Note: Congress has made significant enhancements to the GI Bill for military members (active duty, Guard, and Reserves) with post 9/11 active duty service. For details, see the article, Congress Revamps GI Bill.
While most people think of the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) as a military benefit, in actuality the program is not managed by the Department of Defense, nor any branch of the U.S. Military. The Montgomery GI Bill is actually a "Veteran Benefit," and is managed by the Veterans Administration (VA), who administer the program based upon laws enacted by Congress.
In a nutshell, the Active Duty Montgomery G.I. Bill (ADMGIB) grants $47,556 worth of education benefits, in exchange for an enlistment period of at least three years in the United States Military, along with a reduction in pay of $1,200 ($100 per month) for the first year of service. The ADMGIB grants $38,628 worth of education benefits for those who enlist for less than three years (this is mostly the two-year enlistment option for the Army). This still requires a reduction of pay of $100 per month for the first 12 months of service.
NOTE: Those who go onto active duty on or after August 9, 2009 will no longer be able to elect the ADMGIB. Instead, they will be automatically eligible for the new GI Bill.
One must elect whether or not to participate in the ADMGIB during basic training or time of enlistment on active duty. If one declines the ADMGIB, they can't change their mind later. If one elects to participate and then changes their mind later, or if they are discharged before they become eligible to use the benefits, they don't get any of the money back that was taken out of their pay. This is because (the way the law is worded), it's a "reduction in pay," not a "contribution."
One can either use their ADMGIB benefits while on active duty or after discharge/retirement (or one can use part of the benefits while on active duty, and then the remaining benefits after discharge/retirement). To use the ADMGIB while on active duty, one must first serve two continuous years of active duty before they can use any of the benefits. In any case, benefits automatically expire ten years after discharge or retirement. Because all of the services now offer 100 percent Tuition Assistance (TA) while on active duty, and because the ADMGIB pays more when going to school after military service than it does while on active duty (I'll explain this in a later section), most military members elect to use TA while on active duty, and save their ADMGIB benefits until after they leave the military.
It may surprise you to learn that not everyone who enters active duty is eligible to participate in the ADMGIB. You are not eligible to participate if:
- You declined the ADMGIB in writing upon entry to active duty.
- You were commissioned through a Service Academy (West Point, Air Force Academy, Naval Academy, Coast Guard Academy, etc.) Exception: If you qualified for the ADMGIB because of a previous term of enlistment, you don't lose it by graduating from a service academy.
- You were commissioned through an ROTC Scholarship and received more than $2,000 in ROTC scholarship funds in any one academic year (Note: This changed to $3,400 per year effective December 27, 2001). As with Service Academy commissions, if you fully qualified for the ADMGIB before being commissioned through an ROTC Scholarship, through a previous enlistment period, this doesn't apply.
To qualify to use your ADMGIB benefits after getting out of the military:
- You must have an HONORABLE discharge ("General, under Honorable Conditions" doesn't count).
- If you enlisted for a period of three or more years, you must serve for at least three years on active duty (there are some exceptions, explained below).
- If you enlisted for a period of fewer than three years, such as the two-year enlistment option offered by the Army, you must serve at least two years on active duty (same exceptions, below, apply).
In addition to the above, before you can use any of your ADMGIB benefits (either while on active duty, or after separation), you must first have a high school diploma, a GED, or at least 12 college credits.
If You Separate Early
If you don’t complete the required period of service, you may still be eligible for MGIB if you were discharged early for one of the following reasons:
- Medical Disability
- Pre-existing Medical Condition
- A condition that interfered with the performance of duty
- A reduction in force (RIF)—(Only certain RIFs qualify; check with your Education Service Officer.)
- Convenience of the Government.
- Note: If the "Reason for Discharge" on your DD Form 214 (Record of Separation) is, for this reason, you must have served at least 30 months if your enlistment contract was for three or more years, or at least 20 months if your enlistment contract was for less than three years.
Note: If you're discharged early, your ADMGIB benefit rates will be reduced accordingly. If you’re separated for one of these reasons, you'll receive one month of entitlement for each month of active duty (up to 36 months) after June 30, 1985. For example, if you're discharged after 19 months for hardship, and you meet the other eligibility requirements, you'll receive 19 months of ADMGIB benefits.
Caution: If you leave early, don’t assume your separation reason meets the requirements for the ADMGIB!
Check with your Education Service Officer well in advance of separating, to make sure you don’t lose your ADMGIB benefits!
College Loan Repayment and the ADMGIB
Federal law prohibits the VA from paying benefits under the College Loan Repayment Program and the ADMGIB for the same enlistment period. Additionally, the ADMGIB law states that if one declines the ADMGIB, in writing, they are not eligible for the benefit.
