Due to the tremendous educational benefits provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans often ask, can I be eligible for two or more education benefits? Great question! And, yes, veterans can be eligible for multiple benefits – but with certain restrictions. In this article, we’ll discuss how veterans can use multiple education benefits and the associated considerations.
Specifically, we’ll cover each of the following topics:
- Major Types of VA Education Benefits
- How to Use Two or More Education Benefits
- Restrictions on Using Multiple Education Benefits
- Comprehensive Benefit Examples
- Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance Exceptions
- Final Thoughts
Major Types of VA Education Benefits
Before asking about using two or more education benefits, veterans should first understand exactly what education benefits the Department of Veterans Affairs offers. While most people have heard of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, it’s certainly not the only benefit offered.
Here’s an overview of the major types of education benefits the VA makes available to veterans and, in some cases, dependents:
- Post-9/11 GI Bill: As stated, this tends to be the most widely known education benefit, as it provides veterans tremendous opportunities. Some variation of this program has existed since 1944, and the current version pays for eligible veterans to attend school for 36 months, with the program covering the costs of all tuition and fees up to the in-state, public school maximum. Additionally, this program offers veterans a tax-free housing allowance during the entire time they’re enrolled in classes.
- Yellow Ribbon Program: This program represents a collaboration between universities and the VA. For private and out-of-state schools with tuition greater than what the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers, this program states that enrolled schools will pay a portion of the gap, with the VA matching that amount. Of note, only veterans with 100% Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility may qualify for this program.
- Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD): Qualifying veterans can use this program to receive up to 36 months of education benefits (same as the Post-9/11 GI Bill). However, this program pays the veterans directly for the tuition payments, and it does not include a housing allowance.
- Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR): This program also provides eligible reserve-status veterans 36 months of tuition benefits. However, it’s important to note that this program ends when veterans leave the selected reserve. Furthermore, it does not include a housing allowance and the tuition payments are far less than either the Post-9/11 GI Bill or MGIB-AD.
- Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance (DEA) Program: This benefit isn’t for veterans, per se. Rather, it provides up to 36 months of education benefits to the children and spouses of certain veterans or service members who have died, are captured or missing, or have disabilities (restrictions apply). If eligible, the VA will send you monthly payments to cover college or graduate degree programs, certificate courses for career changes, on-the-job training, or career counseling.
- Fry Scholarship: This program also pertains to children and spouses of veterans. Specifically, it’s an academic scholarship provided to children and spouses of active-duty service members killed in the line of duty on or after Sept. 11th, 2001. This scholarship, like the Post-9/11 GI Bill, provides 36 months of tuition up to the full in-state public school tuition and a housing allowance.
How to Use Two or More Education Benefits
With all of the above options, veterans rightly ask whether they can use multiple benefits. The first thing to do is determine whether you actually qualify for more than one of the above programs. If you do, you need to take certain actions to use two or more benefits. Specifically, if eligible for more than one benefit, you need to notify the VA in writing which program you intend to use prior to enrolling in training.
Additionally, related to this notification, certain restrictions apply when using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. If you’re eligible for both the Post-9/11 GI Bill and another program (e.g. the MGIB-AD), you need to make an irrevocable election in writing prior to receiving any Post-9/11 benefits. In other words, once you begin using this program, you cannot revert back to another education benefit program with the VA.
To make this irrevocable election in writing, you can use any of the following methods:
- Send the VA a secure e-mail via its online “Ask A Question” portal.
- Make the election on your VA Form 22-1990, Application for Education Benefits.
- Add an election statement on your VA Form 22-1995, Change of Program of Place of Training.
- Visit one of the VA’s regional offices and submit a written election statement in person.
But, what if I’ve already used some of my MGIB-AD benefits but want to transfer to the Post-9/11 GI Bill?
This is another great – and frequently asked – question regarding benefit programs. If you’ve used part of your MGIB-AD benefits but want to transfer into the Post-9/11 program to take advantage of its elements, you’re typically limited to the amount of your remaining MGIB-AD entitlement. In other words, if you have 12 months of remaining MGIB-AD eligibility, when you opt into the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you’ll also have 12 months of remaining benefits.
However, in certain situations, veterans who’ve exhausted all 36 months of their MGIB-AD benefits may qualify for an additional 12 months of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. If you fall into this category, contact the VA directly to see if you qualify for this bonus entitlement.
Restrictions on Using Multiple Education Benefits
As the above section illustrates, yes, veterans may be eligible for multiple education benefits. But, the VA places restrictions on using these multiple benefits. Of note, veterans can only receive payments for one program at a time. This means that you couldn’t have the Post-9/11 GI Bill pay your school directly and give you a housing allowance while also receiving direct MGIB-AD tuition payments.
Furthermore, regardless of how many education benefits a veteran is eligible for, you can only receive a maximum of 48 months of benefits under any eligible VA education benefit programs.
NOTE: To avoid confusion, it’s important to note that the Yellow Ribbon program can – and must – be used in conjunction with the Post-9/11 GI Bill, as it inherently serves a matching function linked to this education benefit.
Comprehensive Benefit Examples
To provide more clarification on how veterans can be eligible for – and use – multiple education benefits, here are a couple real-world examples:
- MGIB-AD and MGIB-SR: If you qualify for both of these programs, you can first use 36 months of your MGIB-AD entitlement at its associated payment rate. Upon exhausting this eligibility, you can then receive an additional 12 months of entitlement at the MGIB-SR rate, combining for a total of 48 months of benefit entitlement.
- MGIB-AD and Post-9/11 GI Bill: As referenced above, many veterans qualify for both of these programs. And, while you can’t go from Post-9/11 to MGIB-AD, you can do the opposite. For example, a veteran could use 10 months of MGIB-AD, which would leave 26 months of remaining benefits. Then, he or she could make the irrevocable election to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill and use the remaining 26 months of benefits with that program.
Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance Exceptions
While different than traditional veteran education benefits, DEA and the Fry Scholarships are VA education benefits, and as such, it’s important to outline the restrictions imposed on using both of these programs.
If you’re a child or spouse eligible for both of these benefits, you must pick one or the other. And, once you make this election, you cannot switch back to the other program.
However, one exception exists to this restriction. If you’re the child of a service member who died while in the line of duty before Aug. 1, 2011, you can use both the DEA and Fry Scholarship. And, in doing so, you’ll need to use one program at a time but can receive a total of 81 months of training and education.
Generally speaking, the Post-9/11 GI Bill represents the best education benefit option for veterans. And, under certain circumstances, eligible veterans can also pass this benefit on to their spouses or children. However, in some situations, veterans may be eligible for multiple education benefits. And, as this article illustrates, veterans can use these multiple benefits, though they must understand the above restrictions.
Maurice “Chipp” Naylon spent nine years as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. He is currently a licensed CPA specializing in real estate development and accounting.
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