Introduction to the GI Bill for Military and Veterans
The military GI Bill is one of the greatest benefits afforded to our nation’s service members. It has the power to transform the life trajectory for its recipients, many of whom could not pay for a college education without it. In a time when student debt is a hot-button topic, members of the military community can achieve their education goals and not be burdened with student loans.
What is the GI Bill?
Believe it or not, The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 – commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights – was a controversial piece of legislation that almost didn’t happen. The bill stalled in Congress as legislators for both the House and the Senate debated the provisions it contained. Both sides of congress agreed that something must be done about education and homeownership, but the unemployment provisions were at the center of the debates.
Why would legislation that benefits Veterans be so controversial?
According to the VA’s history of the bill, some congressmen “shunned the idea of paying unemployed veterans… because they thought it diminished their incentive to look for work.” Still other lawmakers “questioned the concept of sending battle-hardened Veterans to colleges and universities, a privilege then reserved for the rich.”
Before World War II, college education and homeownership were just pipe dreams for the average American. With the passing of the original GI Bill, which ended on July 25th, 1956, an estimated 7.8 million of the 16 million World War II Veterans had participated in an education program.
In 1984, former Mississippi Congressman Gillespie Montgomery overhauled the GI Bill to ensure that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) would benefit the next generation of combat Veterans. The impact was so great that it became known as the Montgomery GI Bill and still has beneficiaries to this day.
In 2008, the GI Bill changed again, this time to enhance the benefits for those Veterans with active duty service on or after September 11, 2001. The upgrades covered more educational expenses than previous versions of the GI Bill, provided a living allowance while in school, granted money for books, and introduced a dynamic provision that allowed for the transfer of unused education benefits to spouses or children.
What does “GI Bill” stand for?
The phrase “GI Bill” is actually the combination of two separate parts.
The “GI” is commonly understood to mean “government issue” or “general issue”.
The origins of the phrase are not clear, but it became a popular and widely-used moniker for the American Soldier. According to the History Channel, some soldiers in World War II used the phrase “as a sarcastic reference symbolizing their belief that they were just mass-produced products of the government.
The name GI Joe became synonymous with US Soldiers. Cartoonist, Dave Breger, is credited with coining the phrase when he began publishing his comic strip, “G.I. Joe” in 1942.
The “Bill” portion of the GI Bill stems from the name of the legislation that brought the Bill into existence: The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. This legislation was known as the “GI Bill of Rights”, which played off the Bill of Rights of 1791, which made up the first 10 amendments of the Constitution.
As with most things in Congress, the legislation’s nickname, GI Bill of Rights, was likely a rhetorical device employed to highlight the government’s obligation to its war veterans.
Types of GI Bills
The following sections highlight the different versions of the military GI Bill that may apply to you. Keep in mind, you may be eligible for education benefits under more than one of these programs.
To compare the differences between these programs, consult the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool.
Post-9/11 GI Bill
The Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) is one of the newest versions of the GI Bill. It was the first to allow for the transfer of education benefits from the service member to their spouse or children.
It offers assistance with:
- Tuition and fees
- Money for housing
- Money for books and supplies
- Money to help move from rural area to attend school
Forever GI Bill
When Congress passed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act, a.k.a. Forever GI Bill, it expanded the education benefits for Veterans, service members, and their families.
This legislation offers enhanced provisions, including:
- Reserve Duty that counts toward Post-9/11 eligibility
- Purple Heart Recipients
- Extensions to the Yellow Ribbon Program
- Licensing and Certification changes
- Assistance for students affected by school closures
Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty
The Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty (MGIB-AD) can help pay for education and training programs for those Veterans who served at least 2 years on active duty.
The MGIB has multiple categories of eligibility. It even hosted a $600 Buy-Up program that increased the amount of benefit paid each month.
Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserve
The Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) offers up to 36 months of education and training benefits to members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard who are in the Reserves, Army National Guard, or Air National Guard.
This program was designed to bring the education benefits offered through active service to those Veterans serving on a Reserve-type status.
Other GI Bill Benefits You May Qualify For
The VA hosts the Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC) program which matches Veterans to a training provider to help develop high-tech skills.
READ: VET TEC GI Bill Program
The Veterans’ Educational Assistance Program (VEAP) allows Veterans to continue their education by using part of their military pay to cover some school costs. This program boasts a $2 to $1 government match for educational assistance.