The military services require one to officially decline the ADMGIB, in writing, in order to participate in the College Loan Repayment Program (CLRP). However, there are thousands of service members who fell through the crack: the services didn’t require them to sign a statement declining the ADMGIB in basic, and they still participated in the service’s college loan repayment program.
If you didn’t decline ADMGIB and received loan repayment, you can still be eligible for ADMGIB. But the months counted toward your loan repayment will be subtracted from your total months of ADMGIB benefits.
The maximum number of months you receive under ADMGIB is 36. So, if the military service made three annual payments toward your college loan, this would leave you with no ADMGIB entitlement. If the military made two annual payments toward your loan repayment, you could still have 12 months of ADMGIB entitlement.
However, if you received loan repayment for one period of active duty, you can still be eligible for up to 36 months of benefits based on another period of active duty, as long as you haven’t declined ADMGIB.
The VA uses the term "entitlement" to mean the number of months of benefits you may receive. Under the ADMGIB, one is entitled to 36 months worth of full-time benefits. Therefore, to find the maximum entitlement, one takes the maximum monthly payment and muliplies it by 36.
If you use your ADMGIB after separation from the military, you would receive the following monthly payments while attending college:
Enlistment Period of Three or More Years:
- Full Time Student: $1,321.00 per month
- 3/4 Time Student: $990.75 per month
- Half Time Student: $660.50 per month
- Less than 1/2 time but more than 1/4 Time: $660.50
- 1/4 time or less: $330.25
Note: For anything less than 1/2 time, the MGIB reimburses tuition and fees *up to* the amounts specified. In other words, if you're only taking one course, and it costs $90.00 per month, you'll only receive $90.00 per month. The above rates would be paid until your entire entitlement ($47,556) is used. In other words, full-time students would receive $1,321.00 per month for up to 36 months, 1/2 time students would receive $990.75 per month for up to 72 months, etc.
Enlistment Period of Fewer than Three Years:
- Full-Time Student: $1073.00 per month
- 3/4 Time Student: $804.75 per month
- 1/2 time Student: $536.50
- Less than 1/2 time but more than 1/4 Time: $536.50
- 1/4 time or less: $268.25
The above rates would be paid until your entire entitlement ($38,628) is used.
Full time generally means taking at least 12 credit hours in a term or 24 clock hours per week. 3/4 time generally means taking at least 9 credit hours in a term or 18 clock hours per week. Halftime generally means taking at least 6 credit hours in a term or 12 clock hours per week. 1/4 time generally means taking at least 3 credit hours in a term or 6 clock hours per week.
For approved programs in college and vocational or technical schools, basic payments are monthly and the rates are based on your training time. When you train at less than half time, you’ll be paid tuition and fees. But if tuition and fees amount to more than you would be paid at the half-time rate (or the quarter-time rate if you’re training at quarter-time or less), your payments will be limited to the half-time (or the quarter-time rate).
For on-the-job training (OJT) and apprenticeship programs, rates are monthly and based on your length of time in the program. Your MGIB rates decrease as your wages increase according to an approved wage schedule.
For correspondence courses, you receive 55% of the approved charges for the course.
For flight training, you receive 60% of the approved charges for the course.
For reimbursement of tests for licenses or certifications, you receive 100% of the charges up to a maximum of $2,000 per test.
The basic monthly rates increase October 1 every year with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increase. They may increase at other times by an act of Congress
Increases Above Basic Rates
You may qualify for the following increases above your basic monthly rates. These increases don’t apply to correspondence courses, the test for a license or certification, or flight training.
College Fund. Your branch of service may offer the College Fund. The College Fund money is an additional amount of money that increases your basic MGIB monthly benefit and is included in your VA payment.
Important: You can’t receive your College Fund money without receiving ADMGIB. A common misunderstanding is that the College Fund is a separate benefit from ADMGIB. The College Fund is an add-on to your ADMGIB benefit.
Increase based on contributions you make up to $600. There was a period of time between 1 Nov 2000 and 1 May 2001 where active duty members were allowed to contribute up to $600 extra to their MGIB fund. Those who chose to do so receive $3.00 in additional education benefits for each $1.00 paid. So, if someone kicked in $600 during this period, their maximum education benefits would be increased by $1,800.
Example. Let's say you have the ADMGIB for a four-year enlistment and a College Fund of $10,000. Your total education entitlements are the ADMGIB ($47,556), plus the "kicker" ($10,000), or $57,556 total. Divide that number by 36 and you get $1,598.77 worth of full-time education benefits, per month, for 36 months. This is how much you would receive if you attended school full time, after separation from active duty.
