National Guard & Reserve Education Benefits
Veteran Education Benefits for the National Guard and Reserve
There are two basic ways to serve in uniform; commit to a full-time, active duty service commitment or choose part-time service as a member of the National Guard or Reserve.
Those who choose the Guard or Reserve learn their military benefits–especially education benefits–aren’t as generous as the benefits offered to those who serve full-time. In spite of this, education benefits offered to the Guard and Reserve are valuable and worth pursuing.
Knowing how and when you may qualify for these benefits is an important part of the planning stages of higher education. This guide explains who qualifies and much more.
It is important to point out that for most VA education benefits, those with military discharges characterized as Dishonorable, Other Than Honorable, or Bad Conduct are not eligible for GI Bill benefits unless they have their discharges upgraded by a Military Discharge Review Board. You can learn about the military discharge review/upgrade process at the VA official site.
Editor’s Note: Members of the National Guard and the Reserve are sometimes referred to as serving as a member of a “reserve component”, and when you see that phrase in VA benefits literature or state veteran benefits program official sites, it means members of both the Guard and Reserve.
Post-9/11 GI Bill for Members of the Guard and Reserve
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is the program offered to all new recruits entering full-time military service. It’s also an option for members of the Guard and Reserve who have performed enough full-time duty to qualify.
What kind of full-time duty? The Department of Veterans Affairs official site describes two different types of active duty service for members of the Guard/Reserve:
- Active duty (Title 10) – full-time duty, such as a unit deployment during war, This includes time taken to travel to and from such duty;
- Full-time National Guard duty (Title 32) – full-time duty, such as responding to a national emergency or duties as an Active Guard Reserve member.
Qualifying for the Post-9/11 GI Bill as a Member of the Guard/Reserve
Members of the Guard and Reserve may qualify for the Post 9/11 GI Bill if they meet the VA’s criteria, which includes full-time service under one of the two options listed above, as well as the following:
- Honorably discharged from active duty for a service-connected disability after serving at least 30 continuous days after September 10, 2001, OR;
- Having at least 90 days of active service consisting of:
- Active duty (Title 10 full-time Guard duty) supporting what the VA calls “named contingency operations,” OR;
- Full-time National Guard duty (Title 32) for the purpose of organizing, administering, recruiting, instructing, or training, OR;
- Full-time National Guard duty (Title 32) when authorized by the President or the Secretary of Defense during a national emergency.
Members of the Guard and Reserve who qualify for the Post 9/11 GI Bill may apply online using VA Form 22-1990 or its electronic equivalent. When prospective students complete this form, it will be necessary to have the following documentation ready at application time:
- Social Security number
- Direct deposit information
- Education history
- Military service history
- Basic information about the school you want to attend
Learn more: How to Get Your Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits
The Department of Veterans Affairs typically needs 30 days to process an application; it is best to start as early as possible in case there are delays, paperwork issues, etc.
Students are required to regularly verify enrollment with the VA by text message or by calling the Education Call Center at 1-888-GIBILL-1 (1-888-442-4551).
Transferring Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits
This is not something handled by a school, but it is a question likely to be asked along the way. Transferring benefits is done via the Department of Defense and not the VA.
Demographically speaking, these types of questions are more likely to come from new or prospective members of the National Guard or Reserve who aren’t fully informed about their benefits yet. Some may be exploring Guard/Reserve options at the same time as college.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill program does allow the transfer of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to spouses and school-age “dependent” children (the VA’s terminology, not ours), but this must be applied for while the servicemember is still on active duty. A prospective student who wants to transfer entitlement but is no longer on active duty may not be allowed to do so.
Once a service member prepares to leave active duty, they can provide a “future effective date” for when the TOE can be used and manage the number of months transferred to the spouse or dependent.
Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR)
The Montgomery GI Bill is an education benefit that was offered to all new recruits but has since been replaced by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. However, some in the Guard or Reserve may still qualify to use the Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) if they choose to do so.
Who qualifies for the MGIB-SR?
Members of the following:
- Army Reserve
- Navy Reserve
- Air Force Reserve
- Marine Corps Reserve
- Coast Guard Reserve
- Army National Guard
- Air National Guard
Qualifying for the Montgomery GI Bill as a Member of the Guard/Reserve
You may qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill as a member of the Guard/Reserve if at least one of the following is true:
- You have a 6-year service obligation in the Selected Service OR;
- You are an officer in the Selected Reserve serving 6 years in addition to your initial service AND;
- You meet what the VA calls “ other requirements,” which may include finishing initial active duty for training (IADT), and being in good standing in a Selected Reserve Unit.
- Your obligation must have started after June 30, 1985, or for some types of training after September 30, 1990.
- You have a 6-year service obligation (you agreed to serve 6 years) in the Selected Reserve, OR;
- You’re an officer in the Selected Reserve, and you agreed to serve 6 years in addition to your first obligation.
Your military service must have started after June 30, 1985, or for some types of training after September 30, 1990.
All of these must also apply in addition to at least one of the above:
- You complete your initial active duty for training (IADT), and
- You get a high school diploma or certificate, such as a High School Equivalency Diploma or GED, before finishing IADT (You cannot use 12 hours toward a college degree to meet this requirement), and
- You stay in good standing while serving in an active Selected Reserve unit
Qualifying for Military Tuition Assistance as a Member of the Guard/Reserve
In addition to the GI Bill, you may also qualify for Military Tuition Assistance from the Guard/Reserve, though not all branches of service offer the benefit to reserve component members.