Survivors & Dependent Assistance
These benefits, also called Chapter 35 benefits, are for dependents and survivors of a deceased Veteran. These education benefits can provide:
- Education & training
- Money for tuition
- Money for housing
- Money for books and supplies
A college or university may offer a co-op training program, which allows you to get full-time work experience in between school instruction. Assistance may be available to you which can cover some expenses – like books, tuition, and housing.
READ: Co-Op Training
If you are completing coursework online or via the mail system, you may be in correspondence training. These education options are excellent if you wish to take classes at home, or if you do not live close to any schools.
Your VA education benefits may help pay for your correspondence training.
If you are interested in starting a business, the VA offers training through the Small Business Administration. It is possible for you to use your GI Bill benefits to access this training and set you on a path of entrepreneurship.
You must qualify for one of these programs to participate:
- The Post-9/11 GI Bill
- Montgomery GI Bill – Active or Selected Reserve
- The Veterans’ Educational Assistance Program (VEAP)
If you meet certain eligibility requirements, it is possible for you to use GI Bill benefits to pay for flight training, or to advance your pilot qualifications.
READ: GI Bill Flight Training
Non-College Degree Programs
You can use the GI Bill to pay for specialized training programs, like:
- HVAC Repair
- Truck Driving / Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)
- Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) training
- Barber / Beautician school
Using the GI Bill for these types of training programs can help pay for tuition. They can even cover some books and supplies for your training.
On-The-Job & Apprenticeship
Some GI Bill training programs can help pay for books, supplies, and housing while you learn a trade or skill through on-the-job training or apprenticeships.
The GI Bill can cover some expenses for training programs, like:
- Hotel Management
For most of the VA’s education benefits programs, you can participate in work-study programs through your college, vocational school, or professional training program.
READ: VA Work Study Program
Qualifications & Eligibility
Each program offered by the VA has eligibility requirements. Some have very specific requirements, and you may find that you qualify for more than one benefit.
Check out the eligibility requirements for each program:
- Post-9/11 GI Bill
- Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty
- Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserve
- VET TEC
- Survivors & Dependents
- Co-Op Training
- Correspondence Training
- Entrepreneurship Training
- Flight Training
- Non-College Degree Programs
- OJT & Apprenticeships
- Work Study
What Can the GI Bill Be Used For?
As mentioned above, the GI Bill is a tremendous benefit that can pay for tuition, books, supplies, and even housing costs, in some cases.
The goal of each of the VA’s education and training programs is to provide every opportunity for service members, veterans, and their dependents to achieve their education goals.
How to Apply for Benefits
Just as there are unique requirements for eligibility in some VA programs, there also some specialized requirements for applying to different programs. While they are not all the same, they share one thing in common: the Department of Veterans Affairs.
You must apply for each of the programs we’ve covered through the VA. The following are links to assist you during the application process.
After you’ve determined that you are eligible for VA education benefits, you will need to gather the following information for the application process:
- Social Security number
- Bank account / Direct Deposit information
- Education and military history
- Basic information about the school or training facility you wish to attend
Once you’ve gathered those items, you are ready to use the VA’s “Find Your Education Benefits Form”, which is a drop down questionnaire that will guide you through the process of applying.
You will be prompted to login to the VA.gov website. You have the following sign-in options:
- Sign in with DS Logon
- Sign in with My HealtheVet
- Sign in with ID.me
If you don’t have one already, create an ID.me account here.
Please note, while it is possible to apply for VA education benefits without creating an account, it is most beneficial to create such an account to make the process easier.
If you do not wish to apply online, you have other options.
Apply by Mail
You can call 888-442-4551, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. EST, to request that an application be sent to you. Once it arrives, fill it out and mail it to the VA regional claims processing office that’s in the same location as your school.
Here’s a list of regional claims processing offices, for your convenience.
Apply in Person
You also have the option to go to a VA regional office and have a VA employee assist you with your application.
Use this tool to find a VA regional office near you.
If you already have a school picked out, or even if you’ve been accepted into a school, work with your school’s certifying official. This person is usually found in the Registrar’s or Financial Aid office, and they can assist you with filling out your forms.
VSO Assistance with Application
If you need help applying for education benefits, you can also seek the assistance of a Veteran Service Officer (VSO). The VSOs are trained and certified in the VA administrative processes and can assist with all your VA-related needs.
If you choose to work with a VSO, you will need to fill out an Appointment of Individual as Claimant’s Representative (VA Form 21-22). This will allow the VSO to work with the VA on your behalf.
