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Can I Top Up the GI Bill?

top up GI Bill

Is it possible to top up the GI Bill? There are multiple types of military education benefits. While the Department of Veterans Affairs offers the GI Bill, other options exist, including the Yellow Ribbon program, John D. Fry Scholarships, and Tuition Assistance programs.

And depending on the program, there are also options to “top up” some VA education benefits. Is it possible to top up the GI Bill? We explore the options for those who qualify below.

In many cases, a top-up is offered to those on active duty using a service-specific Tuition Assistance program; in others, the top-up or buy-up may be offered to Guard and Reserve members using the Montgomery GI Bill.

What to Know Before Using VA Education Benefits on Active Duty

One caveat: some of the information below applies to situations typically discouraged by the VA and the military branches, using your GI Bill benefits while still serving.

Why? Because active-duty troops may qualify for Tuition Assistance and a Tuition Assistance Top-Up (see below), and in such cases using the GI Bill may actually be a waste of the benefit since these other education benefits are also offered. It’s typically better to use Tuition Assistance and any top-up options before tapping your GI Bill benefits while on active duty.

Related: Veteran Education Benefits Guide

Tuition Assistance, Tuition Assistance Top-Up, Other VA Benefits

As mentioned above, there isn’t just one VA education benefit. Your options may include, but are not limited to:

  • Tuition Assistance: This is offered by individual branches of service (Army, Navy, Air Force Marines, etc.) It is typically offered to those on active duty. This form of tuition assistance is for the service member. Each branch of the service may have its own spouse tuition assistance program, but that’s not the focus of this article.
  • Tuition Assistance TOP-UP (TATU): This option is offered to active duty troops in cases where there are approved charges not covered by Tuition Assistance.
  • Combined Tuition Assistance/Post 9/11 GI Bill: Active duty troops can use Tuition Assistance and the GI Bill together. This is not the same as using a Tuition Assistance Top-Up, which helps troops do the same thing; use their GI Bill for primary education expenses and pay for what remains using Tuition Assistance.

Related: When Did the GI Bill Start?

Using Tuition Assistance And Tuition Assistance TATU

The Department of Veteran Affairs official site advises that it’s possible to use Tuition Assistance and Tuition Assistance TOP-UP to pay for courses for “up to 100% of your out-of-pocket tuition and fees costs, up to the Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty Veteran monthly rate at the applicable training time.”

You will be typically limited to 36 months of Tuition Assistance TOP-UP, “charged based on the length of the student’s term,” according to VA.gov. This is a requirement separate from the rules of the Montgomery GI Bill.

Using TATU With the Post-9/11 GI Bill

If you want to use Tuition Assistance and TATU with the Post-9/11 GI Bill, contact your School Certifying Official, explain that you are using Tuition Assistance, and ask to have your enrollment certified.

VA.gov says once you’ve done this, “The School Certifying Official will reduce the tuition and fees they report to VA by the amount received from the military service Tuition Assistance.” The VA pays for “any remaining” tuition, fees, and book stipends.

  • VA.gov says students who use this option are entitled to have the VA pay the participating school, “the difference between the DoD payment and the authorized (approved) maximum tuition and fees.”
  • The student is charged for VA benefits used during training time, “no matter how much money you’re paid back. Half-time training rates reduce your GI Bill benefit by a half-month for each month you’re enrolled.”
  • The VA also reminds us that the Post 9/11 GI Bill may “cover the full cost of tuition and fees, with the same amount of entitlement charged no matter how much is covered by TA.”

The official VA position is that students who use these benefits separately are “more likely” to get the most out of both benefits.

Related: Military Aid Societies and Military Education Benefits

Can I Top Up the GI Bill?

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a $600 “buy-up” program for the Montgomery GI Bill.

  • VA.gov’s page on this benefit notes that service members who contribute up to $600 may be offered “more money for monthly GI Bill payments.”
  • You aren’t required to commit to the full $600. Instead, you select the amount you want to commit to- the VA pays this benefit based on the service member’s contribution amount.
  • Contributing the full $600 earns you up to $5,400 in additional Montgomery GI Bill benefits. The amount you are paid will depend on how many courses you take (full or part-time enrollment.)

To apply for this benefit, complete the Montgomery GI Bill Act of 1984 Basic Enrollment DD Form 2366 and submit it to your base finance office or command support staff. This program cannot be used with the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

GI Bill Kicker

What is the GI Bill Kicker? The term “kicker” describes any additional contribution made by the government toward an eligible service member’s Montgomery GI Bill. These contributions are not offered to all who enlist; a kicker is an enlistment or reenlistment incentive for specific understaffed career fields.

Kickers are typically offered to qualifying recruits of National Guard programs across the United States. Here’s one example from the Army National Guard official site:

“The Army National Guard Montgomery GI Bill Kicker program encourages qualified applicants and Soldiers to enlist into critical military jobs and units. This program applies only to specific critical Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs) and certain deployable units. The Kicker is an incentive, not an entitlement, so you’ll need to be qualified in order to receive the benefit.”

GI Bill kickers are offered with Montgomery GI Bills, but not the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Related: Do I Qualify for VA Education Benefits?

About the author

Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.