Can I Collect Unemployment Benefits While Using the GI Bill?

Can you attend school on the GI Bill and still receive unemployment benefits? This is a common question many people ask when they are planning on using the GI Bill to pay for their college education. Whether you are still in the planning stages of your retirement or separation from active duty, or you are taking the opportunity to go back to school after entering the workforce and subsequent unemployment, the answer is the same – yes, you can use the GI Bill while you are receiving unemployment benefits. However, you will need to be aware of how unemployment benefits work in your state to ensure you remain eligible to continue receiving unemployment benefits.

Can I Collect Unemployment Benefits While Using the GI Bill?

Let’s take a look at a recent question we received, and how this might apply to this specific situation. Keep in mind that unemployment benefit rules vary by state, so you should contact your state employment bureau for information specific to your situation.

Q: I am a US Marine and have some questions about the unemployment benefits. My EAS date is on December 16th this year. I am planning to go back to school after the military. I will try to pursue my bachelor in 3 years. In this case, I intend not to work so I can just focus on school. Will I be able to receive the unemployment benefit if I do this? I’m talking about 3 years of unemployment benefits, while attending school. Hope you will be able to answer this. thank you.

A: Leo, thanks for your service, and best of luck pursuing your education. It is a great benefit to be able to claim unemployment benefits after military separation. I recommend that everyone file for unemployment benefits immediately after they separate from military service. But there is something that you should know about unemployment benefits – they aren’t a free ride. Unemployment exists to help people bridge the gap between jobs. In most cases, states require people receiving unemployment benefits to be actively seeking employment in order to receive benefits.

What does this mean for you? Unemployment benefits are sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, but individual states are responsible for setting rules and requirements. When I claimed unemployment benefits from Texas after I separated from the military I had to keep track of my job search efforts. Each week I had to call the Texas Workforce Commission to receive my unemployment check and I had to verify (via an automated phone system) that I was actively seeking employment. It’s been several years since I did this, but I believe I had to state how many job applications I sent in, how many interviews I had, etc. Keep in mind that rules and systems change and can vary from state to state.





Unemployment benefits are limited in duration

In addition, there are time limits for how long one can claim unemployment benefits. Most states offer around 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits, but there are federal extensions which may allow you to extend the receipt of unemployment benefits by up to 20 weeks or so. Some states with exceptionally high unemployment rates may have additional extensions. So you may be eligible to receive close to a year of unemployment benefits, depending on your specific situation. Again, this may vary by state and possibly on other circumstances, so be sure to contact your state employment agency for information specific to your situation.

You may be able to receive unemployment benefits and go to school

That doesn’t mean you can’t go to school – far from it. But you need to be able to prove to your state that you still qualify for the unemployment benefits while you are attending school. For some states that may mean you need to show that you are seeking work. There is one more consideration – some states do not allow students to receive unemployment benefits. If you are in a state which does not allow students to receive unemployment benefits, you may not be able to receive unemployment benefits while receiving GI Bill benefits.

So the best way to answer your question is to say you may be able to receive unemployment benefits while using the GI Bill, but you probably won’t be able to claim 3 years of unemployment benefits while you are going to school. However, the good news is that the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits should pay for the majority of your tuition, and some of your housing costs as well, hopefully making it more affordable to go to school.

New GI Bill Program for Unemployed Veterans

The recently passed VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 created a new program that would provide GI Bill for Unemployed Veterans, even if they had exhausted their GI Bill benefits, or if their GI Bill benefits had already expired. This program will provide up to 12 months of benefits for eligible veterans at the full-time active duty MGIB rate. This program is only open to unemployed veterans age 35-60. Eligible training includes VA Approved training and courses at a community college or tech school. The courses must lead toward an Associate’s Degree, approved certification, or non-college degree in a high demand occupation. Some examples of approved programs include trucking, information technology, some medical fields, and more.

Best of luck with your degree and thanks for your service!




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Date published: February 23, 2011. Last updated: January 13, 2012.

