Post-9/11 GI Bill vs Montgomery GI Bill

“They told me the Post-9/11 GI Bill was way better, so I gave up my MGIB.”

Having spent most of the last two years as a Veterans Administration (VA) School Certifying Official (SCO), I heard this phrase a lot from newly minted veterans and servicemembers about to make the transition. Generally, “they” were right. While the traditional MGIB only pays a stipend, the Post-9/11 GI Bill pays a stipend plus tuition and fees (at the in state rate) and up to $1000 per year for books. However, there are situations when the MGIB is a better deal and making that irreversible decision without having all the facts could potentially cause you to lose out on up to $14,000. (Yes, I said $14,000.)

So, when should you hang on to your MGIB? Before I answer that, let me just say that what I am going to list below are some situations where the traditional MGIB might be better than the Post-9/11 GI Bill. However, each veteran’s service record and individual situation can affect which is the better option and you should fully research the options using the VA’s official education website (www.gibill.va.gov) and call the VA education line at 1-888-442-4551 with any specific questions pertaining to your individual case. Now that I’ve given the required “don’t blame me” qualifier, here are some scenarios:

1)      You plan to join the Guard or Reserves after leaving Active Duty: Federal regulations require than an individual who qualifies for more than one VA education benefit give one up in order to accept the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit. However, contrary to rumor, it does not have to be the MGIB that is given up. Guard and Reserve members can qualify for educational benefits called the Montgomery GI Bill - Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) and/or Reserve Education Assistance Program (REAP). These individuals may opt to give up one of these benefits instead. Electing to give up one of these and keep your MGIB could net you up to an additional $14,000 since MGIB-SR and REAP don’t pay that much. (Full details on MGIB-SR and REAP will be explained in tomorrow’s blog.)

2)      You plan to take all your classes online: Under the Post-9/11 rules, at least one undergraduate class per term must be taken in a “brick-and-mortar” setting (aka fully on campus) in order to receive the full housing allowance. Taking all online or a combination between online and hybrid classes significantly reduces the housing allowance for Post-9/11 students.

For example, let’s say you are living in zip code 93950 (Pacific Grove, CA), are 100% Post-9/11 eligible and are taking a full time load with at least one traditional, residential class. Your housing allowance would be $1920 a month. If, however, you take a full load of online only or online/hybrid classes, your housing would be only $714.50 a month.

If you use the MGIB in this situation, you would receive $1662, regardless of whether you are taking online or residential classes. Of course, if you use the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you also get tuition and fees paid for and a book stipend so you’ll need to do the math to determine which scenario is more beneficial for you personally. Which brings me to my next scenario.

3)      You have another way to pay for your tuition and fees: A lot of students are under the impression that if they get a VA education benefit, they don’t qualify for any other aid. That is incorrect. VA education benefits are special and are excluded from many of the rules that prevent double dipping, to use a term we are all familiar with. If you qualify for a scholarship or other federal aid, you can use those to pay for your tuition and fees, and in some cases books, and still receive your VA benefits. If you have other resources to cover tuition and fees and books, then you should compare the Post-9/11 housing allowance for your area and determine if it is higher than the $1662 MGIB stipend. (Post-9/11 housing rates are based on the active duty, E-5 with dependents rate for the zip code of your school.)

4)      You plan on attending school only part time: In order to receive any housing allowance from the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you must be attending at more than 50% “rate of pursuit.” That’s a VA term that basically means you have to go more than half time (for general undergraduate credits on a semester term that works out to 7 credits or more per term). Most undergraduate classes are only 3 credits each. Therefore, you generally have to take 3 classes to get any pay under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Under the MGIB, however, you only have to attend half time to get any housing. So, if you plan on only taking two classes at a time, and they are each 3 credits, you would get a prorated stipend under MGIB but no housing at all under Post-9/11.

5)      You didn’t serve long enough on active duty to qualify for Post-9/11 at the 100% rate: To fully qualify for MGIB, you must have served 36 months or more (not counting basic and AIT/tech school, as any time DoD paid for you to train does not count as far as VA is concerned). If you leave before the 36 month mark, you may have the option to pay the rest of the money into the MGIB and come out with, for example, two years of full MGIB benefits.

