With the Post 9/11 GI Bill’s free 36 months of education eligibility, does it make sense for new recruits to sign up and pay for the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB)? Congress is asking that very question.

MGIB Options 

If new recruits at Basic Training do not consciously opt out of the MGIB, then they are in fact making the choice to have their pay reduced by $100 per month for the first 12 months of service to get 36 months of MGIB eligibility. 

While getting that additional 36 months of eligibility might sound like a prudent decision at the time, under the current rules, they can only use up to 48 combined months of GI Bill eligibility. And the way the law is currently written, if they choose to use the Post 9/11 GI Bill, then they give up their remaining unused MGIB eligibility (and don’t get any of the $1,200 they paid back). If they choose to use their MGIB eligibility, then they only get 12 additional months of Post 9/11 GI Bill eligibility because of the 48-month cap.

GI Bill Payment Comparison

Because in most cases the Post 9/11 GI Bill is a better benefit in terms of paying college expenses, only about 6% of veterans eligible for both GI Bills end up using their MGIB. For veterans with three or more years of service after September 10, 2001, the Post 9/11 GI Bill pays tuition and fees in full for veterans attending a public college or university or up to $25,162.14 per year if going to a private school. 

In addition with the Post 9/11 GI Bill, veterans get up to $1,000 per year in book stipend money and a monthly housing allowance that averages $1,400 per month for each month in school. In comparison, veterans that use their MGIB get up to $2,050 per month and must pay all of their own tuition, fees, books and other education-related expenses.

Lawmakers right now are considering legislation that would allow recruits to serve at least six months before requiring them to make their MGIB decision instead of having to make it while at Basic Training when at the same time they are being blasted with information, orders from Dis, and trying to adjust to military life. Student veteran advocacy groups are pushing changes that range from at a minimum of getting rid of automatic enrollment to a maximum of abolishing the MGIB altogether.

Courts Rule on Montgomery and Post 9/11 GI Bill Use

If MGIB and Post 9/11 GI Bill eligibility can be acquired with one qualifying 3-year period of service, what about veterans having two or more qualifying periods –  a six year enlistment which is quite common? Shouldn’t they be allowed to use both GI Bills each to their full extent? 

In a lower appeals court decision last year in Bo v. Wilkie, the court found the Department of Veterans Affairs’ practice of requiring veterans to give up their MGIB eligibility in favor of using their Post 9/11 GI Bill “improper”. However, because of the 48-month cap, the only change would be that veterans who use up their 36 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill first would still have 12 additional months of MGIB they could still use … something not possible under the current rules. 

The VA justifies their practice saying that in doing so, it prevents veterans from double-dipping – using both GI Bills at the same time – which is illegal. “But in a 2-1 decision, the judicial panel ruled that federal language prohibiting such ‘double-dipping’ more appropriately means that ‘someone may not receive assistance from more than one program during a single month, semester, or other applicable pay period, but may switch freely between programs’.”

So the judicial panel ruled that veterans who are eligible for both GI Bills should in fact be able to receive benefits from both programs – just not simultaneously.

The Ruling Could trigger some changes

The VA has yet to decide as far as if they will appeal the court finding or not. If not, then it will trigger a host of rule changes that will impact tens of thousands of veterans at a cost that could potentially run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. However, because only 6% of veterans ever use their MGIB, the VA is sitting on $145 million of collected but unused MGIB payments. 

If the VA does appeal the decision, then this issue could be tied up in the courts for a long time.

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Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.