Quick Guide to the GI Bill

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Andy used his GI Bill to pay for medical school. It's an awesome benefit that all servicemembers should be aware of and should take advantage of if they are heading to school after they serve.

The GI bill, whether Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) or Post 9/11 GI Bill, is one of, if not the most valuable benefit you can get as a former military member. It provides 36 months (in some cases 48 months…see below) of money towards tuition for further education, housing allowance, and textbook stipend. It will even cover programs that pay you a salary and/or do not require tuition, you just need to make sure your program is approved on their website.

The VA has a surprisingly good website that answers basically any question you could have about the GI bill.

What are the differences between the MGIB and the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and which should I pick? That is an excellent question – let's go over it in table form.

Montgomery vs. Post 9/11 GI Bill


Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB)

Post 9/11 GI Bill

Payment Rate for Full-Time Student (rate for non full-time is on VA website)

Annually set – nationwide – monthly payment rate. The current payment rate (2013) is $1,564.*

Up to 100% tuition payment for public college or university. Up to $17,500 a year for private schools.

Additional expense


No additional stipend payments for expenses.

Living Expenses- Stipend based on local BAH for E-5 with dependents  –  paid monthly. Online half rate.

Books and Supplies- Up to a $1,000 a year for books and supplies. Paid to the student proportionately for each term.

Eligibility Requirements

Entered military after June 30, 1985 and paid the $1,200 enrollment fee.

Active-duty service for more than 90 days since Sept. 11, 2001. Check here.

Benefit Expiration

10 Years after last separation or discharge.

15 Years your last period of active duty of at least 90 consecutive days.

Transfer benefits

to families


Yes – open to servicemembers with six years service who agree to reenlist for 4 more years.

Enrollment fee

Yes – $1,200


Programs Covered

The Montgomery GI Bill can be used to pay for many different programs including the following:

Under the Post 9/11 GI Bill you may receive educational and training assistance for the following programs.

*If you participated in the $600 “buy-up”, the monthly rate is $1,714. For a more accurate chart of compensation, based on other factors, click here.

**Actually limited – Currently Limited to Army re-enlistees for critical MOS only. Please consult VA site for more info


In most cases, the Post 9/11 GI bill will be the better option, as it will cover tuition up to $17,500 and provide you a housing allowance based on your location. Again, you will get paid BAH as an E-5 with dependents (BAH chart is here), and will get $1000 per year for books and supplies.

And, if you have no further schooling or education requirements, you can transfer it to a family member (spouse or child), if you’ve served at least 6 years and agree to serve at least 4 more. More information about transferring here as well.

If you’re still unclear about which one you should be doing, the VA website has some case studies to provide examples. Although the Post 9/11 is the best scenario in most cases, please run the numbers by yourself before you make that determination.

You also can use both; once all of the Montgomery GI Bill benefits are used up (36 months worth), you are then eligible for an additional 12 months of the post-9/11 GI Bill. The converse is NOT true though – once you use the Post 9/11 GI Bill, you cannot use the MGIB. And you cannot use 2 years of MGIB and 2 of Post 9/11. The above way is the only way to get more than 36 months of benefits.

The most important first step when determining about using your GI Bill benefits is to find out whether or not your training program is approved. Follow this guide and find out if it is approved by the VA. If your program is not approved, it is not the end of the world, and you can eventually get your program approved; it will just take some legwork on your part coordinating between the VA and your institution to get it approved.

How I Used the GI Bill for Medical Residency

college money for military vets

I will go over my personal case – I was applying for Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits in the summer of 2011, for a residency program in emergency medicine at UPenn in Philadelphia. I looked on the WEAMS site to see if my institution was approved. It was, but I neglected to look further – you not only need your school approved but also your program of study.

When I applied, my application got rejected because my residency program was not yet approved. I had to go to the VA certifying official at my school (which can be found on the WEAMS site), in my case located in the registrar’s office, and coordinate with her, with my program director, and with the VA to get my program approved.

I’m not going to lie, it was a big headache, but in the end it worked out, and I started receiving my benefits. In my case, there is no tuition and I get paid by my program, but I still receive BAH and a book stipend.

