Back in September 2019, I reported on a court ruling that would allow students to use benefits under both GI Bills – the Montgomery GI Bill – AD (MGIB-AD) and the Post 9/11. The VA challenged that decision and it ended up in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Now that federal court also upheld the ruling of the lower court that could allow up to an estimated 1.7 million eligible veterans an additional year of education benefits.
Use of Benefits Background
Under the current VA rules, GI Bill education entitlement is capped at 48 months total … even if a veteran is eligible for the full 36 months of entitlement under each GI Bill. A full qualifying term of service under the MGIB-AD is signing up for the GI Bill while in Basic Training, paying the $1,200 fee and serving for at least three years. To qualify for the full entitlement under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, a veteran must have served for at least three years on or after September 11, 2001. Unlike the MGIB-AD, the Post 9/11 GI Bill does not require paying an eligibility fee.
As noted above though, veterans qualifying for full entitlement from both GI Bills are limited to a maximum of 48 months and not 72 months – 36 months from each GI Bill – as one would expect. And while the 48-month cap cannot be changed, the way benefits are used can be and hence the reason for the ruling.
To use the full 48 months under the current rules, a veteran must fully exhaust their 36 months of MGIB-AD entitlement first and then switch to the Post 9/11 GI Bill to get an additional 12 months of entitlement. But, if they switch to the Post 9/11 GI Bill with any unused MGIB-AD benefits left over, they only get that same number of months as their new Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement. To further illustrate, if a veteran miscalculates their MGIB-AD use and is left with just a few days of entitlement, that number of days is all they get when switched over to the Post 9/11 GI Bill – even if it is just 1 day left, that is all they will get.
And the dual entitlement can’t be used the other way around. In other words, a veteran can’t use their 36 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement first and then switch to the MGIB-AD for an additional 12 months of education benefits.
The Court Ruling
In the latest ruling, the federal court said, “The Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill programs do not require a veteran who has more than one separately qualifying period of service, i.e. split time, to relinquish or exhaust their Montgomery GI Bill program before receiving benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill program”. The court further stated in its decision that its ruling “only applied to those with dual entitlement based on multiple periods of service and not for individuals with dual entitlement based on a single period of service.”
To clarify the ruling, a veteran must have at least two separate qualifying periods of service of which each must have been at least three years to qualify for the full 48 months. A veteran having one period of service, but eligible for both GI Bills (of which many are with a single period of enlistment of 6 years) would still fall under the existing use of entitlement rules.
The VA now has 60 days to appeal the federal court’s latest ruling. If they do, the case will go to the Supreme Court. In regard to the ruling, a VA spokesman said, “The department is assessing the decision but remains committed to providing veterans the benefits they have earned and deserves”. If the VA chooses not to appeal, the new ruling could go into effect as soon as the 2021 fall semester.