Which GI Bill is Better?

Updated: July 3, 2020

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    Which GI Bill is better? The answer to that question is not as simple as you might think. In some situations one may be more advantageous than the other and much depends on the individual student’s needs and goals. One thing is Which GI Bill is Better? for sure–comparing GI Bill benefit options ahead of making a commitment to one program or the other is a very good idea.

    A Brief Background On The GI Bill

    The earliest version of the GI Bill was known as the World War Adjusted Act of 1924 which provided funds to veterans based on time spent in uniformed service. But it wasn’t until 1944 when the The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act passed–this legislation was commonly referred to at the time as the GI Bill of Rights and included loans for farms, businesses, and also provided unemployment compensation.

    These funds were paid to veterans and was not used for those still in the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps at the time. Some $4 billion in GI Bill benefits were paid to some nine million veterans between 1944 and 1949 alone, according to History.com.

    Four decades later in the mid-80s, former Mississippi Congressman Gillespie Montgomery reworked and re-submitted the GI Bill, “which has been known as the Montgomery GI Bill ever since,” according to VA.gov. Today’s GI Bill looks very little like the versions approved in the 1920s and 1940s, but each program has different features that can be used to pay for higher education at approved institutions.

    The Different Types Of GI Bill

    There are multiple versions of the GI Bill you may be eligible for; the key is determining which one is most relevant (where applicable) to the student’s educational needs and goals.

    Which GI Bill Is Better?

    Which of the GI Bill programs listed above is better? Between the MGIB-SR and the MGIB-AD, active duty benefits are the most beneficial (see below) as the Selected Reserves version pays a flat monthly rate to the recipient; one that does not include a housing stipend and (see below) comes in at under $400 in FY 2020 alone. Those numbers are subject to change. We include this dollar amount as a reference only.

    The Post 9/11 GI Bill has more flexible options including the ability to transfer to dependents (the Montgomery GI Bill does not allow transfers) and the ability to apply for Yellow Ribbon program funds to allow fully-covered attendance at a private school that charges more than the maximum tuition for state-supported, resident students.

    The GI Bill programs listed above should not be confused with other VA education benefit programs that provide funds for school but are NOT part of the GI Bill. Such programs include:

    Our article focuses on the GI Bill rather than non-GI Bill education programs.

    The Montgomery GI Bill

    There are two versions of the Montgomery GI Bill, an Active Duty and a Selected Reserve version.

    MGIB-SR Benefits For Reserve Members

    For the Selected Reserve version, also known as MGIB-SR/Chapter 1606, the VA official site lists the benefit simply as a flat amount of money (in FY 2020 that amount was listed at $384, but this amount is subject to change annually) paid for up to 36 months.

    The Active Duty version is more complex and features more education funds, as we’ll see below.

    Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty Benefits

    Those with qualifying military service may receive up to 36 months of education benefits, paid monthly directly to the student. The amount of money you get each month varies based on factors including:

    • Duration of military service
    • The type of education or training program
    • Whether you qualify “for a college fund or kicker”
    • Whether or not you have contributed to the $600 Buy-Up program

    Montgomery GI Bill funds can be used to pay for approved college coursework, but also attendance at business schools, technical, or vocational schools. You can also get an apprenticeship or on-the-job training using Montgomery GI Bill funds. There are a wide range of uses (including flight school) and there is a ten-year limit in most cases to use the benefit once you retire or separate from the military.

    The Montgomery GI Bill is not transferable to spouses or dependents, and there is no housing stipend. Any education costs above and beyond the amount paid under the GI Bill program will be the responsibility of the student.

    Is the Montgomery GI Bill better than the Post 9/11 GI Bill? In many cases you’ll find veterans saying the Post 9/11 version is better but consider what happens for students who want to attend online classes?

    Those using the Montgomery GI Bill may have the better option if they want to attend 100% online only and their per-credit cost doesn’t exceed a certain threshold–remember that the Post 9/11 GI Bill does not pay a full housing stipend (partial payments are authorized) for those attending college online-only.

    Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits

    The Post-9/11 GI Bill was created by Congress in 2008. the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act gave those on or after active duty on Sept. 11, 2001 expanded educational benefits including the ability to transfer the GI Bill to a spouse or college-age dependent child. There is also a monthly housing stipend paid based on attendance and the type of attendance (in-person, online, or a combination).

    The VA official site says at press time, up to 36 months of education benefits are available under the Post 9/11 GI Bill program including:

    • Tuition and fees–for those who qualify for 100% of the benefit, the Post 9/11 GI Bill pays “the full cost of public, in-state tuition and fees.”
    • Money for housing when attending classes more than half time.
    • Annual stipend for books and supplies (up to $1000 a year in FY 2020 as an example).
    • Transferable benefits.
    • Access to the Yellow Ribbon program which provides matching funds from participating private schools to allow attendance under the GI Bill without requiring the student to pay the difference.

    One reason why the Post 9/11 GI Bill feels complicated has to do with federal legislation which modifies the current Post 9/11 GI Bill program. What are those modifications?

    Forever GI Bill Modifications To The Post 9/11 GI Bill

    The Forever GI Bill legislation added extended GI Bill benefits to all Purple Heart recipients regardless of time served, and adds more education benefit options for transferring GI Bill access to spouses and dependents.

    The Forever GI Bill also eliminated the 15-year time limit for using the benefit for qualifying service members who were discharged on or after Jan. 1, 2013, and adds protections for GI Bill users who experience trouble with schools that close before the student can finish a degree.

    These modifications are for the Post 9/11 GI Bill only and the Forever GI Bill does not act as a new, standalone VA education program. Instead, it modifies the existing Post 9/11 program.

    When comparing options, remember that the Forever GI Bill is not a program, it is legislation affecting an existing program in ways including, but not limited to:

    • Eliminating the 15-year limitation on Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits
    • Modifying housing stipend payments
    • Authorizing GI Bill funds for work-study programs
    • Giving veterans priority enrollment educational counseling
    • Changing the rules for use of benefits at schools that close or are disqualified from the GI Bill program
    • Enhancing dependent and spouse access to the transferable GI Bill benefits

    Comparing Benefits: Montgomery GI Bill Versus Post 9/11 GI Bill

    MGIB-AD Payments: Monthly benefit paid directly to the student (up to $2,050.00 in FY 2020 as an example, but this number is subject to change) for 36 months of full-time attendance. MGIB-AD benefits increase on Oct. 1 of each year (this is based on the average undergraduate tuition in the U.S.).

    Post-9/11 GI Bill Payments: The VA will match 100 percent tuition up to the cost of the most expensive public state school’s in-state undergraduate tuition, paid directly to the school. There is also a Yellow Ribbon Program option allowing participating schools to waive some or all of the costs GI Bill funds don’t cover (with VA also pledging additional funds).

    MGIB-AD GI Bill Uses: College degree and certificate programs, technical schools, vocational courses, flight training, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training. Also eligible–technical training, licensing and certification tests, entrepreneurship training, “certain entrance examinations” and distance learning. Under MGIB-AD, students may only be approved for certain remedial, deficiency and refresher courses that meet VA requirements.

    Post 9/11 GI Bill Uses: The Post 9/11 GI Bill may be used to meet GI Bill Resident Rate Requirements, plus correspondence training, cooperative, entrepreneurship, or flight training. This GI Bill may also be used for independent study, distance learning, graduate and undergrad degrees, Vo/Tech programs, licensing and certification reimbursement, non-college degree programs, national testing, and on-the-job training.

    MGIB Program Features: 36 months of benefits (cumulative), a 10 year time limit to use the GI Bill, does not cover housing or supplies, and is not transferable. Features direct-to-student payments. No Yellow Ribbon program support, but with flexible online/in-person options.

    Post 9/11 GI Bill Features: 100% coverage of tuition and fees, book stipend, housing stipend (paid at the rate offered active duty E-5s with dependents), Yellow Ribbon program (for those with 100% benefit levels) transferable benefits (to qualifying dependents), hybrid online/in-person learning possible. You must initiate the transfer while still serving–do not wait until you retire or separate to examine this option!

    About The AuthorJoe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News

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    Written by MilitaryBenefits