Using the ADMGIB While on Active Duty
Your maximum monthly rate is the basic rate plus any increases payable. See Increases Above Basic Rates. However, while you’re on active duty, you won’t be able to receive these increased rates unless you take expensive courses because you’re limited to payment of tuition and fees.
For example, assume you’re on active duty, and your basic monthly ADMGIB rate for full-time training is $1,321. Assume you have an additional monthly amount of $300 from the College Fund (see Increases Above Basic Rates), so your ADMGIB monthly rate is $1,621.
You’re training full-time for the semester September 10, 2008, through December 8, 2008. These dates add up to 90 days, or three months exactly. The total charges for your courses are $1,500. You would only be paid $500 per month for the three months of the course (a total of $1,500), because that is the cost of the course and fees.
After you’re honorably discharged, you’d be able to receive $1,621 per month for the three months of the course (the basic ADMGIB rate plus the College Fund), regardless of the cost of the course.
Even though, while on active duty, you may receive a lower monthly rate than your basic MGIB rate, you’ll use your MGIB entitlement at the same rate as if you were receiving your full monthly allowance. You’ll be charged one month for each full-time month of training.
Combined VA Education Benefits
You can be eligible for more than one education benefit. If you are, you must elect which benefit to receive. You can’t receive payment for more than one benefit at a time. The benefits are:
- Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty Educational Assistance Program (MGIB – AD)
- Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve Educational Assistance Program (MGIB – SR)
- Training and Rehabilitation for Veterans With Service-Connected Disabilities, (Vocational Rehabilitation)
- Post-Vietnam Era Veterans' Educational Assistance Program (VEAP)
- Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA)
- Educational Assistance Test Program (Section 903)
- Educational Assistance Pilot Program (Section 901), and
- The Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986.
Maximum Combined Eligibility
If you're eligible under more than one VA education program, you may receive a maximum of 48 months of benefits.
For example, if you are eligible for 36 months of ADMGIB and 36 months of the Reserve MGIB, you may receive 48 months of benefits, total.
Note: If you are eligible for both the ADMBIG and the new GI Bill of the 21st Century, you cannot combine the benefits. You must choose to use one or the other. If you elect to covert from the MGIB to the new GI Bill, you cannot return back to the MGIB. Additionally, you can only convert unused benefits. In other words, if you have 24 months of MGIB benefits left, and you convert to the new GI Bill, you will have only 24 months of benefits left on the new GI Bill.
Expiration of Benefits
Benefits end 10 years from the date of your last discharge or release from active duty.
The VA can extend your 10-year period by the amount of time you were prevented from training during that period because of a disability or because you were held by a foreign government or power.
The VA can also extend your 10-year period if you reenter active duty for 90 days or more after becoming eligible. The extension ends 10 years from the date of separation from the later period. Periods of active duty of fewer than 90 days can qualify you for extensions only if you were separated for
- A service-connected disability
- A medical condition existing before active duty
- Hardship, or
- A reduction in force.
If you’re eligible based on two years of active duty and four years in the Selected Reserve, you have 10 years from your release from active duty , or 10 years from the completion of the four-year Selected Reserve obligation to use your benefits, whichever is later.
Training Courses Eligible
You may receive benefits for a wide variety of training, including:
- An undergraduate or graduate degree at a college or university. You may take a cooperative training program. You may also take an accredited independent study program leading to a standard college degree.
- A certificate or diploma from a business, technical, or vocational school.
- An apprenticeship or OJT program offered by a company or union. Apprenticeships or OJT programs may offer an alternative to college or vocational school for helping you gain experience in the field you choose.
- A correspondence course.
- Flight training. You must have a private pilot certificate and meet the medical requirements for the desired certificate before beginning training.
- Programs overseas that lead to a college degree.
Caution: A State agency or VA must approve each program offered by a school or company.
Remedial, Deficiency or Refresher Training
You may receive benefits for remedial or deficiency courses if you need them to assist you in overcoming a weakness in a particular area of study. The courses must be necessary for your program of education.
Refresher training is for technological advances that occurred in a field of employment. The advance must have occurred while you were on active duty or after your separation.
The VA must charge entitlement for these courses.
Tests, Licenses, and Certifications
You may receive benefits for a test you take to obtain a license or certification. You can’t receive benefits for other fees relating to a license or certification. (However, many courses leading to a license or certification are also approved for benefits).
You may take as many tests as you need. You don’t have to pass the test to receive benefits. You can receive benefits to retake a test you failed and to renew or update your license or certificate.
