Active duty troops aren’t the only ones eligible for education benefits. Guard and Reserve members also have programs available to them. For starters, the federal Tuition Assistance (TA) program, managed by the Department of Defense (DoD), can offset the cost of tuition and some fees. Additionally, there are similar state-based programs, such as Florida’s Educational Dollars for Duty (EDD), Illinois’s National Guard Grant Program, and Utah’s State Tuition Waiver Program, which can also cover or help offset the cost of tuition and fees. There are also two programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Overview and Eligibility:
Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR): Also referred to by VA as Chapter 1606, MGIB-SR is available to Guard and participating Reserve members, who have a minimum six year contract, are in good standing with their Guard/Reserve unit, have a high school diploma or GED, and have completed Initial Active Duty for Training (IADT).
Like other VA education programs, you can receive up to 36 months of this benefit and can use it before or after using other VA education benefits you may qualify for, up to a total of 48 months. However, unlike other VA education benefits, MGIB-SR/Ch 1606 doesn’t go with you when you leave the service. Once you leave the Guard/Reserve, you lose this benefit. (The one exception to this rule is if you are honorably discharged due to a disability. More details on this and other details of MGIB-SR can be found in this comprehensive VA pamphlet: http://www.gibill.va.gov/documents/pamphlets/ch1606_pamphlet.pdf.)
Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP): While MGIB-SR is open to all Guard and Reserve members who meet the basic eligibility, REAP, also known by the VA as Chapter 1607, is only open to those Guard and Reserve individuals who have been called to active duty due to war or a national emergency after September 11, 2001 for a period of 90 days or more. (Calls to active duty for other reasons, such as training, do not count).
VA must confirm your eligibility with DoD or the Department of Homeland Security before it can begin making payments. Therefore, you need to be sure that your deployments are entered correctly in your service branch’s personnel system. If corrections to your eligibility need to be made, you would go through your unit, not VA, to make those changes.
Note: As the same service that qualifies you for REAP may also qualify you for Post-9/11 GI Bill, I recommend you compare the two benefits to see which would pay more. Especially as, in general, Post-9/11 can be taken with you and used after you have left the Reserves/Guard, while REAP can only be taken with you in certain circumstances. (A full explanation of those circumstances and other details of the REAP program can be found at: http://www.gibill.va.gov/documents/pamphlets/ch1607_pamphlet.pdf.) If you aren’t sure what percentage of Post-9/11 you might qualify for or what the pros and cons to each choice might be, I recommend calling your school’s VA School Certifying Official (SCO) and they can help walk you through which might be a better choice.
Both: Both programs can potentially be combined with the federal or state tuition assistance programs mentioned above and/or federal financial aid programs (which will be discussed in Friday’s blog). You can find more about what state programs might be available in your state, how much they cover, and what the eligibility requirements are by going to your state’s Department of Education website or going to, http://myarmybenefits.us.army.mil/Home/Benefit_Library/State__Territory_Benefits.html, which has a good wrap up, searchable by state.
MGIB-SR: As of 1 Oct 2013, the maximum stipend for full time training is $362 a month.
REAP: REAP’s stipend payments are significantly more than MGIB-SR’s and are calculated as a percentage of the MGIB (Active Duty) rate. This percentage is based on the amount of qualifying time you spent on Active Duty and goes from 40-80% percent of the MGIB Active Duty amount. As of 1 Oct 2013, that range is between $659.20 for a full time, undergraduate student who has 90-364 qualifying days and $1,318.40 for a full time student with 2 years of more of qualifying service.
Additionally, if you choose to pay into the “Buy up” program, which allows you to contribute up to $600 in return for additional monies while using your REAP, you could receive a higher stipend. Paying into the program could add up to an additional $150 to your monthly stipend. The scale for each contribution amount and its resulting stipend boost can be found at http://www.gibill.va.gov/resources/benefits_resources/rates/600_buyup.html.
How to initiate benefits:
- Complete your school’s admission and registration process.
- Then, as with all VA education benefits, you will need to apply for whichever program you plan to use, MGIB-SR/Ch 1606 or REAP/Ch 1607, using the Veterans Online Application (VONAPP) at http://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/.
- Print a copy of your application and bring it and your supporting documentation to your School Certifying Official (SCO) so he/she can report to VA that you are enrolled in classes and wish to start receiving your benefits. Supporting documentation is:
- MGIB-SR only: DD-Form 2384-1 Notice of Basic Eligibility (NOBE). This can be obtained from your unit (most likely from your unit training officer, though your commander will have to sign off on it).
- REAP only: Copy of your DD-214(s) that show your qualifying service
- If you have already received your VA Letter (or Certificate) of Eligibility showing that you are eligibile for the benefit, you can bring that instead of the application and supporting documentation. (Basically, the SCO just needs to see that you qualify for what you say you qualify for.)
- Also, if you are using TA or another tuition assistance program, you will need to bring a copy of the approved authorization to the school. (Generally, this needs to go to the financial aid, bursar, or business office but your SCO may also be able to help with that, or at least point you in the right direction.)
- Once your SCO has submitted your certification to the VA, VA will confirm with DoD that you meet the eligibility requirements and then process your certification. You should receive an e-mail and/or a letter in the mail once this has been done.
- Verify your attendance via VA’s W.A.V.E. system in order to receive payment. This step must be done every month (on the last day of the month or the first day of the following month) or you will not be paid. Details on W.A.V.E. can be found at: http://www.gibill.va.gov/resources/verify_attendance/.
- You should start receiving payment the month after your classes start, though it can also be later than that. If you don’t get paid, contact your SCO or the VA education line at 1-888-442-4551.
Other tips for using either of these benefits:
- While serving as an SCO, we had several instances where the W.A.V.E. phone system did not record attendance verifications like it was supposed to, so I recommend using the online verification option.
- Your SCO will have to certify you every term so you need to stay in contact with him/her to be sure he/she is aware of your current term’s enrollment and that you wish to use benefits for that term.
- If you are unexpectedly deployed or called to active duty for unanticipated training during a term, you may be able to withdraw from classes without owing VA any money and, depending on state law, without any academic penalty. If you find yourself in this situation, speak to your SCO about the steps you need to take on both the academic and VA sides.
- Also, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, if you left active duty and joined the Guard/Reserves, and you qualify for one or both of these benefits and also qualify for MGIB and Post-9/11, you can give up MGIB-SR or REAP instead of MGIB in order to elect Post-9/11. Giving up MGIB-SR and keeping MGIB Active Duty can make up to a $14,000 difference in your stipend amount.
My sister just read through this post and her comment was, “Wow, this stuff is complicated.” She’s right. VA education benefits have hundreds of pages dictating who can qualify for them and how they work. (VA’s “pamphlet” on REAP, for example, is some 68 pages – and that’s just one benefit.) I’ve just touched on some of the basics here but hopefully I’ve given you a few places to look for further information and some idea of what questions you should be asking about your benefits. If there’s anything you think I left out, let me know and I’ll do my best to address it in a future post.
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