Among the long list of perks and incentives offered to military personnel, the most impactful and beneficial may be your GI Bill benefits. Administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the GI Bill is meant to serve as a bridge to the next phase of your career after your military service, covering expenses related toward earning a degree, skills training or other educational goals.
You should understand that the benefits you are entitled to, may be different than others receive, based upon when you served. For example, those who served after Sept. 10, 2001, are eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill Eligibility Requirements, whereas those who served before qualify for benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill.
In either case, there are many avenues and options for using your GI Bill benefits, from traditional four-year universities and vocational training programs to apprenticeships and correspondence training. In some instances, the GI Bill can even be used to further your child’s education. With so many choices, it’s essential that you select the right outlet and then learn what your benefits will cover and pay for so you can eventually land the job you want.
Undergraduate and Graduate Degree Programs
Opting for the traditional route and using your GI Bill benefits at institutes of higher learning, whether a four-year university, community college or advanced degree program, offers a straightforward path toward completing your education. The VA provides options for how you pursue your degree and may even offer financial support beyond tuition.
The flexibility for how you pursue your education includes the option to attend classes at more than one college at the same time, as long as:
- Classes at both colleges count towards your degree
- The second college accepts those credits as completed requirements
Benefits under Post-9/11 GI Bill offer financial support for all aspects of higher education, including tuition, housing and books:
- The Post-9/11 GI Bill can pay your full resident tuition at a public school, or up to $26,042.81 per academic year for a private or foreign school.
- The Post-911 GI Bill also allows for a Monthly Housing Allowance, with a rate based upon the ZIP code of the school’s location (not the ZIP code of your home address). This stipend averages $1,789 per month but could exceed $2,700. Students taking all of their courses online are also eligible for a monthly housing stipend of $894.50.
- An annual book and supply stipend of up to $1,000 per year is also part of the Post-911 GI Bill and is typically paid at the beginning of each term. The amount is paid proportionately based on the number of credits taken, at $41 per credit hour.
Benefits Under the Montgomery GI Bill are not as extensive, and payment is based on the number of classes you attend:
- 12 hours or more (full-time)
- 9 to 11 hours (3/4 time)
- 6 to 8 hours (1/2 time)
- Less than 6 hours: reimbursed at a rate not to exceed the tuition and fees charged for the course(s).
Non-College Degree Programs
There’s more than one path to a rewarding career, including through a non-college degree program. You can use your GI Bill benefits toward any number of training programs such as HVAC repair, auto repair, truck driving, Emergency Medical Technical training and others, available through community colleges, trade schools, vocational schools or specialized training institutions.
Veterans, service members and qualified family members may be eligible for education benefits through the GI Bill for a non-college degree program if they meet both of these requirements:
- You qualify for the GI Bill
- You enroll, or plan to enroll, in a non-degree program at an approved school.
Benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill include:
- In-state tuition and fee payments up to the national maximum (the private school rate)
- A monthly housing allowance based on the ZIP code of the school.
Benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill will vary and depend on the program and the length of your active military service.
Veterans Technology Education Courses
If you are interested in a career in a high-tech industry or just want to gain some experience, you could explore the VA’s Veteran Employment Through Technology Courses (VET TEC) program. With VET TEC, you can receive tuition for a full-time high-tech training program, and money for housing during your training (active-duty members are not eligible for a housing allowance). VET TEC matches enrollees with a leading training provider to help you develop high-tech skills including:
- Computer software
- Computer programming
- Data processing
- Information science
- Media applications.
On-the-Job Training and Apprenticeships
Veterans or those in the guard or reserve can use GI Bill benefits to receive job training in an On-the-Job or Apprenticeship training program. In addition to any salary offered by your employer, the VA will pay you GI Bill benefits on a sliding scale depending on the length of the training program. The benefit typically decreases every six months, and the salary increases every six months. At the end of the training, you will be certified in the trade.
Under the Post-911 GI Bill, participants will receive:
- 100% of the monthly housing allowance for the first six months of training
- 80% for the second six months
- 60% for the third six months
- 40% for the fourth six months
- 20% for the remaining months of training.
Payment rates for all other GI Bill programs are paid in the following percentages until the benefits run out:
- 75% of the full-time GI Bill rate for the first 6 months of training
- 55% of the full time GI Bill rate for the second 6 months of training
- 35% of the full-time GI Bill rate for the remainder of the training period
Coverage for Test Fees
Your GI Bill benefits will cover more than just tuition costs. In fact, the costs of certain GI Bill-approved tests needed for professional licenses or certifications are also covered. The list includes:
- SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test)
- LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
- GRE (Graduate Record Exam)
- GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test)
- AP (Advanced Placement Exam)
- CLEP (College-Level Examination Program)
- ACT (American College Testing Program)
- DAT (Dental Admissions Test)
- MAT (Miller Analogies Test)
- MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test)
- OAT (Optometry Admissions Testing)
- PCAT (Pharmacy College Admissions Test)
- TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)
- DSST (DANTES Subject Standardized Tests)
- ECE (Excelsior College Examinations)
- PLA (Prior Learning Assessment) testing through Learningcounts.org
There is no limit to the number of tests you can take, and the VA will reimburse the approved cost of the test. You may even be reimbursed for retaking a test that you didn’t pass, and you can retake tests you passed if a test is need for re-certification or to retain a license.
