1990E PDF or online at eBenefits.gov).
Applicants must first determine eligibility (or ask for help to determine it), then apply with the following:
- Their social security number (dependents will also need the sponsor’s SSN)
- Bank direct deposit numbers
- Details about the school that will be attended
- Information about the applicant’s military and educational backgrounds
Note, the VA’s main GI Bill website will soon change to “Ask VA (AVA)” and will require a VA.gov account to login after October 18th, 2021.
Post-9/11 GI Bill Rates
The Post-9/11 GI Bill rates are regularly updated by the VA. Below is information based on their August 2021 rate schedule.
Note, this entitlement is “comprised of multiple payments. All payments and maximum amounts listed below are applicable to individuals eligible for the full benefit (100% eligibility tier). The payment and maximum amounts listed will be prorated based on your eligibility percentage if you are not eligible for the full benefit.”
Institutions of Higher Learning
|Type of School||Maximum Tuition & Fee Reimbursement per Academic Year|
|Public School||All Tuition and Fee Payments for an in-State Student|
|Private or Foreign School||Up to $26,042.81 per academic year National Maximum|
Yellow Ribbon Schools
Important note, for students “attending a public IHL (an Institution of Higher Learning such as a college, university, technical, or business school) as a non-resident student or a private IHL that is more expensive than the annual cap you may be eligible for extra payment under the Yellow Ribbon program.”
The Yellow Ribbon Program helps cover the gap between what the GI Bill can pay for and the actual costs of out-of-state or private school tuition and fees. Not all schools participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, but the VA features a useful search tool to find out if the school you’re interested in does or not. One caveat — participating schools may have a maximum number of students they can take for the period. Enrollment is “first come, first serve” and each school decides how much funding they’re willing to contribute to help cover the gap.
Non-Degree Granting Schools
Meanwhile, apart from the Yellow Ribbon Program, for students going to a “Non-college degree-granting institution,” they may be eligible to receive “actual net costs for in-state tuition & fees not to exceed $26,042.81 during the academic year.”
Another important note is for military and veteran students who aren’t necessarily residents of the state they live in! Such students “may qualify for in-state tuition rates if you live in the state where the school is located regardless of your formal state of residence.” This is a great benefit, given that out-of-state tuition rates can be significantly higher than in-state rates.
Post-9/11 GI Bill Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA)
In addition to getting tuition payments, recipients of the Post-9/11 GI Bill usually qualify for a monthly housing allowance plus a $1,000 books and supplies stipend. Both these payments are sent directly to the student. Since the housing allowance can add up to a lot of extra funds, let’s dive into that a bit further!
As the VA puts it, the Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) is “generally the same as the military Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for an E-5 with dependents.” If you’ve never served in the military, that probably doesn’t mean anything to you, so let’s break it down.
First, if you’re on active duty (or an active duty member’s dependent spouse receiving transferred benefits), you cannot get MHA because you’re already getting either Basic Housing Allowance or live in provided quarters on base. Also, students also must be enrolled in college more than half-time to get MHA.
Second, MHA amounts are not the same for everyone. The amount you get depends on where your school is located, among other variables. Why does the location matter? Because some areas have a higher cost of living than others, and the VA wants to ensure students receive enough to reasonably cover their housing costs based on where they are. For example, a student going to a university in Arkansas would have more affordable housing options than someone going to school in New York.
To determine your actual MHA rate, check out the GI Bill Comparison Tool and plug in the applicable filters (i.e. your military status, which benefit you plan to use, cumulative Post-9/11 active duty service, type of school or training, and whether you’ll be attending classes in person). Then type in the name of your school or the applicable city and zip code to view results!
Rural Relocation Pay
The VA may pay $500 for students who need to fly or move at least 500 miles from a highly rural area (defined as “a county with 6 persons or less per square mile, as determined by the most recent decennial census.”) to go to their school of choice.
Forever GI Bill
It’s time to move on to the Forever GI Bill (officially known as the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act), which altered the Post-9/11 GI Bill in so many key ways that it is important to review those changes with a microscope.