Article by

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of this site. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years in the USAF and also writes about money management, small business, and career topics at Cash Money Life. You can also see his profile on Google

Comments

  1. Great information, Ryan. I was always curious about the answer. I didn’t know for certain until today. Thanks.

    • Romeo, A good friend of mine is receiving unemployment benefits right now while going to school full time on the Post-9/11 GI Bill. He is receiving full GI Bill benefits, including the tuition and housing stipend. So far as I know, this is all within the rights provided by the GI Bill and unemployment, because unemployment takes into consideration income earned from performing work.

  2. Really interesting. Thanks.

  3. This was so helpful. But I have 1 question. I start my terminal leave this month and I was wondering should I wait until after I am fully out of the military to file or should I as soon as I recieve my DD214?

    • Most states require you to wait at least one week from the time your work ends until you can file for unemployment benefits. If you are on terminal leave, you are technically still employed, since you are receiving full pay and benefits. It’s probably best to contact your state employment bureau for more information regarding the process for filing for unemployment benefits. That way you have all the information you need to file as soon as you are eligible. Waiting too long can prove to be very costly.

      Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  4. I separated from the Airforce two months ago. I just filed for unemployment today. Will I get back pay for the months I didnt file?

    • Gina, You generally won’t be able to receive back pay in most states. Unemployment benefits are normally paid on a weekly basis and you must file each week to receive them. You will need to contact your state employment bureau for more information specific to your situation.

  5. Great article Ryan. I just sat through 30 minutes of mind numbing hold music to get in touch with someone at the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Insurance. The information below is specific to Massachusetts and is all per their customer service center.I haven’t actually applied for benefits yet to state with absolute certainty that the information is true, but here’s what I was told:

    1. You are allowed to recieve your full Post 9-11 GI Bill benefits AND collect your full unemployment benefits (the formula to determine this is on their website: http://www.mass.gov/lwd/unemployment-insur/about-dua/)

    2. There is a waiver process in place for unemployed students wherein you do not have to actively search for a job as long as you are going to school full time.

    3. As long as you have your DD-214 in hand, you can apply for benefits the day after you seperate from the service.

    • Sean, Do you still have the number that you called. Do you have to be in the state of Massachusetts. Also do you have to be going to school in Massachusetts.

      • I don’t have the number handy but I found it after googling “Massachusetts unemployment claim”. I think it’s a subtopic in the MA department of revenue site. I’m not sure about any requirements regarding the physical location of the school.

    • Ryan – update to the post above. I am now out of the service and just got back from the unemployment office. Contrary to what I was told back in March, per the fellow at the unemployment office (who was also the Veteran’s placement rep), you are not allowed to collect unemployment in MA while recieving post 9-11 GI Bill benefits because that would be “double dipping”. That was his off the cuff response though and he did not provide me with any actual statutes or guidance which backs that up. Since there’s an obvious disconnect somewhere in the system (two different answers from two different people), I’m going to follow up and see if there is an actual rule in place or if this was just some sort of word of mouth guidance. I’ll report back with what I find out.

    • So final update to this saga:

      After not taking “no” for an answer, I finally got pointed in the direction of the MA Division of Unemployment Assistance Centralized Training Opportunities Program (TOP) Unit (19 Staniford St. Boston, MA 02114; (617)626-5375). Per the TOP Unit, full time students ARE allowed to collect unemployment while attending school full time as long as the school/training program/etc has something called a Section 30 approval and you as the student/claimant meet the Section 30 requirements (http://www.mass.gov/lwd/unemployment-insur/programs-and-services-for-claimants/section-30-training-benefits/). I verfied with the TOP unit that there is no reason that you can not collect Post 9-11 GI Bill benefits concurrently with MA unemployment benefits.

      I just went back to the MA career center/unemployment office with this information on Friday and was promptly signed up for unemployment.

      Everything worked out in the end, but it’s pretty disheartening and disapointing that the veteran’s rep at the career center, the one and only person I would expect to be in the know about veteran’s rights and entitlements, was the one who told me that I could not collect unemployment in the first place. Lesson learned, never accept word of mouth guidance in situations such as these.

