How to Extend Your GI Bill Benefits
One of the most helpful benefits earned by U.S. veterans is their GI Bill, which can assist them in paying for their continuing education and make their transition into civilian life easier and more successful.
That said, there are specific time limitations and other restrictions, so understanding these can impact how much a veteran can get out of his or her education benefits.
Ways to Extend Your GI Bill Benefits
It’s first important to understand the most popular bills available to active duty veterans:
1. Montgomery GI Bill
The first is the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB), which service members buy into at the beginning of their military career with a $1,200 payment ($100 for 12 months). Once they have completed a minimum service obligation, they are entitled to receive a monthly education benefit based on the number of educational hours they are pursuing. These funds are paid directly to the student and can be used towards business technical, college or vocational courses, as well as certification test and flight training. These funds are available for up to 36 academic months (or eight semesters), which totals up to approximately four years of courses and up to $69,000, depending on how many courses you take each semester. The MGIB is good for 10 years after your separation from the military.
2. Post-9/11 GI Bill
The second option is the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which does not require a pay-in, but is available to any veteran who has served at least 90 days of active duty starting after 9/10/01, and who has received an honorable discharge. To qualify for the maximum amount of benefits payable, you have to have served for at least three years on active duty or have been discharged with a service-related disability. Shorter service periods have a tiered percentage of funds. Students using the Post-9/11 GI Bill are eligible to receive all tuition and fee payments for an in-state school (paid directly to the institution), as well as a monthly housing allowance (typically the same as the BAH rate for that area) and a yearly book and supplies stipend (paid directly to the student).
One option for making the most of your GI Bill benefits is to strategically pick which program best suits your situation. If you are eligible for both programs and have paid into the MGIB, you may choose to utilize the MGIB benefits first since they last for only 10 years, whereas the Post-9/11 benefits can be used over 15 years. In some cases, you can use the 36 hours of eligibility from the MGIB and then transfer over to the Post-9/11 Bill program, so that you can receive an additional 12 months of supported schooling. Keep in mind that any veteran may only use any combination of the GI Bills for up to 48 academic months total. Additionally, it’s important to consider the amount of courses you will be taking and the overall cost, as you may be facing out-of-pocket expenses if your costs exceed the cap set by the MGIB.
Something else to consider is that if you instead decide to first use your Post-9/11 benefits, you may be entitled to refund of your $1,200 investment under very specific conditions. For example, you must have completely used up all of your Post-9/11 bill eligibility and support, and still be within the 10 year time limit from separation. The refund amount will be prorated based on how much, if any, of the benefit you have used to date and you will receive the refund with your final BAH payment.
Reasons for an Extension of GI Bill Benefits
Veterans with certain extenuating circumstances may be eligible to receive an extension on their 10-15 year eligibility time limit for their GI Bill. For example:
- You experienced an illness or disability that prevented you from attending school
- You served a later period active duty for 90 consecutive days or more
- You were detained by a foreign government or power after your last discharge or release from active duty
The condition being cited must be proven by the proper documentation and a letter requesting an extension. You can send in your documentation via the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) website, or mailed to your local Regional Processing Office via regular mail.
Finally, one new option for extending a GI Bill is the proposed GI Bill STEM Extension Act of 2017. This bill, currently introduced to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, would allow for additional benefits to be extended to veterans who have exhausted their GI Bill benefits and are enrolled as science/technology/engineering/math (STEM) majors in fields that lead to a post-secondary degree requiring more than the standard 128 semester credit hours. Students must already have a post-secondary degree in one of the included STEM fields and be currently enrolled in the same field leading to a teaching certification.
Examples of included STEM fields are:
- Biology or physical science
- Computer and information science
- A health profession or a medical residency program
- Mathematics, engineering or statistics
- Science technologies
Eligible veteran-students would receive a $30,000 payout to cover nine months of instruction. Total program payout for the program is capped at $100 million per year, enough to fund more than 3,000 students per year. This initiative helps support former President Obama’s “100k in 10” movement with the mission to supply 100,000 teachers in STEM subjects by the year 2021; the program is approximately 50% to this goal. The purpose of the movement is to help train the next generation of engineers and scientists by providing more STEM teachers, thereby keeping the U.S. more globally competitive in these fields.
It is always a good plan to discuss your options with your Education Service Officer before using your GI Bill or taking any college classes. Additional support may be found though your local VA Regional Office, or your state’s Veteran Service Officers.
Written by Megan Hammons