Using the GI Bills in a way to get the most from the hard-earned benefit can be tricky for veterans. The wording in much of the VA’s information can be confusing and if not careful, can lead to a loss of, or at least not the best use of, GI Bill benefits. Because of this confusion, I wanted to clarify a couple of areas on two GI Bills that seem to be the most confusing for many veterans. The two GI Bills are:

  • Chapter 30 – Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty (MGIB-AD)
  • Chapter 33 – Post 9/11 GI Bill

Chapter 30 – MGIB-AD

The older of the two GI Bills, the MGIB-AD requires a monetary contribution of $1,200 that is automatically deducted from a trainee’s pay at the rate of $100 per month for the first 12 months of service – if they do not decline in writing (opt out) enrollment in this GI Bill while in Basic Training. For those who don’t opt-out, they receive up to 36 months of entitlement for three or more years of service – entitlement they can use to go to college after getting out.

A full-time student using the MGIB-AD gets paid up to the 2022 rate of $2,210 for each month in school. Out of this money, a student must pay their own tuition, fees, books and other education-related expenses.

The one frequent complaint about this GI Bill was fact that servicemembers said they were not made fully aware while in Basic Training that they had to opt-out of this automatic enrollment if they did not want the MGIB.

A recent change made now creates a 180-day waiting period that then opens a 90-day period in which a trainee has time to opt-out of the MGIB if they want to. Under this change, the automatic deduction of $100 per month for 12 months for those that do not opt-out begins on their 270th day of service … instead of the first month as it was before the change.

$600 Buy-Up Program

Many veterans had the option to pay into a program that increased the monthly payment of their MGIB-AD. By paying up to $600 while serving, they could get up to an additional $5,400 in education benefits. If the veteran had 36 months or more of service and purchased the full $5,400 benefit, they would get an additional $150 added to the monthly MGIB-AD payment ($5,400/36months). For those that purchased less than the full amount, or had less than 36 months of service, their monthly Buy-Up benefit would be that amount purchased divided by the months served. Some veterans only served two years, which means they only have 24 months of MGIB-AD benefits.

Chapter 33 – Post 9/11 GI Bill

This is the newer of the two GI Bills and unlike the MGIB-AD, it does not require paying for the benefit. With as little as 90-days of service, veterans can get up to 36 months of the minimum benefit of 50%; full 100% of the benefit is acquired at 36 months of service with the full benefit being tuition paid at the in-state resident rate, if attending a public school, or up to $26,381.37 per year paid, if attending a private or foreign school.

This GI Bill also differs from the MGIB in that there are three payments: tuition/fees, monthly housing allowance (MHA) and book stipend. The VA sends the tuition/fees payment directly to the school on the student’s behalf towards the beginning of each semester. Monthly, the veteran receives the MHA and book stipend. The MHA amount is determined by the zip code of the school, number of credits the student is taking and the student’s tier level. The book stipend is also determined by the number of credits taken and tier level and paid up to the rate of $41.67 per credit with a yearly maximum $1,000 per academic year.

The Additional 12 Month of Entitlement

For veterans having both the MGIB and Post 9/11 GI Bill, it is possible to get an additional 12 months of entitlement for a total of 48 months – 36 months of MGIB and 12 months of Post 9/11. However to do so, the MGIB must be fully expended first, then switch to the Post 9/11 GI Bill to get the additional 12 months. However, the quirk is that it can’t be done in reverse meaning expending 36 months of the Post 9/11 GI Bill first and then getting an additional 12 months of MGIB … at least not yet, but that change is being explored at this time. The general feeling is that it should not make a difference in the order in which the GI Bills are used.

Another quirk of using both GI Bills is that if a veteran switches to the Post 9/11 GI Bill with MGIB benefits left, they only get the same number of months of Post 9/11 GI Bill that they had left in MGIB benefits. And in addition, if the veteran had Buy-Up program benefits left, they lose those remaining benefits once switched over to the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

Married Dual Military Dilemma

This is another area of confusion as far as who gets the MHA if both spouses have the Post 9/11 GI Bill and are going to school at the same time. Let’s do the simple one first. If each has their own Post 9/11 GI Bill, and both are no longer serving, they both get their own MHA.

Now on to the more complicated one; if a spouse is using Post 9/11 benefits transferred from the providing member, the spouse would get the MHA only if the providing member is out of the military. If the providing member is still serving, the spouse would not get the MHA as they are already getting paid a housing allowance and subsistence.

But here is another twist to the same subject. If the spouse going to school has both their own and transferred benefits, the spouse going to school would get the housing allowance when using their own Post 9/11 GI Bill but would not once switched over to the transferred benefits, if the providing member is still serving. However, if the providing member is out of the military, the spouse going to school would get the MHA regardless of if they were using their own Post 9/11 GI Bill or transferred benefits.

Knowledge is power and if you want to maximize your GI Bill benefits, you must know the ins and outs of the system. There are many more quirks pertaining to the GI Bills of which some different ones will be discussed in in Part 2.

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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.