New GI Bill for College

A new GI Bill for college takes effect this week. On August 1, 2009, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will open a whole new chapter of higher education opportunities for U.S. armed services veterans and personnel. The new GI Bill for college does not replace the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB). It is an alternative program with features and rules that may or may not benefit you.

Features of the Post-9/11 GI Bill include:

  • Full undergraduate tuition and fees at any eligible public, in-state college or university (Eligible= accredited by a U.S. Education Department-approved accrediting agency, offering education programs eligible for GI Bill coverage)
  • Full undergraduate tuition and fees at participating “Yellow Ribbon Program” private schools
  • Tuition and fees money goes straight to your school
  • $1000 for books and supplies
  • Housing stipend
  • Transferability of education benefits to spouse or children if your service status qualifies you for this benefit
  • 15 years to use your benefits

New GI Bill Eligibility

Active-duty and National Guard/Reserve Veterans who have served at least 90 days of active duty service after September 10, 2001, and received an honorable discharge qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33 Education Benefit). Veterans who served 30 days and were discharged due to a service-connected injury or illness are also eligible for the new GI Bill. To qualify for 100% of the benefit, a veteran must have served at least three years of active duty service after September 10, 2001, or have served 30 days before being discharged due to a service connected injury or illness. Veterans serving more than 90 days but less than three years of post-9/11 active duty service are eligible for a percentage of the full Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit, based on cumulative time served. Visit the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America GI Bill website for more about eligibility.

Comparing GI Bill Benefits

You cannot participate in more than one GI Bill program at a time. If you’re already signed up for the MGIB and you decide the Post-9/11 GI Bill will better suit your education goals, you can transfer, so long as you qualify for it. But the switch is permanent; you won’t be able to switch back. So it’s essential to understand the differences between the programs before making any changes.

For many eligible participants, the new Post-9/11 GI Bill for college will have more to offer than earlier VA education programs. But others may find that they come out ahead financially if they stick with the MGIB. For still others, the biggest factor in choosing a GI Bill program may not be how much money they can get, but having the opportunity to transfer their education benefits to their spouses or children.

To determine which program is right for you, you’ll have to compare the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s benefits, restrictions, and eligibility criteria to those of existing VA education programs. The VA’s GI Bill resource center recommends using these questions to help you decide:

1. Which benefit pays you more? Don’t look at only the amounts you qualify for under each Bill…also look at the financial aid you receive from other sources. If your state allows veterans to attend college free of charge anyway, participation in the Post-9/11 Bill won’t get you the equivalent of the tuition and fees in cash; you’ll only get the $1,000 book stipend and a housing stipend of some amount (if you qualify for it). But with the MGIB, if your state allows you to attend college for free, you’ll still get the fixed monthly payment of $1300 to spend any way you wish: books, housing, whatever.

2. What type of education or training program are you planning to pursue? The Post-9/11 Bill only covers undergraduate and graduate degrees at colleges and universities, and some licensing/certification programs. The Post-9/11 Bill does not cover certificate and diploma programs offered by institutions that do not grant degrees. The MGIB covers degree programs AND technical/vocational school training, flight training, apprenticeships, entrepreneurship training. Both bills cover accredited fully online programs and distance learning.

3. Which of the 3 separate pieces of the Post-9/11 GI Bill are you eligible for (tuition; housing; books)? If you’re on active duty while you’re in school, or if you’re enrolled in a fully online program, you won’t get the Post-9/11 Bill’s housing stipend.

4. Do you plan to attend school less than full-time? Same answer. If you attend half-time or less, you’re not entitled to the housing stipend the Post-9/11 Bill provides.

5. Where will you be living when you’re in school?
The Post-9/11 GI Bill includes a housing stipend, but depending on where you live, the costs of college and housing together could be less than the fixed, non-restricted payment you would receive under the MGIB.

6. Is your education plan likely to involve undergrad and grad work? You can’t participate in both the Post-9/11 and MGIB programs at the same time, but you can use up all your MGIB benefits and then get another 12 months of Post-9/11 benefits (assuming you qualify for the Post-9/11 program).

7. Is the amount of time you have to use your education benefits important to you? The Post-9/11 GI Bill gives you 5 more years than the MGIB to use your benefits before they expire.

8. Will you be a member of the Armed Forces on August 1, 2009? You must be serving in the armed forces either on active duty or in the selective reserves on this date to get the option of transferring your education benefits to a family member.

9. Do you plan to transfer your unused benefits to an immediate family member? Only the Post-9/11 Bill will let you do this; the MGIB will not. To be eligible to transfer benefits to family members, you must first qualify for the Post 9/11 GI Bill and be serving either on active duty or in the selective reserves on August 1, 2009. The transferability provision is not available to anyone who has retired or separated from the service before August 1, 2009, or to members of the Individual Ready Reserve and Fleet Reserve.

GI Bill for College Information Resources

The site has a great plain English “Get answers to your questions” section and a Benefit Calculator that you can plug your school information into. The calculator can help you figure out which GI Bill will cover your education costs better and show you all the various factors that are taken into consideration.

The VA website has detailed charts comparing the benefits and eligibility criteria of each GI Bill program as well as a number of case studies illustrating how different individuals would benefit under the Post-9/11 GI Bill vs. the older education benefit programs. The case studies are particularly helpful because you can see how the different eligibility rules are applied in addition to seeing how the math adds up.

In addition to the VA website, the Department of Defense website has an excellent section on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, along with information on switching from one GI Bill program to another, and on the new opportunity to transfer Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to immediate family members. There are also good articles on the loopholes and flaws already coming to light in the new Bill, and what action is being taken to fix those problems.

New GI Bill for College: Please Accept Our Thanks for Your Service to the Country

The creation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides armed services veterans and personnel with the most comprehensive education benefits since the original bill, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, was signed into law nearly 70 years ago. It may take a little while to get all the kinks worked out, but whether you stay with the tried and true MGIB or sign up for the Post-9/11 Bill, using your GI Bill benefits for college is a well-earned investment in the rest of your life.

Note: An error in the information in #8 was pointed out to us and corrected on August 7, 2009. The information currently posted is the correct information.

4 comments to “New GI Bill for College”

  1. Number 8 is incorrect, according to the VA website “Any veteran or servicemember who served at least 90 days of active duty service after September 10, 2001 will qualify for this new education benefit.”

  2. Thank you for pointing out the error, Roy! We figured out the confusion over the August 1 date and corrected the text accordingly. If you see any other errors in this or future GI Bill posts, please alert us again!

  3. Actually, # 8 is correct – if you served at least 90 days after Sep 10, 2001, you are PERSONALLY eligible (with some caveats for those who have used other Education benefits).

    However, you must be either on active duty or an active reserve member to be eligible to TRANSFER your benefits to your dependents.

  4. Thank you, V. Michalczyk! We made the correction to the information in #8 on August 7th, but neglected to add a note to the post to that effect. That oversight has been addressed now. -The EG Editor

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