How Does the GI Bill Work?
Once you’ve chosen a school, enrolled in a program, and have applied your GI Bill benefits, what happens next? How does the GI Bill actually work?
Once you’ve enrolled as a student and have your benefits worked out through the school, there are one of two options.
- For those using the Montgomery GI Bill, the money will go directly to you. You will have had to verify Direct Deposit information with the VA as part of the process for applying your benefits. In turn, you are responsible for paying the tuition bill with that money you’ve been given.
- For those using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the tuition will be paid directly to your school. However, you will still receive a monthly payment that includes your Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), and a stipend for purchasing books and other items you need.
Veterans using the MGIB are required to “verify” their enrollment each month with the VA. This is done using the antiquated Web Automated Verification of Enrollment (WAVE) website, which was last updated in 2009. Students can also call 877-VA-ECERT (877-823-2378) to verify enrollment.
Using WAVE, you will log in each month and see the time period(s) available for verification. If none are available, but you know there should be a time, check back each day until it populates. It does not always show up on the same day each month.
Until recently, Veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill were not required to verify their enrollments with the VA. However, that has changed.
For terms beginning on or after August 1, 2021, students using the Post-9/11 GI Bill at a “Non-College Degree” school will be required to verify their enrollment at the start of each month.
Later this year, ALL recipients of Post-9/11 benefits will require monthly verification of enrollments to receive their Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA).
Unlike the old WAVE system, Post-9/11 Veterans will be able to utilize text messages to verify enrollment. The VA is encouraging all students to sign up for text messaging by calling the Education Call Center at 888-GIBILL-1 (888-442-4551) to ensure the VA has their mobile phone number.
If the VA already had your mobile number, and you’re impacted by this change, you should have received an opt-in text message on or around August 1. Once they’ve opted-in, students can just reply to a VA text message to verify their enrollments.
How can I get an extra 12 months of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits?
It is possible that you may qualify for more than one education benefit. Since you can only receive benefits under one program at a time, you’ll need to decide which benefit to use first.
Here’s the VA’s example:
“If you qualify for both MGIB-AD (Chapter 30) and MGIB-SR (Chapter 1606, you can receive 36 months of entitlement at your MGIB-AD payment rate, and then an additional 12 months of entitlement at your MGIB-SR payment rate, up to the maximum total of 48 months entitlement.”
Now, remember that you are entitled to a MAX of 48 months of entitlement. How does that apply to the Post-9/11 GI Bill?
The MGIB gave 36-months of benefits to all eligible Veterans. The Post-9/11 offers 36 months of benefit. If you used MGIB benefits under Chapter 30, your Post-9/11 benefit will be reduced by the number of months of MGIB benefits you’ve used.
So, if you used 24 months of MGIB, and then switched over to Post-9/11, you would receive only 12 months of Post-9/11 benefit.
However, if you used all 36 months of your MGIB, you will receive an additional 12 months of Post-9/11 benefit.
Furthermore, if you have a single qualifying active duty service period between August 1, 2009 and July 31, 2011, you may be eligible to use that one period of active duty to qualify you for the Post-9/11 GI Bill and another GI Bill benefit.
While that is cool, there are some limitations. The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 restricted the use of that one qualifying service period. The new law required that you would need at least two periods of qualifying active duty to be eligible for the Post-9/11 and another benefit.
So, if you first entered active duty after August 1, 2011, you need at least 2 periods of service to qualify for two benefits.
According to the VA’s response to this question, “If you had one period of active duty from November 10, 2005 – November 9, 2009 and received an honorable discharge [and] you also used 36 months of…MGIB, you would be eligible for up to an additional 12 months of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.”
However, if you entered active duty on or after August 1, 2011, you would need to complete at least 2 periods of active duty, both with honorable discharges, to be eligible for this additional 12 month benefit.
For VA assistance with this issue, call 888-442-4551, Monday through Friday, 8am to 7pm.
How do I switch to the Post-9/11 GI Bill?
To switch from one benefit to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the most common path is to submit a VA 22-1990 form.
This form is used as an Application for VA Education Benefits, and its use will facilitate the switch.
When electing option 9A Chapter 33 on the 22-1990, you will be prompted to acknowledge the following:
- “I may not receive more than a total of 48 months of benefit entitlements under two or more of the education programs listed on this application.”