To apply for the Montgomery GI Bill, students must first determine if the program they choose accepts it. If so, you can apply online using VA Form 22-1990.
When helping prospective students complete this form, it will be necessary for the student to have the following documentation ready for the application:
- Social Security number
- Bank account direct deposit information
- Education history
- Military service history
- Basic information about the school or training facility you want to attend or are attending now, where applicable.
Students who use Montgomery GI Bill funds to pay for school are required to verify their enrollment with the VA on a regular basis. You can verify your enrollment using the VA Web Automated Verification system or by phone at 877-823-2378.
Read More: GI Bill Facts and Fiction
Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD)
Members of the Guard or Reserve who have not served on active duty don’t have access to this option. However, those who join the Guard or Reserve as “prior service” members who were formerly on active duty often do.
Troops qualify for the MGIB-AD program by opting into it when in boot camp or at their first duty station. Those who choose this program have their pay reduced by $100 a month for 12 months, with the federal government providing a much larger contribution.
Multiple categories qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill.
- The applicant has a high school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit, and
- Entered active duty after June 30, 1985, and;
- The applicant chose to contribute $100 a month for the first 12 months of service toward the Montgomery GI Bill program.
- Applicant must have served continuously for 24-36 months, depending on the agreement or;
- Served four years if you entered the Selected Reserve within a year of leaving active duty
- The applicant has a high school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit, and;
- Started active duty before January 1, 1977 (or before January 2, 1978, under a delayed enlistment program contracted before January 1, 1977), and;
- The applicant served between October 19, 1984, and June 30, 1985, and stayed on active duty through June 30, 1988 (or through June 30, 1987, if you entered the Selected Reserve within 1 year of leaving active duty and served 4 years), and;
- The applicant had one day or more of GI Bill entitlement left under the Vietnam Era GI Bill (Chapter 34) as of December 31, 1989
- High school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit, and;
- The applicant does not qualify for MGIB under categories I or II, and;
- Contributed to the Montgomery GI Bill ($1,200) before retirement or separation.
- The applicant must have served on active duty on September 30, 1990, and involuntarily separated after February 2, 1991, or;
- Involuntarily separated on or after November 30, 1993, or;
- Voluntarily separated under the Voluntary Separation Incentive program or;
- Voluntarily separated under the Special Separation Benefit program.
- High school diploma, GED, or 12 hours of college credit, and;
- The applicant made a $1,200 contribution toward the GI Bill.
- Applicant served on active duty on October 9, 1996, had money left in a VEAP account on that date, and chose MGIB before October 9, 1997, or;
- Started full-time National Guard duty under title 32, USC, between July 1, 1985, and November 28, 1989, and chose MGIB between October 9, 1996, and July 9, 1997.
Prospective students eligible to apply for Montgomery GI Bill benefits may apply online with the Department of Veterans Affairs using VA Form 22-1990.
There is something known as an MGIB-AD buy-up program where the service member opts into an additional $600 in personal contributions to the program. Doing so qualifies the student for more GI Bill money–an additional $5600 in additional GI Bill benefits. The $600 buy-up option is not offered with the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
Furthermore, the Montgomery GI Bill does not feature an option to transfer the benefit to a dependent spouse or school-age child. The Post-9/11 GI Bill features many more options than the Montgomery version, including a monthly housing stipend and the ability to transfer the benefit in exchange for a longer military service commitment.
Guard and Reserve Tuition Assistance (TA)
Similar to active-duty tuition assistance programs, the Guard and Reserve also have TA options that can help pay for college. These options vary greatly depending on the branch of military service and other factors. Get service-specific information for Guard and Reserve Tuition Assistance Programs.
State-Funded Programs for Members of the Guard/Reserve
State-level Departments of Veterans Affairs or Divisions of Veterans Affairs may include state-administered veteran education benefits programs.
These programs may be offered to veterans currently serving service members, spouses, and dependents. However, these state programs are not standardized, do not offer identical options from state to state, and may restrict certain benefits to those with VA-rated service-connected medical issues.
Budgetary constraints may limit these state programs, may lose or regain funding, or may be modified by state laws or program guideline changes. Learn more about a specific state’s options in our guide to military education benefits by state.
You can also find your state’s Division or Department of Veterans Affairs using a map-based locator provided on the National Association of State Directors Of Veterans Affairs official site.
A Word on the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP)
REAP was a VA education program offering up to 36 months of education benefits for qualifying members of the Selected Reserves, Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), and National Guard called or ordered to active service in response to a war or national Emergency.
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 ended the VA REAP program in 2015. Why do we include it here? Because some remained eligible for REAP benefits until November 25, 2019, while others are no longer eligible for REAP benefits.
As the VA official site points out, there is no “window of opportunity” to use REAP benefits, and eligibility typically ends when you leave the Selected Reserve.
Some veterans may be able to use REAP up to 10 years after the date of their entitlement, which is why information on this program persists online–it is possible some members of the Guard or Reserve may have remaining entitlement under REAP.
If that applies to you, it’s best to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs to get advice and help to apply for such remaining entitlement–while the VA may not approve new REAP payments, you may qualify for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Contact the VA directly at 1-800-827-1000 to get help with REAP-related issues.
In the eyes of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Post-9/11 GI Bill “…in many ways has replaced REAP because it also provides educational assistance benefits for Reserve and National Guard members called to active duty on or after September 11, 2001, and in many cases provides a greater benefit than REAP.”