Things You Might Not Know About Your GI Bill

Three years after making my transition from active duty to civilian, I began a new journey towards furthering my education. Like the majority of other veterans, prior to the end of my service, I attended a separation class. In this class a representative from the VA talked to us about everything from how to apply for your VA benefits, to the differences between the Post 9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) and the Montgomery GI Bill (Chapter 30). Despite this, during my application process, I found that there were many things that I had forgotten or was unsure of, as well as a few things that had changed since I separated. I had a difficult decision to make in determining which GI Bill was the right fit for me, and did a lot of research on the two. In this article, I'm going to provide information and highlight some differences between the Post 9/11 and Montgomery Gi Bills, as well as list some other information about them that might be useful to others in the process of applying for benefits.

The Montgomery GI Bill (Chapter 30)

From 1984 until 2008 service members had the option of giving $100 per month out of their first year of pay on active duty, for a total of $1200, towards the Montgomery GI Bill. As of 2011, students enrolled in school full-time receive $1,473 per month to pay their tuition for up to 36 months. This payment is made directly to the student, and can be used for tuition, books, living expenses, etc. The benefits may be used for degree programs, certificate programs, flight training, correspondence courses, as well as licensing and certification tests. Eligible veterans have 10 years from the time they leave active duty to use this bill.

Under Chapter 30 your benefits will be prorated. For example: If you are attending school full-time your monthly benefit is $1,473. If your fall semester ends on December 17th then you will only receive 17 days worth of benefits for that month, or about $808. You will also not be charged benefits for the days that you were not in school between semesters.

Another good thing about Chapter 30 is that if you attend school part time, you will only be charged for that time. Example: If you attend school half-time (6 credit hours) for 12 months, you will only be charged for 6 months of benefits. Therefore, being in school for 36 months won't exhaust your benefits, unless you were attending full-time. This makes it possible for someone with a full-time job to only attend school part time, but still be able to get the most out of their GI Bill.

The Post 9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33)

The Post 9/11 GI Bill, also known as Chapter 33, provides benefits for people who served on active duty after September 11, 2001. Under Chapter 33, recipients are entitled to 36 months of benefits. These benefits are payed directly to the school you are attending, and a monthly living allowance is payed to the veteran. Under this bill, recipients will also receive a book stipend of up to $1,000 per year. These benefits can be used in the same places as the Montgomery GI Bill listed above. Eligible veterans have 15 years from the time they leave active duty to use this bill.

The living allowance, or BAH rate is based on the zip code of your school. You will receive the E-5 BAH with dependents rate for that zip code ONLY if you attending at least one of your classes on campus. If you are only taking online classes, you will receive a cost of living allowance of $673.50. If you are attending school in another country, the cost of living allowance is $1,368. These rates are also prorated for the days you are actively enrolled in school. Example: If the fall semester starts on the 18th of August, and the monthly housing allowance for your area is $1,100, you will receive the equivalent of 14 days worth, about $497.

If you are only attending school part-time under Chapter 33, you will receive a portion of the monthly housing allowance based on the percentage of hours your taking in relation to full-time or 12 credit hours. Example: You are taking 9 credit hours. This is equal to 75% of full-time or 12 credit hours. 75% is rounded up to the nearest 10th to 80%. If the monthly housing allowance for your area is $1000 per month, you will receive $800.

Also under Chapter 33, you are charged 1 day of benefits for every day you are enrolled in school, up to 36 months. That means that if you are taking 3 credit hours worth of classes, you are getting charged the same as someone who is taking 12, but not receiving nearly as much in benefits. If you are unable to attend school full-time, and you paid into Chapter 30, Chapter 30 is clearly a better option for you.

Other Important Notes

  • Once you elect to use the Post 9/11 GI Bill it is not irreversible. You can NOT change back to the Montgomery GI Bill.
  • If you use 100% of your Montgomery GI Bill, you may still be eligible for 12 additional months under the Post 9/11 GI Bill. In order to receive this you must make sure that you've exhausted 100% of your Chapter 30 BEFORE applying for the Chapter 33 benefits.
  • If you use EITHER Chapter 30 or Chapter 33 while you are still on active duty, your tuition will be paid directly to the school you are attending. That means that under Chapter 30, if your tuition is less than your monthly payment would be, you are essentially forfeiting that money.*
  • If you use your Chapter 33 benefits while still on active duty, you WILL NOT receive your monthly housing allowance OR your book stipend. The VA will cover only your tuition while on active duty.*
  • Both of these programs will only allow you to take classes necessary to get your degree. What does this mean? It means that you might want to consider waiting to apply any potential elective credits from your SMART transcript or CLEP tests to your degree until you are almost finished, in case you need to fill a hole in your schedule, so it can be covered, and you can still be considered full-time.

*If you are thinking about using your GI Bill while still on active duty, I highly recommend looking into tuition assistance or some type of financial aid before dipping into your GI Bill to ensure that you get maximum benefits.

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