What is the GI Bill?
On September 22nd, 1944, as the Second World War raged, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the groundbreaking Servicemen’s Readjustment Act. It’s more colloquial title was the GI Bill of Rights. Over time that would be shortened to simple the GI Bill. Since that momentous day, the programs within the bill have been altered, added to, and expanded. But the purpose at its core remains the same: to provide America’s veterans with opportunities for higher education once their service ends.
GI Bill Eligibility
There are some specific requirements for some of the varieties of GI Bill and associated benefits. But generally speaking, all honorably discharged military veterans who served at least 90 days on active duty are fully eligible. Your specific eligibility will depend on which version you plan to apply for.
For the most current iterations (the Post 9/11 and Forever GI Bill), those eligible must fall into at least one of the following conditions:
- Served a minimum total of 90 days on active duty on or after September 11, 2001.
- Received both a Purple Heart and honorable discharge on or after September 11, 2001.
- Served a minimum of 30 continuous days on or after September 11, 2001, received an honorable discharged, and have a service-connected disability.
- Dependent child receiving transferred benefits.
GI Bill Benefits
The GI Bill covers 36 months (which totals to eight semesters, or four full school years) of tuition at any accredited college or university up to the cost of a state school where you live. So a state or city school is completely covered, minus additional costs like textbooks and required reading. Though you do get additional money to cover at least some of the cost of such essentials.
If you plan on attending a private institution with a higher tuition, there are plenty of scholarship and supplemental funding options (more on some of those below). But you may have to pay out of pocket or take out a student loan to get the degree you want from the undergraduate, graduate, or training program of your choice.
Other Training Programs
But maybe college doesn’t spark your interest. Or maybe you already have a degree or two with no desire for another one. The GI Bill can also be put towards a wide variety of other education and training programs. From everything from correspondence school to advanced pilot training, you can make your GI Bill money work for you to get the exact kind of instruction you want or need.
GI Bill BAH
One of the many, many upsides of the GI Bill is the fact that you receive BAH for every month you’re actively attending. So you can fully (or at least mostly) focus on your studies without sweating your rent or basic needs while expanding your knowledge and horizons.
Regardless of your current rank or highest rank you held before separating from the military, your BAH while in school full time is what that of an E-5 would be in the zip code where most of your classes take place. It used to be based on the zip code of the school’s main address. But the Forever GI Bill changed it to the current basis. To see what, exactly, your monthly rate will be where you plan on going to school check out the DoD’s official BAH calculator.
Other Education Benefits
There are a host of other benefits and funds directly related to or dependent on your using the GI Bill. All are designed to help you further your education and start your post-military career with ease.
- Yellow Ribbon – Many major schools across the country participate in this program, which covers some or all of the difference between the cost of tuition and your GI Bill payments. Find out if your school is a member and if you qualify.
- Tuition Assistance Top-Up – If Yellow Ribbon doesn’t help you cover the difference or isn’t offered by your school, the VA’s Tuition Assistance program may help you shore up the difference between what your school costs and what you get.
- Buy-Up Program – Only for those who qualify for and plan to use the Montgomery GI Bill rather than the Post 9/11 one. Contributing $600 ahead of time can earn you thousands of more dollars in tuition assistance if and when you use your GI Bill.
- Tutorial Assistance – Having a little trouble getting into the swing of higher education? No sweat. The VA will pay up to $1,200 for sessions with a school approved tutor to give you a leg up.
- Supply Stipend – If you’re taking classes, you’re going to need supplies. The GI Bill provides up to $1000 per school year to cover things like books and other necessary educational sundries.
- Rural Move Assistance – If you need to up and move from a sparsely populated area to wherever your intended school is, the GI Bill can help. If your county has fewer than 6 people per square mile and said school is at least 500 miles away, you can get a one-time payment of $500 to get you where you need to go.
- GI Bill Transfer – If you’re eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill but have absolutely no interest in any more higher education or training, that money doesn’t have to go to waste. If you’ve completed at least 6 years of active or select reserve service and are willing to serve at least 4 more, you can transfer your benefits to any dependent registered with Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). Family members who receive transferred benefits are also eligible for Yellow Ribbon program funding.
GI Bill Online
From full degrees at accredited universities to correspondence courses, there are a host of educational programs you can complete on your own time from anywhere in the world by taking online classes with your GI Bill. It’s never been easier to use your education benefits no matter what your location or schedule. The process to apply is much the same as you would for a standard, in-person school. That way, any deserving veteran or family member can improve their prospects and expand their knowledge relatively hassle free. And you even get BAH, just like anyone else on the GI Bill.
Do GI Bill Benefits Expire?
Whether or not your GI Bill benefits expire depends entirely on when your active duty service ended. If that occurred before January 1st, 2013, you have 15 years from your discharge from active duty to use your benefits. But if your discharge occurred after January 1st, 2013 your benefits are covered under the new Forever GI Bill and, therefore, never expire
The Montgomery GI Bill
This previous version of the program has been pretty much replaced by a later version. But this one still exists for use by certain members of the military community. Generally, if you served for at least two years on active duty you qualify for education benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill. But there are a number of other eligibility categories that give you access as well.
The benefits can vary as well, but the typical use is the same as the Post 9/11 GI Bill: 36 months of education at the state school rate. If you don’t qualify for the current bill for whatever reason, check to see if you qualify for the Montgomery version.
Post-9/11 GI Bill
The Post 9/11 GI Bill is available to pretty much every honorably discharged veteran who served at least 30 continuous or 90 total days on activity duty since the onset of the War on Terror in fall 2001. Veterans have a maximum of 15 years from the end of their active service to make use of it. It’s essentially superseded by the recently enacted Forever GI Bill.
The Forever GI Bill
Signed into law in 2017, the latest version of the GI Bill (also called the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act after the WWI veteran behind much of the original version) expands its benefits significantly. Most importantly, there is no longer an expiration date on your education benefits, hence the nickname the Forever GI Bill. And the standard minimum of 90 days of active service no longer applies to any veteran awarded a Purple Heart.
The full list of expansions is long and mostly applies to very specific circumstances. But it’s worth going through if you plan on applying for your Forever GI Bill benefits. You never know what added bonus you or your dependents may be eligible for.
There are a lot of specifics that go into these various programs, their eligibility requirements, and the ways you can put them to use. But we hope this brief rundown has given you a good idea of all the upsides of your well-earned GI Bill benefits. Check back in here often as we’ll regularly update all the info you need to know. And add further in-depth looks at some of the things we mentioned in brief here.
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