The VA will also reimburse you for the following fees associated with tests:
- Registration fees
- Fees for specialized tests
- Administrative fees
Your VA education benefits can also help pay for flight training to further your pilot qualifications. In order to qualify for this coverage, you must have a private pilot’s license and valid medical certification before training can begin. Payments are issued after training is complete, and the school submits information to the VA. GI Bill benefits can be used to pay for flight training that includes:
- Rotary wing qualification
- B747-400 qualification
- Dual qualification
- Flight engineer
Coverage for flight training under the Post-9/11 GI Bill can vary depending on the type of flight training you select:
- Enrollment in any degree program that consists of flight training from a public Institution of Higher Learning allows you to be reimbursed up to the resident in-state cost of the training.
- Enrollment in any degree program that consists of flight training at a private Institute of Higher Learning, means you can be reimbursed up to the full cost of the training or $26,042.81 per academic year, whichever is less.
- Enrollment in any type of vocational flight training means you can be reimbursed up to the full cost of training or $14,881.59 per academic year, whichever is less.
Coverage for flight training under the Montgomery GI Bill means the VA will reimburse you for 60% of the approved charges.
The flexibility offered by correspondence training (courses completed by mail, online, or another channel) could be a good fit for students who desire to take classes from home or perhaps live too far to attend classes in-person. Payments are made quarterly after the VA receives certification of lessons completed from the school.
For those covered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the VA reimburses the lesser of the net actual costs for in-state tuition and fees, or the maximum allowed by law. For all other GI Bill recipients, reimbursement is for 55% of the approved costs.
The VA’s work-study program can help users earn money while enrolled in a college, vocational school, or professional training program. For full-time or ¾-time students enrolled in a college degree program or vocational or professional study program, the VA’s work-study allowance allows you to earn while you learn. The allowance is available to those training under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty or MGIB-Selected Reserve.
The VA’s hourly wage will be the federal minimum wage or your state’s minimum wage, whichever is greater.
Students can choose to be paid in advance for 40% of the number of hours in their work-study agreement, or for 50 hours, whichever is less. After completion of the hours covered by the first payment, the VA will pay each time one completes 50 hours of work, or every 2 weeks, whichever comes first. The total number of hours of work cannot exceed more than 25 times the number of weeks in the enrollment period.
However, services performed under a VA work-study program must be related to VA work, with acceptable examples including:
- Processing VA paperwork at schools or VA offices
- Performing outreach work under a VA employee’s supervision
- Performing services at VA facilities
Tuition Assistance Top-Up
The VA’s Tuition Assistance Top-Up program allows eligible participants to use their GI Bill benefits to supplement the tuition and fees not covered by tuition assistance. This coverage can be equal to the difference between the total cost of a college course and the amount of Tuition Assistance that is paid by the military for a course. Note, this program is not available to those using the Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve program.
Tuition Assistance Top-Up coverage available under the Post-9/11 GI Bill:
- The VA will pay back the school the difference between the DoD payment and the authorized (approved) maximum tuition and fees.
- It is charged based on training time. Half-time training rates reduce GI Bill benefits by a half-month for each month enrolled.
Top-Up benefits under the Montgomery Active Duty Gi Bill include:
- Benefits equal the difference between the DoD payment and the total cost of the course.
- It will be reduced, or charged, one month of entitlement for each payment received that is equal to the full-time monthly GI Bill rate.
Struggling with your coursework? If you’re using educational assistance, the VA may help you pay for a tutor. Tutorial assistance is a supplement to your GI Bill benefits and is available if you are receiving VA educational assistance at a rate of half-time or greater and have a deficiency in a subject that would require tutoring. The monthly rate of the assistance cannot exceed the cost of tutoring or $100, and the maximum amount payable is $1,200.
GI Bill entitlement is not charged for using this program, unless a student is using the Montgomery GI Bill. If so, the entitlement is charged for the first $600 paid out by the VA.
To qualify for tutorial assistance, the following criteria must be met:
- Student must be in a post-secondary program ½-time or more.
- A student must have a document deficiency in a course that is part of an approved program.
- A student must be enrolled in the course during the quarter, semester, or term which the tutoring is received for the course.
- Tutoring may not occur between quarters or semesters.
If you have taken on debt while pursuing an education or vocational training and feel like you may need assistance, it could be time to contact a nonprofit credit counseling agency like InCharge Debt Solutions. Their counselors are trained and certified in offering financial assistance. They are required to offer guidance that’s in your best interest, meaning you will see all the best options for working through your finances.
About The Author
Craig Richardson is a military veteran who started his journalism career while serving in the Navy. Following overseas deployments to the Med and Middle East, including service in Operation Desert Storm, he left for the private sector but continued with journalism. He has worked for several publishers and news organizations over nearly 30 years and continued to cover stories with ties to veterans and military affairs throughout his career.
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