Having 36 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits is an earned entitlement valued by veterans that many civilians would do anything to get their hands on. It is one reward we receive for the hardships endured while serving.

However without careful and deliberate management, this benefit can end up wasted or not used to its full potential. To assist you in the best use of your Post 9/11 GI Bill, consider the five ways mentioned below and apply the ones pertinent to you to get the most out of your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits post-secondary education benefits.

Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) Vs. Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits

Since 2009, more and more veterans have both of these GI Bills. And while it is easy to gravitate toward using the Post 9/11 GI Bill because in most cases it pays more, your education goal can be a factor that can determine which one you should use first. Under the current VA rules, veterans must give up their MGIB if using their Post 9/11, so they only get 36 months total in eligibility.

However by using all 36 months of their MGIB first, they can get an additional 12 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. This can be useful if pursing an advanced degree, as it provides an additional year of entitlement that in most cases will pay for half of an advanced degree.

Recently, the courts ruled that the VA could not force veterans to give up their MGIB to use their Post 9/11. If the decision stands, veterans would be able to use their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits first and then use 12 months of their MGIB. The part that would remain unchanged though is that both GI Bills could not be used at the same time.

Hybrid vs. Online

Online-only students using their Post 9/11 GI Bill receive half of the amount that students taking classes on campus receive in Monthly Housing allowance (MHA). However, by taking just one class at a local campus, and the rest of your classes online, you can get the full housing allowance. The key of course to make this work is your resident class must credit toward your degree plan.

Yellow Ribbon Program

While the Post 9/11 GI Bill pays full tuition and fees for veterans at the 100% tier attending a public school, it only pays $25,162.14 per year, if going to a private school. With some schools charging over twice this amount, it can leave a considerable unpaid balance. This must be paid by the student using scholarships, grants, student loans, personal funds, or some combination thereof.

But if the school is part of the VA’s Yellow Ribbon Program, the school can pay up to 50% of the unpaid amount with the VA paying an equal amount. Do the math, and it is easy to see that reduces the unpaid amount to zero. You can check here to see if your school is part of the Yellow Ribbon Program and the specifics of their program.

Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship

One of the changes brought about by the Forever GI Bill was to set up a scholarship for veteran students majoring in one of the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering or math. Typically, these degree fields require more than four years to complete and in the past, most STEM student ran out of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits before finishing their degree. But with the shortage of STEM qualified people, this scholarship is an incentive for students to finish that last year of school without the worry of how they are going to pay for it. It is on a first-come, first-serve basis, but if selected, it pays for an additional year of school up to $30,000.

The Two-Year School Advantage

If an advanced degree is in your education plan, another way to maximize your GI Bill benefits is to take your first two years of post-secondary education at a junior or community college  and paying for it out-of-pocket. Typically, these schools are less expensive than four-year universities or colleges.

Doing it this way leaves your 36 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement intact and can be used to pay for the last two years of your bachelor’s degree and two years to finish a master’s degree with little to no out-of-pocket costs.

GI Bil Benefits – Valuable Tool for Veterans

There you have it – five ways to squeeze every dime out of your hard-earned GI Bill benefits. Use them wisely because once they are gone, they are gone forever. They are too valuable to waste!

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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.