- “If electing Chapter 33, in lieu of Chapter 30, my months of entitlement under Chapter 33 will be limited to the number of months of entitlement remaining under Chapter 30 on the effective date of my election.”
- I will not receive a Montgomery GI Bill (Active Duty – Chapter 30 or Selected Reserve – Chapter 1606) ‘Kicker’ under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, unless I was eligible for the kicker at the time I applied and I relinquished that benefit for the Post-9/11 GI Bill – Chapter 33.”
- When choosing the effective date below, I understand that benefits for training under Chapter 33 are not payable prior to that date.
You will then be required to elect which benefit you are giving up for the Post-9/11, either the Chapter 30 (MGIB-AD) or the Chapter 1606 (MGIB-SR). Once submitted, the choice you make is irrevocable.
GI Bill Calculator
Did you know that College Recon offers a BAH Calculator? You can use this amazing tool to determine the rate of your housing allowance when using GI Bill benefits.
It’s also handy for military families who are moving to determine the BAH for the location of their future PCS moves.
Check out our GI Bill BAH Calculator!
Schools that Accept the GI Bill
In order to use your education benefits, a school must be able to accept them. Not all schools are eligible to receive your GI Bill benefits, so it is imperative to verify that your school of choice can.
Use the VA’s School Search tool to find out which schools they have approved.
Use the VA’s GI Bill Comparison tool to see what benefits you could get at different schools.
Read the VA’s “Factors to Consider When Choosing a School” guide when choosing where to use your education benefits.
Yellow Ribbon Schools
The Yellow Ribbon Program can assist you with paying for higher out-of-state, private school, foreign school, or graduate school tuition and fees. Some of these fees and higher tuition rates are not covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill, so this program is definitely something to look for.
Read about the VA’s Yellow Ribbon Program to determine your eligibility.
Use this tool to find out if your school participates in the Yellow Ribbon program.
Payment Schedules & Pay Dates
The following are the current rates for the different GI Bill Programs:
Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) – Rates effective August 1, 2021
Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB-AD/Chapter 30) – Rates effective October 1, 2021
Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB-SR/Chapter 1606) – Rates effective October 1, 2021
Survivors & Dependents (Chapter 35) – Rates effective October 1, 2021
The Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rates are changing almost every year. It is imperative to stay on top of these changes because they impact you directly. Whenever the rates change, we update our information so you can easily find it.
READ: Post-9/11 BAH Rates
Top 8 FAQ’s on Education, the GI Bill, Transitioning
As much as we try to give you all the information about GI Bill benefits, there are always questions that are unique to you. If you ask us a question, we will find the answer! The answer to each question is hyperlinked.
- Can I get college credit for military experience?
- How do I steer clear of for-profit colleges and universities?
- Can I use my GI Bill while I’m active duty?
- Should I get an Associate’s Degree or a Bachelor’s Degree?
- Can I get college credit for military experience?
- Where do I start researching for the right college/university for me?
- How do I steer clear of for-profit colleges and universities?
- Will I receive my GI Bill benefits as soon as I enroll in a degree program?
- How do I make a smooth transition from military to campus life?
- Can I use my GI Bill while I’m active duty?
- How do I stay up-to-date on GI Bill news?
More Resources on the GI Bill
So what happens after you apply for GI Bill benefits?
Once you’ve submitted your application, the VA’s average time to process education claims is 30 days. That’s a big improvement from where it was a few short years ago!
In the meantime, you can take advantage of the VA’s educational and career counseling services available to you as a veteran and student.
Once your application is approved, you will receive a Certificate of Eligibility (COE), which is the award letter showing your approval. Bring your COE to the VA certifying official at your school so they can apply your GI Bill benefit to your education.
- CollegeRecon GI Bill Category
- Transferring your GI Bill to Spouse and Dependents
- Biggest Mistake GI Bill Users Make
- 8 Misconceptions About the GI Bill
As a veteran, your education benefits are one of the greatest benefits you can use. From the moment you transition, you have every opportunity, every path, and every chance to achieve your educational goals.
Whether you’re trying to get new skills and training, or studying the one subject you love most in the world, you have earned the resources offered through the VA’s many GI Bill options.
Take that first step to the future you wish to make!
- Forever GI Bill
- Transferring Your GI Bill to Spouse and Dependents
- Beyond the Post 9/11 GI Bill: Additional Money for Veterans
- Biggest Mistake GI Bill Users Make
- 8 Misconceptions About the GI Bill
- Colleges with the Highest GI Bill BAH Rates
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