According to the VA’s summary, the changes include:
- Counting previously non-countable Reserve Duty time towards Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility, and;
- Expansion of Reserve and Guard member benefits for those previously under the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP). Since REAP ended in 2015, the Forever GI Bill allows some Reservists to qualify for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. It also changes Reserve Components Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA)
- Entitling qualified Purple Heart recipients to 100% Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, and;
- Entitling Fry Scholarship and and Purple Heart recipients to be covered under the Yellow Ribbon Program
- Updated Monthly Housing Allowance based on new DOD guidance;
- Changes housing allowance to be based on where the student attends most classes, not where the school’s main campus is located (since many students attend off-campus extensions), and;
- Helping students negatively affected by decreased housing allowance changes
- Nine months of extra benefits for certain STEM program students;
- The ability to use GI Bill benefits at more technical schools and non-Institutions of Higher Learning;
- Prorating licensing and certification exams and national test fees;
- Adding a “five-year pilot program” for Veterans to train in high tech industries, and;
- Expansion of certain work-study activities to include “outreach services for an SAA, providing hospital and domiciliary care and medical treatment to Veterans in a State home, or performing an activity relating to the administration of a national cemetery or a state Veterans' cemetery”
That’s a lot of changes, but it keeps going! The Forever GI Bill changes the rules of the Post-9/11 GI Bill in additional ways, such as:
- Ending the 15-year limit for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit usage for some recipients;
- Allowing Active Duty Servicemembers to use the Yellow Ribbon program as of August 1, 2022;
- Increasing percentage-based benefit levels (affecting students who served over 90 days but less than six months);
- Decreasing entitlements from 45 to 36 months for some recipients of Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance;
- Restoring benefits to eligible students impacted by school closures or disapprovals;
- Enhancing priority class enrollment rights for military students;
- Clearer explanations to schools regarding GI Bill beneficiary entitlements, and;
- Expanding the transfer of benefits timeline so Veterans can designate new dependents in the unfortunate event that the original designee passes away. Dependents may also be able to request transfer of unused benefits after the death of the sponsor
- To learn more about dependent eligibility, contact a VA Service Representative if the dependent is enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) database.
- If not in DEERS, the dependent will need to be enrolled first, via an appointment at the local military bases’ personnel center or Real-Time Automated Personnel Identification System (RAPIDS) center.
Pros and Cons of the GI Bill
As with all things in life, there are pros and cons to the GI Bill. The Forever GI Bill has addressed many of the previous popular criticisms, but here are the major positives and a few of the lingering negatives surrounding this important benefit.
- The GI Bill has helped thousands if not millions of military and Veteran students and their dependents pay for college or vocational training to enhance their career opportunities and to grow as more well-rounded individuals.
- Many military Servicemembers opt to knock out their education while on active duty, relying on their Tuition Assistance benefit instead of the GI Bill. As a result, they can save some or all of their GI Bill benefit for future use after they separate from the military, or, if applicable, transfer the benefit to their spouse or children.
- The GI Bill helps students cover the cost of housing while attending school. This reduces the students’ short term income needs, so they can potentially work fewer hours if they have a job and instead focus on academics.
- Schools absolutely love to receive those GI Bill checks, and many make it as easy as possible for military and veteran students to understand and use their benefits.
- This could be a pro or a con, depending on your point of view, but the Post 9/11 GI Bill pays tuition directly to the student’s school. The Montgomery GI Bill, however, pays it to the student, which adds an unnecessary step and could be problematic if the student spends the money on something else first. It happens!
- It can be confusing to understand what you’re eligible for, especially with so many changes after the Forever GI BIll went into effect. Not all of its mandated changes have been implemented yet.
- Dependents who receive GI Bill benefits originally earned by a parent may have no background or understanding about their entitlement. Thus they need additional help. In some cases, for example, if their military parent has died, students may be struggling with emotional or mental wellness issues while trying to sort out complex benefits.
- Not every school has staff trained to fully understand the complexities of the GI Bill. Equally concerning, many schools have such staff who unfortunately may not be up-to-speed on the changes under the Forever GI Bill. This means staff might think they know what they’re telling you, but they could be passing along outdated info. It’s wise to double check for yourself so you don’t miss out on benefits just because someone told you the wrong thing!
- Some students may have been financially impacted in a negative way by the Forever GI Bill’s changes to housing pay. Although relief can be requested, it is still a hassle to apply for that relief, which is not guaranteed.
