The GI Bill is a valuable education benefit you can take with you when you leave military service and transition into civilian life. Here are some things you need to know about it.
You May Have a Limited Amount of Time to Use GI Bill Benefits
The Forever GI Bill eliminated expiration dates for service members who separated from the military after Jan. 1, 2013. For other service members, the clock started on their eligibility to use their GI Bill benefits the day they separated from the military.
Here are the time limits for using your GI Bill benefits, according to the VA:
- Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty (MGIB-AD): Active-Duty Montgomery GI Bill recipients must use their benefits within 10 years of leaving the military.
- Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR): Selected Reserve Montgomery GI Bill recipients must use their benefits within 14 years and before they leave the military. There are exceptions in limited situations.
When reservists are called to active duty, the VA extends their eligibility for the length of their mobilization plus four months – even if they leave the selected reserve. In addition, reservists who leave the service may qualify for benefits for 14 years from the date of their first six-year obligation if:
- The reservist separated due to a disability
- The reservist’s unit was deactivated between Oct. 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2014
- The reservist was involuntarily separated between Oct. 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2014, for reasons other than misconduct
- Post-9/11 GI Bill: Service members who separated before Jan. 1, 2013, must use their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits within 15 years of their separation date.
- Forever GI Bill: Service members who separated after Jan. 1, 2013, never lose their GI Bill benefits, because the Forever GI Bill removed the Post 9/11 GI Bill’s expiration date.
- Transferred GI Bill: Spouses can use transferred GI bill benefits for up to 15 years after you separate from active duty. Children can only use the benefit until they turn 26 years old.
If you don’t use your GI Bill benefits within the allotted time, you lose them forever, unless you fall under the Forever GI Bill expansion outlined above.
There are a few other exceptions to this rule, most notably that if you rejoin active-duty status for more than 90 days at any time during the 10- or 15-year period, your clock resets. So, if you transfer into the National Guard or reserves and are activated for more than 90 days, your time starts over – even if you only had a few months remaining.
The GI Bill Is Not Federal Student Aid
In addition to receiving the GI Bill, you may be eligible for student loans, scholarships, Pell Grants, employer tuition assistance and other grants or student financial aid.
When you apply for federal student aid, you don’t need to list GI Bill, Yellow Ribbon Program or Survivor benefits as income or estimated financial assistance (EFA), according to the Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid Book. However, you must list funds received through tuition assistance programs or the Pell Grant.
How to Calculate Your GI Bill Coverage
The MGIB provides 36 months of education benefits, but the VA calculates this differently for full-time and part-time students.
Service members receive the equivalent of 36 months of benefits at the maximum payment rate ($2,210 per month for MGIB-AD, and $439 for MGIB-SR, effective Oct. 1, 2022).
So if you receive a lump sum from your MGIB-AD benefits, divide the total by the effective monthly rate ($2,210) to see how many months of benefits the VA will charge you.
For example, say you receive a check from the VA for $11,050.
Divide this sum by the max rate of $2,210.
Based on this equation, the VA will charge five months against your GI Bill benefits.
How Does the VA Calculate Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits?
If you attend school full-time while on active duty, the VA will charge you the number of months you attended school, regardless of the cost of tuition. In this example, a month actually means a month.
Active-duty service members can use their service’s tuition assistance program instead, which will pay tuition up to $250 per semester hour, according to the VA. Or, they can use their MGIB benefits as a top-up if their tuition costs exceed $250. However, the VA will reduce your MGIB entitlement by one month for each top-up payment you receive that’s equal to the full-time monthly GI Bill rate.
How the VA Top-Up Program Can Extend Your Education Benefits
GI Bill Rates Are Based on the Number of Credits You Take
The VA prorates Montgomery GI Bill payment rates based on the number of credits you take.
Full-time students using the MGIB-AD receive up to $2,210 per month (FY23 rates), and $439 per month (FY23 rates) for those using the MGIB-SR. The VA pays progressively smaller amounts for part-time students based on their course loads. You can find the full rate schedule on our MGIB rate page.
The VA also prorates the amount it charges against your entitlement. So if you only take half a courseload, the VA will charge half a month each month against your GI Bill entitlement.
You Do Not Have to Use the GI Bill All at Once
Depending on your eligibility, you have a 10-year, 15-year or unlimited window of opportunity to use the GI Bill. You can receive up to 36 months of benefits, but that does not mean you have to use them all at once. You can start and stop your GI Bill benefits as often as you wish, provided you do not exceed 36 months.
Attending School Longer than 36 Months?
How to Pay for School When You Run out of GI Bill Benefits
For More Information
The VA’s main GI Bill benefits page includes links to more information about the Post-9/11 GI Bill, both MGIB programs and more. You can also contact your local VA office.