I signed up for the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) when I enlisted in the military. Like many military members and veterans, I haven’t had the chance to use all my MGIB benefits yet. Part of the reason is because the military has a generous tuition assistance (TA) program. I completed a year of college before I enlisted, and I used TA to complete my bachelor’s degree while I was on active duty. The only time I touched my GI Bill was to get a top up when I started a master’s program (TA only covers up to a certain dollar limit per semester hour, and the master’s classes exceeded that limit). So it was the GI Bill to the rescue!
What Happens if You Don’t Use Your GI Bill Benefits?
Unfortunately, the Montgomery GI Bill is pretty much a use-it-or-lose-it benefit. In most cases, you will lose your Montgomery GI Bill benefits if you don’t use them within 10 years of separating from the military. The Post-9/11 GI Bill expires 15 years after you separate – just one of many reasons why you should make the switch if you are eligible!
If you aren’t eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill and your 10-year time limit has already passed, then you may be out of luck. I’m coming up on four years since I separated from the USAF, so I need to start making plans if I want to use my GI Bill benefits.
Can You Get a Montgomery GI Bill Refund?
We frequently receive several common questions about GI Bill benefits – primarily about losing GI Bill benefits, transferring GI Bill benefits and getting a refund for GI Bill benefits if the benefits are not used. In most cases, the answer is no, you cannot get a refund for your GI Bill. But some veterans may be eligible to receive a Montgomery GI Bill refund once they have used their entire Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit.
The Montgomery GI Bill usually works like this: You have one chance to buy into the MGIB when you join the military service.
If you opt in, you pay $1,200. Then you can use your MGIB benefits while on active duty or within 10 years from the time you separate from the military (there are some exceptions to the time limits, particularly if you rejoin the service or are recalled to active duty; this will restart your clock). You typically lose any portion of your MGIB you do not use within the 10-year time limit, and there are usually no refunds.
MGIB Refunds Available for Post-9/11 GI Bill Users
There is an exception to the no-refund policy for the Montgomery GI Bill. You can get a refund of your $1,200 buy-in if you are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you elect to use those benefits instead of the Montgomery GI Bill you bought into and you use the entire Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
From the GI Bill FAQ page:
Q: Do I get a refund of the $1,200 buy-in for the Montgomery GI Bill?
A: Any individual who paid the $1,200 buy-in for the Montgomery GI Bill and elects to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill may be refunded a proportional amount if, and after all entitlement under the Post-9/11 GI Bill is used. Individuals who do not use all their entitlement under the Post-9/11 GI Bill will not receive a refund of contributions paid under the Montgomery GI Bill.
How Does the Montgomery GI Bill Refund Work?
Based on my understanding, you have to be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, elect to give up your MGIB benefits and switch to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, use all your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and request a refund. You will receive the MGIB refund with your final BAH payment.
The MGIB refund is also prorated based on the amount of Montgomery GI Bill eligibility you have remaining. For example, if you didn’t use any of your Montgomery GI Bill benefits, you should receive the entire $1,200 refund. If you used one-third of your MGIB benefits, you may only receive $800 back and so forth. However, I am not 100% certain about the formula used, and the VA rep I spoke with on the phone mentioned he would have to run the query on a case-by-case basis. Please contact the Department of Veterans Affairs for more information specific to your situation.
This is a great benefit for veterans who are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Just keep in mind the requirements: You must use 100% of your Post-9/11 GI Bill to be eligible, you must be receiving BAH during your final month of GI Bill eligibility and you will receive a prorated refund if you used any portion of your MGIB benefits.