- As the VA puts it, deciding on your GI Bill usage is a “decision with consequences,” because if you apply for one education benefit it can affect eligibility for others. For instance, if you’re eligible for both the Post-9/11 and Montgomery GI Bills, you’ll have to pick one and stick with it. So it is important to do enough comparison to see which is more advantageous for your situation.
How To Use Your GI Bill
Please review the Post-9/11 GI Bill section above for details on determining eligibility and how to apply for benefits. The VA takes up to 30 days to process GI Bill claim requests, so don’t delay! Once found eligible, you’ll receive a Certificate of Eligibility from the VA by mail and/or as a download via the eBenefits website.
Also, keep in mind that Active Duty personnel usually qualify for Tuition Assistance (TA), which is completely separate from the VA’s GI Bill benefit. Never use your GI Bill if you’re eligible for TA!
In some cases, members might use up all their Tuition Assistance benefits and need funds to pay their outstanding balance. The GI Bill Top-up Program allows you to tap into part of your GI Bill benefits to cover such funding gaps. However, this option does not always make financial sense in the long term.
Some students might apply to schools first, but it makes sense to wait until you are certain you will receive GI Bill benefits. After all, that determination might dictate which school you can afford to attend.
Unless other funding is already secured, military, veteran, and dependent students should carefully review their GI Bill benefits when assessing the right school for their budget.
This is especially true for those who want to go to a private or out-of-state school, in which case it is important to determine
After your school confirms all the details of your GI Bill benefits, you should reach out to go over everything in person or by phone. Before your meeting, write down any questions you might have and do some research on your own to get a general understanding of what to expect.
During your meeting, take notes, and don’t hesitate to ask for clarification if any details seem unclear. Also keep in mind that with the Forever GI Bill, things are currently in flux. Some of the changes under the Forever GI Bill have already been implemented; some have not. And sometimes even knowledgeable college staff members aren’t up-to-speed on these changes. If something seems amiss, don’t assume everything you are told is 100% correct. As they say, “Trust but verify.”
When it comes to specific details on benefits, usually the best source of information is the VA itself. Students can call 888-GIBILL (888-442-4551), Monday - Friday from 8:00am to 7:00pm (EST) to ask questions.
For those currently living outside of the US, you can call 001-918-781-5678, Monday - Friday from 7:00am to 6:00pm (CST). Note, “this is not a toll-free number, but the caller will be routed to the next available customer service representative.”
GI Bill FAQ
Do all schools accept the GI Bill?
- All schools accept money, including authorized payments made from the VA through the GI Bill program. However, the GI Bill will not necessarily cover all educational programs nor all expenses (especially for private or out-of-state schools).
What kind of degree can you earn with your GI Bill?
- The GI Bill can be used to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees in virtually any major of the student’s choosing, so long as there are entitlements remaining. The benefit also covers many vocational training options.
How do you know if your school accepts the GI Bill?
- You can use the GI Bill Comparison Tool to learn more about the school you are interested in and how it stacks up against other schools in terms of military friendliness.
How many classes can I take with the GI Bill?
- Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, students may qualify for full in-state tuition and fees paid for public school. The rate for private and foreign schools is capped at $26,042.86 per academic year.
How long do I have to use my GI Bill?
- The Forever GI Bill changed the restrictive rules of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, removing the previous 15-year cap so there is no longer an expiration to use benefits.
What can I use the GI Bill for?
- The GI Bill is extremely flexible and can be used for college program courses leading to any level of degree, vocational or technical training for specific careers, certain OJT or apprenticeship programs, work-study, flight training, licensing and certification reimbursement, national testing exam fees, correspondence training, and Tuition Assistance Top-up.
Do I have to be a veteran to use my GI bill?
- Any person who is eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill can use it. This includes Active Duty Servicemembers, Guard or Reserve members, Veterans, or dependents who had Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits transferred to them by their sponsor.
Do I pay anything when using my GI Bill?
- The Montgomery GI Bill requires a $1,200 buy-in, paid over a one-year period. The Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t require any payments if you are eligible for it.
Can I pass my GI Bill benefits to other people?
- Yes, eligible members can transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits to immediate family members (a spouse or children).