If, however, you leave active duty before hitting that same 36 month mark for Post-9/11, you will be rated at less than 100%. Let’s say you served 11 months. That puts you at a 50% rating for Post-9/11 (the full percentage scale can be found on the VA’s GI Bill webpage). Using the example of the 93950 housing stipend from earlier, you would get $960 a month if you were going full time on campus, plus $500 a year for books, and half of your tuition and fees paid for. Again, it comes down to doing the numbers and seeing which benefits you more.

6)      You served long enough to qualify for both MGIB and Post-9/11: If you served more than 36 months (not counting basic and AIT/tech school, as listed above) and you paid into the MGIB, you may qualify for both benefits. Under federal regulation, you can use a combination of VA education benefits, up to 48 months total (with one exception, which pertains to dependents and will be discussed later this week). If you qualify for and use all 36 months of your MGIB, you can get an additional year of Post-9/11 at whatever percentage you qualify. So, for example, if you served 48 months, you could get full MGIB for 36 months, and then 12 months of Post-9/11 GI Bill at approximately the 60% rate.

One thing to be careful of if you choose this route - you need to be sure that you use every last day of your MGIB before switching over to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. If you switch over before you have exhausted your MGIB benefit, you only get as many days of Post-9/11 benefit as you had left of MGIB. Even if you have one day of MGIB left, you would only get one day of Post-9/11, instead of 12 months.

Have I confused you yet? As with everything else government related, there are tiny print rules and weird loopholes that can greatly impact your benefits so doing your homework to make sure you are maximizing the benefits you earned is important. If you need more guidance than I provided here, feel free to write a comment or drop me an e-mail and I will try to answer. Also, I recommend exploring the VA website and/or contacting the call center. You can also try calling the college/university you are thinking of attending directly and ask to speak to the School Certifying Official.

© 2013 - 2014, After the DD-214. All rights reserved.

10 thoughts on “Post-9/11 GI Bill vs Montgomery GI Bill

  1. damon

    Sara help! (side note- this is prob one of the best posts i have seen on the differences in benefits available to service members) better than the VA site, thats for sure….

    hopefully i don’t lose you-

    i qualify as you stated under #6 i served AD from 95-08 got out for 30 days came back in to the reserves on a 1 year contract and accepted an AGR position in 08 since 08 i have been on AD. Still am.

    Im trying to make the decision to apply for MGIB over the Post 9/11. mainly because I’m still AD and will be taking fully online classes. a few questions no one can seem to answer for me or get me to the right spot are as follows:
    1. as an AGR i am eligible for Reserve TA, i am assuming i can apply for TA and the MGIB together. is this correct?

    2. just to clarify- if i can’t use the Reserve TA and do not qualify for financial aid, taking the MGIB would ONLY give me the monthly payment correct? and then if i needed to i could apply for “top-up” to pay for tuition? in this specific case, it would give me less money monthly in my pocket as opposed to taking the election and going post 9-11?

    3. referes to your first point. No one seems to be able to tell me if i am eligible for the reserve Gibill since i haven’t fully executed a 6 year reserve contract. although i am on an “indef” now and AGR. The only reason i care is this is the benefit i would give up. How can i figure this out?

    hopefully this all makes sense. Thank you in advanced for any light you can shed on this situation.

    Reply
    1. Captain

      Post author

      Damon,

      Well, that is some question! I will attempt to answer it all here. If I can’t, I will also e-mail you and we can continue the discussion offline.

      1) Actually, DoD policy prohibits servicemembers from receiving MGIB for the same classes for which they are receiving federal TA. You can apply one or the other to a specific class UNLESS you use top-up, in which case the VA would pay the difference above what TA covers. HOWEVER, AGR personnel are not authorized to use top-up. DoD’s rules, however, apply to FEDERAL TA – Guard members may be eligible for state TA – here in Florida it is called EDD (Education Dollars for Duty), which does not fall under the same rules. Contact your unit education officer to determine if state TA is available and, if so, if you are eligible for it.

