June 12, 2017
Natalie Gross | Military Times
What is the Post-9/11 GI Bill?
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is a generous education benefit for the latest generation of service members and veterans. It includes payment of tuition and fees, a monthly housing allowance and a stipend for textbooks and supplies.
The GI Bill traces its history back to World War II when the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act was enacted to provide education and training, home loan guaranty and other benefits for veterans. Revamped several times to aid veterans of war and peacetime, the GI Bill’s latest version was signed into law in 2008 and went into effect the following year.
Over time, the GI Bill and other military education benefits have become incentives for joining the military, allowing service members to further their education without taking on massive debt, said James Ruhlman, acting deputy director for program management in education service for the Department of Veterans Affairs. More than a military recruitment and retention tool, it also gives veterans a pathway to secure a more prosperous future.
Who is eligible?
If you served in the military after September 10, 2001, you may be eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. The amount of time you spent on active duty determines the percentage of total benefits you can receive.
- 100 percent: 36 months or more, or at least 30 continuous days and discharged due to service-connected disability
- 90 percent: At least 30 months, less than 36 months
- 80 percent: At least 24 months, less than 30 months
- 70 percent: At least 18 months, less than 24 months
- 60 percent: At least 12 months, less than 18 months
- 50 percent: At least 6 months, less than 12 months
- 40 percent: At least 90 days, less than 6 months
- No benefit: Less than 90 days
You must use your benefits within 15 years of your last 90-day period of active duty service.
Through the Marine Gunnery John David Fry Scholarship Program, children or spouses of service members who died in the line of duty on or after 9/11 may also be eligible to use the GI Bill to further their education. These benefits are available at the 100-percent level to children between age 18 and 33 and spouses who have not remarried for 15 years after the service member’s death.
Where can I use my benefits?
You can use your benefits toward an education at a college, university, trade school, flight school or apprenticeship program. Even licensing programs, certification tests and admission tests, such as the SAT or LSAT, are covered. Visit http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/ for guidance on choosing a school that’s right for you and to see what programs are currently approved for GI Bill benefits.
Keep in mind that while the GI Bill covers all of the in-state tuition and fees at public institutions, it may not have the same reach at a private or for-profit school. The national maximum for the 2017-18 school year will be $22,805.34 at such schools.
What if the GI Bill doesn’t cover all of my expenses?
That’s where the Yellow Ribbon program comes in.
Under the voluntary program, schools can make an agreement with the VA to split the school costs not covered by the GI Bill, reducing or eliminating the amount students must pay themselves. VA and the school will equally pay as much of the uncovered costs as a school decides, up to the full amount, and for as many eligible GI Bill students as the school decides, up to every eligible student.
Active-duty service members are not eligible, but veterans who are entitled to GI Bill benefits at the 100 percent rate are eligible. Military children using GI Bill benefits may also be eligible if their parent who transferred the benefits would also qualify for the 100 percent rate.
Many private schools, including Ivy League campuses, are part of the Yellow Ribbon Program, Ruhlman said, so veterans may want to check the list as they’re looking for a school that best fits their needs.
To see if your school is part of the Yellow Ribbon Program, check out the interactive map on VA’s website.
How much of a housing stipend will I receive?
Your monthly housing stipend depends on the percentage level of benefits you’re eligible for and how many courses you’re taking.
The VA uses the Department of Defense Basic Allowance for Housing, or BAH, rates to calculate how much you will receive. It’s essentially based on the cost of living wherever your school is located — not where you live — at the amount that an E5 with dependents would receive in that area. Your own rank has no bearing on the total amount you receive.
If you are pursuing a degree entirely online, you will only receive half of the national BAH average.
The VA has already done a lot of the math for you through their GI Bill Comparison Tool. Simply search by school name or type and click on the results to see how much you’d receive each month.
I’ve already finished my degree. Can I transfer my benefits to my spouse or child?
Yes — with some conditions. You must have already served in the military for six years and must agree to serve four more after the transfer is approved by the DoD. This doesn’t necessarily have to be on active duty, though. Four years in the National Guard or reserves will count toward this requirement.
The transfer must happen while you’re still in uniform. Veterans are not eligible to transfer their benefits.
Ruhlman said individuals on active duty should start thinking early in their military careers about whether they want to transfer their benefits, and he recommended that interested service members connect with their based education offices for guidance.
You can also find more information at the DoD-affiliated website milConnect.
I’m still on active duty. Can I use my GI Bill benefits?
You can, provided you meet the service requirements listed above. But should you?
If you use your GI Bill benefits to pay for school while on active duty, you will not receive a monthly housing stipend from the GI Bill in addition to the housing allowance you’re already receiving from the military. Depending on which school you attend, that housing stipend could be worth as much as the tuition coverage and possibly more. Therefore, your GI Bill benefits will end up amounting to much less than what you would receive after separating from the military.
“My recommendation would definitely be to use the tuition assistance and, because of the fact that the housing allowance can be so high, think about saving the GI Bill benefits for after they’re discharged and can receive the maximum benefits,” Ruhlman said. “As a general rule, it’s important to keep in mind the more service you have the more money you get.”
But, he said, it ultimately comes down to individual circumstances.
“I know there are people who fall on both sides of that fence,” Ruhlman said.
How do I get started?
You can apply online or visit a VA regional office close to you to apply for the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits in person.
If you’ve already chosen a school or program, arrange a meeting with the institution’s VA certifying official who can help you get started.