Also in my case, in retrospect, it would’ve made more sense for me to draw 3 years of MGIB (since there is no tuition and because I initially did add the $600 “pay-up” to my PSD) and then tack on another year of Post 9/11 GI Bill. Currently I get BAH as an E-5 w/ dependents, which in Philadelphia equals $1,758 per month, and then $1000 per year for books, for a grand total of $22,096 per year.

The MGIB would have been $1,564 + $150 (added for the $600 “pay-up”) per month, for a grand total of $20,568 per year; less than with Post 9/11, but I would’ve been able to tack on the extra 12 months of Post 9/11 benefits.

Veterans Affairs Customer Service for the GI Bill

If you have any questions, the customer service representatives at the VA are very helpful, although the wait time on the phone can be quite long depending on when you call (hint – call right when they open at 8am, there’s no wait). You can also leave your phone number, and they’ll call you back within a specified time.

Students and School Certifying Officials calling from outside the United States may call the Buffalo Regional Office at 716-857-3196 or 716-857-3197. Once connected, the caller can immediately enter “option 1” to be placed in a special priority queue. This is not a toll-free number but the caller will be routed to the next available Customer Service Representative for priority service. When I was in Guam, I called this using Skype, and it worked great.

Can I Get Veteran Education Benefits Without the GI Bill?

What if you’ve already used your GI Bill benefits up entirely, all 36 months, but then become unemployed, and desire to go back to school for some additional training to make you more marketable? You are in luck! The Vow to Hire Heroes Bill of 2011 was passed for just this situation. If you’re between 35 – 60, have no additional benefits left, are unemployed, and did not have a dishonorable discharge, you can apply for an additional 12 months of Montgomery GI Bill benefits.

The bill also included preference for veterans for civil service jobs, and additional vocational rehab and job opportunities for disabled veterans. For more information, please visit this site. Unfortunately, this benefit is only funded thus far through March of 2014, but it will likely be reapproved.

UPDATE: As of August 1st, 2013, those who wish to transfer their GI Bill benefits to a family member, even servicemembers near retirement, will have to agree to serve four more years. The rules had been relaxed for those within a couple years of retirement, but they have gotten more strict.

I had heard rumors that the transfer-ability was being cut off entirely, but I called the VA this AM, and they confirmed with me that it is still in force. Also, Defense Secretary Hagel has confirmed that should Congress try to eliminate the program, he will fight for it.

3 thoughts on “Quick Guide to the GI Bill”

  1. I agree completley with the article! What a fantastic and underused benefit! As an AF family of almost 25 years, our oldest daughter is using my husbands unused and transferred GI Bill. She is a junior at Pepperdine University (a Yellow Ribbon school, so 100% covered) Her degree will be an over $200,000 benefit!!

  2. I just wanted to make a comment that may be useful to some of your readers. I direct commissioned into the Army in 2006, and I took two sign-up bonus for a six-year ADSO ($20,000 for 4-yrs and a $32,000 student loan repayment for 2-yrs) – which was clearly written in my contract… however, either it wasn’t explained to me or I didn’t really care at the time (since I already had a college degree) but one of the stipulations for the post 9/11 GI Bill is that the credited months for calculating my GI bill benefits doesn’t start until I complete my student loan repayment ADSO. When I ETS’ed in March 2013, I had 6 years and 6 months of Active Duty service… so the question came up, how much of the post-9/11 GI bill benefits am I entitled to? I spoke to different VA representatives in-person and they all gave me the same answer “it will be calculated for 6 months only since your total original ADSO is for 6 years and you took the loan repayment bonus”… even though I argued that the ADSO for that bonus is only 2 years, so that my GI bill benefit should be calculated for 4 years service (100%)…

    Anyways, they all said they understood my arguement but ultimately the VA benefits section will make the decision and encouraged me to apply for benefits.When I filled out the application form, I wrote down that I took the loan repayment bonus and that my obligation for that bonus is 2 years (per the written contract, which I sent a copy with the application). I got my decision letter about 3 months ago… I have a certificate that states that I’m entitled to 100%.

    • J – that’s a great example of always, always keeping a copy of the contracts you sign with the military. If you didn’t have the original ADSO to prove that you only owed 2 years for the repayment bonus, you could have gotten screwed. Well done sticking up for yourself and I’m glad the VA benefits section saw your logic. It’s a cold day in hell when the government actually follows logic and reason!


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