You can receive reimbursement for the cost of the test, up to $2,000.
You may receive a special allowance for individual tutoring if you train in school at one-half time or more. To qualify, you must have a deficiency in a subject, making the tutoring necessary. The school must certify the tutor's qualifications and the hours of tutoring.
If eligible, you may receive a maximum monthly payment of $100. The maximum total benefit is $1,200.
The VA won’t charge you entitlement for the first $600 of tutorial assistance. For payments beyond $600, the VA figures your entitlement charge by dividing the amount they paid beyond $600 by your full-time rate for schooling.
You may be eligible for an additional allowance under a work-study program. Under the work-study program, you work for VA and receive an hourly wage. You may do outreach work under the supervision of a VA employee, prepare and process VA paperwork, work at a VA medical facility, or other approved activities.
You must train at the three-quarter or full-time rate. The maximum number of hours you may work is 25 times the number of weeks in your enrollment period. Payments will be at the Federal or State minimum wage, whichever is greater.
Restrictions on Training
You may not receive benefits for the following courses:
- Bartending and personality development courses.
- Non-accredited independent study courses.
- Any course given by radio.
- Self-improvement courses such as reading, speaking, woodworking, basic seamanship, and English as a second language.
- Any course that is avocational (not related to employment) or recreational in character.
- Farm cooperative courses.
- Audited courses.
- Courses that don’t lead to an educational, professional, or vocational objective.
- Courses you’ve taken before and successfully completed.
- Courses you take on active duty through Tuition Assistance or other Armed Forces program
- Courses you take as a Federal government employee under the Government Employees' Training Act.
- A program at a proprietary school if you’re an owner or official of the school.
The VA must reduce your benefits if you’re in a Federal, State, or local prison after being convicted of a felony.
The law Prohibits veterans and eligible dependents from receiving veterans benefits while a "fugitive," which is defined as a person fleeing to avoid prosecution, or custody or confinement after conviction, for an offense, or an attempt to commit an offense, which is a felony under the laws of the place from which the veteran flees.
If you seek a college degree, the school must admit you to a degree program by the start of your third term.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002, which was enacted December 28, 2001, contains authorization for SOME members to transfer a part of their ADMGIB benefits to their dependents. Each of the services are allowed to designate critical skills (jobs), where military members with more than six years of service (who agree to reenlist/extend for an additional four years) can transfer up to 18 months of their benefits to their dependents (spouse and/or children). However, to date, none of the services have designated any jobs to be eligible for this provision. So, as it stands at this time, this is a provision that is not in use by any of the services.
Exception: Beginning in 2006, the Army is allowing some active duty soldiers to transfer a portion of their benefits to their spouses, under a special Army test-program. See related article.
Submitting an Application for Benefits
You can get and submit the application (VA Form 22-1990) in several ways:
- You can complete and submit the application online. Just go to www.gibill.va.gov and click on "Electronic Application Form."
- You can also print out the form from the above site and mail it to the VA regional office that processes your claim.
- Call 1-888-GIBILL-1 (1-888-442-4551) and request the form. (Unfortunately, you may have difficulty getting through quickly at the toll-free number, especially when school enrollments are heavy. You may have more success by going to the Internet site).
- You may also be able to pick up the application from the school or training facility you’re attending. Most schools have counselors that will help you complete the application form.
Applying for Benefits
If you’ve decided on the program you want to take, follow these steps to apply for benefits:
FIRST, check in with the school or training facility official who certifies enrollments for VA benefits.
At a school, this official may be in one of the following offices: Financial Aid, Veterans Affairs, Registrar, Admissions, Counseling, or other office. For OJT or an apprenticeship, the official may be in the Training, Finance, Personnel, or other office.
Note: The certifying official isn’t a VA employee.
The official can tell you whether the program you want to take is approved for VA benefits. If the program is approved, the official must submit your enrollment information to VA.
SECOND, complete the application package for VA benefits and send it to the appropriate VA regional office.
Note: The certifying official may help you with this step. Many facilities will send the application package for you, including your application and certification of your enrollment. It’s a good idea because you may avoid delay in getting your benefits started if VA receives everything needed at the same time. The package consists of:
- Your completed VA Form 22-1990, Application for VA Education Benefits. If you’re on active duty, you must have your base Education Service Officer certify your application by signing in the appropriate block.
- Certification of your enrollment. The school or training official who certifies enrollments must send this information to VA. If you haven’t decided on the program you want to take, or simply want a determination of your eligibility for MGIB, just send the application (VA Form 22-1990). If you’re eligible, you’ll receive a Certificate of Eligibility showing how long you’re eligible and how many months of benefits you can receive.