  6. Just found out that in Michigan, you CAN collect both the unemployment benefits and the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. However, unemployment is for 20 weeks, and only 20 weeks. If the state legislator has a serious increase in unemployment benefits (it’s Michigan, so don’t count on it) they MAY extend the benefits beyond the 20 week time frame, depending on the percentage of the increase. The maximum unemployment rate for Michigan is $362/week (so says the Veteran Advocacy at the unemployment agency) and that amount can be collected through the 20 week period. When applying for these benefits at the same time, the unemployment agency can grant a waiver so personnel do not have to be actively engaged in job searches while enrolled as a full-time student at an in-state school. If anything changes I will be sure to update.

  7. Does anyone know about the rules and regulations for this in California?
    Also someone told me that you get unemployment from the state of the last place you worked… so if i was stationed in Fort Lewis WA but i plan to move to CA right after i leave the Army then which state do i go to for unemployment?

    • I’m not sure the rules for CA; the best thing to do is contact the state employment office for more info. I recommend filing in the state where you are a resident. If they tell you otherwise, then try filing in your previous state.

    • I was in a similar situation. My last duty station was in Washington DC, but after I got out I moved back to MA. I’m currently collection unemployment in MA, so in your situation, it seems like you should be able to collect in CA if you want/need to. But like Ryan says, every state is different so best bet is to give the unemployment office a holler to confirm.

  8. Stephanie Goins says:

    Anyone know what the rules are as far as Illinois goes?

    • I tried looking it up on the IL unemployment insurance site – http://www.ides.illinois.gov/page.aspx?item=33

      Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a definitive answer. My recommendation is to contact them via phone or e-mail and ask them for specific information, including a reference (ask for a reference that spells it out, because sometimes employees give the answers they think are true instead of researching the regs).

      Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  9. is it true you can file for unemployment in any state if you are an ex service member?

    • Ivan, You generally need to file in your state of residence, but because of the way unemployment benefits work after military service, that doesn’t have to be the state you lived in before you joined the military. In other words, you should be able to file for unemployment benefits in any state as long as you are living there and trying to find a job there. That said, each state has slightly different rules, so it’s always best to check with the employment office in the state where you plan to file a benefits claim.

  10. Anyone know rule and regs for NJ?

  11. Sherri G says:

    I have been on unemployment and have one week of benefits left. I am filing for an extension. I am starting online school in 2 weeks under the VRAP program. When I applied for the extension, the question of are you going to school came up. I answered yes. It asked if Iwill be using GI benefits…yes again. I have to pay for my schooling, so the benefits I receive will apply to that. I cannot find any information anywhere for AZ that answers my question:
    Can I go to school full time, ONLINE, collect my VRAP benefit check, and
    still be approved for EUC (emergency unemployment comp EXTENSION).
    I am awaiting paperwork from the unemployment insurance division. I would
    think since I have not been able to find work (I am almost 60) since there
    does not seem to be a huge market out there for my age group…..I would hope
    I would not be disqualified from collecting a 20 week extension of unemployment benefits. The GI bill money will not be enough to live on and pay for school. Since school is online, I would hope I could still get the extension.
    Does anyone have any information on AZ and the GI bill going to school, and
    EUC requirements?

    • Sherri, I do not have specific information for AZ. I recommend speaking with someone from the employment office on the phone or in person, and asking them to show you the exact reg that covers the situation – that way you will have the reference need ed to back up your case.

      Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  12. Sir,

    Texas is exactly what I’m looking for! I’ve been separated (honorably) from Oklahoma. My kids & family live in Texas, so I’ll be moving in w/ them & seeking unemployment benefits within a couple weeks.

    I already have a resume on file w/ one company, which is the perfect job for my family. I have 2 associates degrees, but no bachelors, and wish to make myself more marketable. I’d like to pursue an engineering degree (UTSA is conveniently located). I know this disqualifies me from the “New GI Bill Program for Unemployed Veterans” as I’m going for a full college degree, even tho my age is perfect for it. But the degrees that bill supports, I already have. And they do make me very marketable, but in today’s economy, it’s just not enough.