      2) MGIB does pay the monthly stipend directly to you and you would have to pay your tuition and fees out of that money. Most likely, Post-9/11 would be a better financial choice, since it would cover the tuition and fees, up to the limit, as well as housing and a book stipend. However, if you were taking classes online, for example, MGIB might be the better choice – hard to say for sure without looking at how you plan to take your classes, how many of them you plan to take in a semester, the housing allowance for your area, etc.

      Also, I suggest filling out the FAFSA, even if you think you won’t qualify for financial aid, since it is often required in order to qualify for school-based aid, need grants, or scholarships.

      3) To qualify for MGIB-SR, also called Chapter 1606, generally requires “a 6-year obligation” and to be in good standing with your unit. Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about how AGR works to know if you’ve met that requirement. My recommendation would be to either contact your unit education officer, since they are usually responsible for providing this type of information to VA for verification of eligibility, (I would also ask them about your eligibility for REAP/Ch 1607) or simply go onto ebenefits and apply for it and see what VA says.

      While you are in there, I would also apply for MGIB (but NOT Post-9/11). It won’t hurt anything to apply for both and VA will then evaluate your records and tell you if you qualify for one or both benefits, at which point you can then decide which, if any, benefit you would like to give up in order to receive Post-9/11. One thing you can do on your own is to talk to finance to determine if you paid the $1200 required to qualify for MGIB. (Unlike the other benefits, which are based largely on service and character of discharge, MGIB requires that servicemembers pay this amount, generally taken out in $100 increments over your first 12 months of service, in order to earn MGIB benefits.)

      I hope this has clarified some of your questions, or at least given you a place to start to find answers. If there is anything else I can answer for you, please let me know.

      Sarah

      Reply
  2. Jason Parks

    Hello,

    I had a question regarding #6 in your list. I was just recently medically retired and have been using my MGIB for the past several months. I made the decision not to switch to the post 9/11 until I had a firm grasp on both the benefits.

    I’m just trying to understand #6 a little more clearly. I served for 10 years, so if I am understanding you correctly, I can keep my MGIB, exhaust every day of it, and still obtain 12 months of the post 9/11 at the 60% rate? I just wanted to ask that question directly.

    Thank you

    Reply
    1. Captain

      Post author

      Jason,

      The short answer is: yes. You can use all 36 months of your MGIB and then switch to Post-9/11 for another 12 months, as long as you have enough service for both (I’d have to look at your DD-214 to be able to tell you for sure, but it sounds like you do have enough service). However, it wouldn’t necessarily be 60% of Post-9/11 that you qualify for. That would depend on how many months of service you have. If you were in for 10 years and if all of it was post-9/11 time, you may even qualify for 12 months of Post-9/11 GI Bill at 100%.

      If you were medically retired, I also suggest you look into voc rehab. If you get approved for voc rehab, you could get up to 48 months of that (minus however many months you have used of MGIB) and, if you qualify for Post-9/11, you could get the Post-9/11 housing allowance rate during that time. If you are interested in pursuing that route, check out my post on Vocational Rehabilitation and be sure to talk to your voc rehab specialist about how the MGIB impacts your housing and don’t apply for (VA calls it “electing”) Post-9/11 until after you get approved for voc rehab.

      I know that’s a lot so, if you’re still confused, pop me an e-mail and we can always talk it over further.

      Sarah

      Reply
  3. Chris Reicherts

    Good information on your article with Post 9/11 GI Bill vs Montgomery GI Bill. Heres my question, can i use my Montgomery GI bill, then shortly after use my full 36 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Captain

      Post author

      Chris,

      Unfortunately, no. You can use a max of 48 months total of veterans education benefits. If you want to use Montgomery GI Bill and Post-9/11, and those are the only two options you have (meaning, you aren’t in the Guard or Reserves or you don’t qualify for Vocational Rehabilitation), then you either have to use ALL, every last day, of your Montgomery GI Bill and then you can receive another 12 months of Post-9/11. Or, you give up Montgomery GI Bill and elect 36 months of Post-9/11 and then you are out of benefits. If you choose to use both and you switch over to Post-9/11 before you have used every last day of Montgomery, you will ONLY received as many days of Post-9/11 as you had left of Montgomery – so this part is very important. If this is confusing or if you aren’t sure if you are eligible for other benefits, please e-mail me and I’ll be happy to explain more.

      Sarah

      Reply
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