Rudisill v. McDonough has been an ongoing case for years and at the heart of it, is a battle to protect veterans’ rights – in particular GI Bill education rights. For those not familiar with the case, Mr. Rudisill is an eight-year decorated Army veteran with three tours of combat service – tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
After his first tour as an enlisted soldier, Rudisill used 25 months of his Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty (MGIB-AD) to obtain his undergraduate degree so that he could enlist back in the Army as a commissioned officer. During that second tour, he was injured and was awarded the Bronze Star.
Following his third tour from 2007 to 2011, he applied to and was accepted into the Yale Divinity School with the intent of using his remaining GI Bill benefits to become a chaplain and return again to the Army as a Commissioned Officer in the Chaplain Corp.
Post 9/11 GI Bill
Because Rudisill has three separate Army enlistments which gave him three periods of qualifying GI Bill eligibility, he believed he had 22 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill eligibility left until he hit the cap of 48 months.
He is not contesting the 48-month cap. However, the way the GI Bill rules are written, a veteran that has dual GI Bill eligibility must use those benefits in a certain order to get all 48 months. If a military veteran used the full 36 months of their MGIB, they can then switch to the Post 9/11 GI Bill and get up to another 12 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits bringing them up to the 48-month cap.
But, if that same person does not use all 36 months of their MGIB first, and then switches to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, they only get the same number of months of Post 9/11 GI Bill eligibility as they had left under the MGIB. In Rudisill’s case it is 10 months and 16 days.
And the rules also prohibit using the GI Bill benefits in the opposite order. In other words, they can’t use the Post 9/11 GI Bill first and then switch to the MGIB to finish out using their education benefits regardless of how months they have left.
Now there is a bipartisan Attorney Generals coalition comprised of 32 states and the District of Columbia that is asking the Supreme Court to weigh in on this ongoing case and to reverse a lower court ruling that supported the VA in their decision. They are basing this request on the long-applied-in-the-courts pro-veteran’s canon, stretching back as far as the Revolutionary War that says – “provisions for benefits to members of the Armed Services are to be construed in the beneficiaries’ favor.” They are saying that the VA did not apply the pro-veteran canon in Rudisill’s case (and probably in thousands of other cases).
The states in the Attorney General coalition are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the District of Columbia.
And there has been a long-standing belief in the veteran community that dual GI Bill holders should be able to use their GI Bill benefits in any order as long as they stay under the 48-month cap. However, the way the current rules are written, it is not possible. When a veteran switches from the MGIB to the Post 9/11, they agree that they are “giving up” their remaining MGIB rights and in effect only have the same number of remaining MGIB months to use under the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
And of course, at the heart of the issue is money. By “forcing” veterans to use their MGIB first, instead of giving them the option to use their Post 9/11 GI Bill, the VA is saving millions of dollars because the Post 9/11 GI Bill is a much more lucrative education benefit.
It will be interesting to follow this case to see if the Supreme Court agrees with the Attorney Generals or if they support the lower court ruling.