    I will, of course, discuss this issue w/ both UTSA counselors and the unemployment office before finalizing a plan, but any experience (particularly Texas-related) you can offer would be very helpful. I’m told I can expect approximatly 60 weeks of unemployment benefits in Texas, plus the Montgomery GI bill, plus further post-9/11 GI bill benefits after that. If so, I should be in good shape, and should be marketable for an excellent job w/in 2 years. Unemployment won’t cover me that long, but w/ good grades and much progress made, that should count for something by the time it runs out.

    Unfortunately, my skills & training don’t make me perfect for just any job. I’m trained for long months on the front lines, killing people, and breaking their stuff. Doesn’t look great on a WalMart app. So school is pretty much necessary.

  13. I’ve been trying to figure this situation out. An acquaintance told me he is using both the G.I. bill and Pell Grant to pay for full-time university. But has also stated he and his spouse (both former navy) will not have to have a job for five years because the G.I. Bill and Pell Grant provide them with “extra” income. My husband is former military and claims they are abusing their privileges. Is this legally possible within the state of WA?

    • This situation is perfectly acceptable, and what the benefits are designed for. Your acquaintance is using these benefits exactly as they are intended and they are milking the system or taking advantage. Here is how it works: the GI Bill is available to veterans who meet certain qualifications. Depending on which version of the GI Bill they have, they either receive a monthly payment directly to them (MGIB), or the school receives the money to cover tuition payments (Post-9/11 GI Bill).

      The Pell Grant is a government grant awarded to individuals who meet certain income restrictions. There is a set cut-off, and no preference is given to anyone based on military service or anything like that – it is a pure means test. The difference your veteran friends have is that GI Bill benefits are not considered taxable income and do not count against the means test for the Pell Grant. So it would be possible for them to have several sources of income while going to school, including unemployment benefits (if eligible), the GI Bill, and a Pell Grant. It could also be possible for them to receive other forms of scholarships or student financial aid, depending on their circumstances.

      There is no abuse here and I for one am happy your friends will be able to continue their education without as much financial stress. Hopefully this will allow them to graduate college with little to no student loans or other debt.

  14. Thank you for replying back.

    For this scenario the word milking would be an appropriate terminology. We just can’t clarify how one person makes six figures for an entire year just on the Pell Grant and G.I.B. unemployment/housing alone…for 5-6 years. This does not include the spouses’ use of a G.I.B. and Pell Grant, which would double. I guess this might work for some, but my friend has already told me that he expects this free ride to last 5-6 years. I’m not sure if it will work in his favor, seeing how he admitted to never wanting to go to work (both refuse to work)or having to pay for anything himself. I think for most it’s a huge motivator to succeed, but for the few…it’s a crutch.

    • kb, I’m not sure all of those benefits amount to more than $100,000 a year for one person. Here is how it breaks down: The maximum Pell Grant Award is $5,500 per year (source). If both people receive it, that would be $11,000.

      The value of the GI Bill varies depending on which version they have. Here are the Montgomery GI Bill Rates. The full time rate is $1,564.00 per month, but there are only 36 months of benefits available for full-time classes. That equates to $18,768 for 12 months of full-time work for one person, or $37,536 for two people. This assumes both students are attending school full-time – including summer semesters. The Montgomery GI Bill also requires students to pay for the classes out of pocket. So they would need to use these funds for tuition, or pay for them through student loans, scholarships, or other means.

      If they have the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the benefit typically pays for the tuition, up to the amount of the highest state school tuition. However, the tuition is paid directly to the school, and the student does not receive it. There is a book stipend of $1,000 per member (this is usually enough to cover books). Students using this version of the GI Bill are eligible to receive a housing allowance, equal to the E-5 single BAH rate (BAH is a housing allowance given to military members). The value of BAH varies by region, but it is public information and can found online. BAH in the state of Washington ranges from a low of $714 to a high of $1,272. Even if they both received $1,000 (which is in the middle), that would come to about $24,000. Again, this would assume full-time school, including summer courses. A veteran can only receive the full time benefits for 3 years.

      Unemployment benefits vary by state. But in the case of WA, the max benefit is $604 per week, with the benefit available for a maximum of 52 weeks (source). However, qualifying for the max unemployment benefit requires an average income of $15,000 per quarter on the base year, which means they would have had to received a base bay of $60,000 per year each while in the military – here are the recent military pay charts. If you know what rank they were when they separated, you can figure out how much they would earn in unemployment benefits. The max benefit per person in the state of WA is $31,408 (again, there is a time limit of one year). For two people at the highest rate, it would be $62,816. This is the pre-tax value of unemployment benefits – unemployment benefits are tax by the federal government. So the final value is much lower than the $62,816. The next highest benefit amount is $21,008 per year for one person, or $42,016 for two people.

      So when you add everything up, they can earn a total of $62,816 in unemployment benefits for only one year (again, this is before taxes). The Pell Grant could provide an additional $11,000 provided they both qualify. The Post-9/11 GI Bill could provide approximately $24,000 in housing allowances (again, this assumes attending school through the summer). So for the first year, they could receive a maximum of $97,816, of which 2/3 would be taxable. After the unemployment benefits run out, their income would drop to $35,000, none of which would be taxable. Again, the full-time GI Bill benefit is only 3 years.

      So yes, it is a generous benefit when you consider the unemployment benefits, GI Bill, and Pell Grant, but that is what those benefits are designed for. It’s also important to note that all of these benefits have time limits. You can use the GI Bill for longer that 36 months, but that means you would have to use partial benefits for some of that time, which means the numbmers quoted above would be lower. Could they stretch out school for 5-6 years? Sure. But not at $100,000 per person. Nowhere close.

  15. turkishrose says:

    In reference to the WA state question (KB). The answer was given as BAH for post 9-11 was an E5 at the single rate. The correct answer per va.gov is E5 BAH with dependants depending on the zip code of the school.

  16. Ryan,
    do you happen to know what the policy is in Hawaii? I am interested in going back to school here in Hawaii upon ETSing. If I can collect Unemployment in Hawaii while Collecting the Post 911, how long will unemployment last? thanks for the feedback.

    • I’m not able to keep up with he rules for each state – there are 50 different sets of rules, which is a lot to keep up with! From my understanding, most states allow this. In general, most states offer around 40 weeks of unemployment, and some offer more. Because each situation is unique, I recommend contacting the state employment office for specific information. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  17. Hey Ryan, First, I want to say thanks for the great info you dig up and provide. It’s definitely very helpful for those of us finding ourselves in the unemployed scenario.

    Here’s my brief story: I just separated (honorably) from the AF and am looking to apply for unemployment here in CA. Since I am freshly separated from the service, and have not received my official DD214, (told it takes 2weeks) I was provided with an ‘In Lieu of DD214’ memo, from MPS. I was told that this would suffice for the application but I am not sure. Do you have any experience with this or heard of anyone else with this issue?

    I wonder if those in other branches of service have to wait a couple of weeks for their DD214 to be delivered… Looking forward to your response.

    • Nate, I don’t have experience filing with a temporary DD214. My recommendation is to try and see if they take it. You never know if they will accept it. Also, most states typically require unemployment applicants wait at least one week from the time they become unemployed before they are eligible for unemployment benefits. So give it a shot, but understand if you have to wait for your official DD 214, you may not be out that much.

  18. Do you know the rules about the state of Texas? I was going to use my post 9/11 G.I. Bill at UT Austin and was wondering if I could file for unemployment and for how long I can receive it for? Thanks!

    • Kevin, I don’t know the rules for Texas. I would go ahead and file for unemployment when you are first eligible so you can begin drawing unemployment benefits. Then start your college application process. You can ask the Texas Workforce Commission about the ability to draw UI benefits and GI Bill at the same time. If it’s not allowed, then your UI benefits will stop when you inform them you have started school. The best thing is to just get the process rolling.

  19. RayLove says:

    Hello Ryan, I am currently stationed in Korea and would like any info on the state of CO please. I am here until the end of August at which I will start my terminal leave until the end of Sept. What would I need to qualify for a Pell Grant and which version of the GI Bill is better to use in conjuction with unemployment? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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