The VA Top-Up Program Can Extend Your Education Benefits

The VA top-up program will pay the difference between your full educational costs and tuition assistance coverage for up to 36 months. But, there are some differences between how tuition assistance, the G.I. Bill and the VA’s top-up benefit work together.
Advertising Disclosure.

Advertiser Disclosure: Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone. This article may contain links from our advertisers. For more information, please see our Advertising Policy.

The Military Wallet has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. The Military Wallet and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on The Military Wallet are from advertisers. Compensation may impact how and where card products appear, but does not affect our editors’ opinions or evaluations. The Military Wallet does not include all card companies or all available card offers.

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Nahjier Williams

 A Congressional Research Service report estimated more than 600,000 service members will use educational benefits in 2022, totaling about $10 billion for tuition and fees, housing, books and other assistance. 

That allocation means individual student service members can tap into sizable education benefits. 

For example, if you served on active duty for 36 months after September 10, 2001, you may receive enough financial assistance to cover all your in-state tuition and fees at a public college or university.  

If your education costs exceed what tuition assistance or the GI Bill cover, you may be able to get more financial help through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) top-up program.

In a nutshell, the VA top-up program will pay the difference between your total educational costs and tuition assistance or GI Bill benefits for up to 36 months. But, there are some differences between how tuition assistance, the G.I. Bill and the VA’s top-up benefit work together.

In some cases, service members may not receive full educational coverage. Combined DOD and top-up program payments can never be more than the total cost of your courses – and the extra coverage comes at a price.

Using Top-Up Reduces Your GI Bill Benefits  

To qualify for the top-up program, you must already be using Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD) or Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. Which GI Bill you’re using will determine how the program affects your benefits. 

  • VA Top-Up Program with the Montgomery GI Bill 

When you use the Montgomery GI Bill, the top-up program will pay the difference in course costs and the amount covered by the Montgomery GI Bill. 

Your overall GI Bill educational benefit will decrease by one month for each top-up payment you receive.

  • VA Top-Up Program with the Post 9-11 GI Bill 

If you use the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the top-up program will pay the difference between the GI Bill payment and the approved top-up maximum amount for tuition and fees. 

The top-up program makes one lump-sum payment to the service member applying for benefits, not the school.

Full-time school or training rates reduce your GI Bill benefit by a full month, while half-time rates reduce your GI Bill benefit by a half-month for each month you’re enrolled.


How Does the VA Calculate Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits?

The Post-9/11 GI Bill will cover the total cost of your tuition and fees, but only up to certain limits. 

For example, Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits cover the total cost of in-state tuition at public colleges, but only up to $26,043 per year at a private college. 

If you use both the GI Bill and the top-up program for the same courses, you may be limiting the length of your educational benefit allowance.  

Often, it’s best to use them separately to maximize your benefit funding.

To fully understand how the top-up program affects your G.I. Bill benefits, schedule an appointment with your education officer, or use the GI Bill Comparison Tool to explore your options.

How to Apply for the Top-Up Program

Your application process may vary slightly, but here’s how to apply in most cases. 

  • If you haven’t done so already, request tuition assistance from your branch of service.
  • Make sure your school and program are approved to receive VA benefits.
  • Formally apply for VA benefits by completing V.A. Form 22-1990.
  • Authorized DoD officials must sign tuition approval forms. Some service branches require the commanding officer’s signature and others require the education service officer’s signature.
  • Send your tuition assistance approval form and the application for VA education benefits to the VA regional processing office that handles your claim. You’ll find the address on A Form 22-1990.
  • Contact your school certifying official (SCO).  An SCO is an on-campus representative who will assist you by submitting enrollment certification to the Department of Veterans Affairs for VA education benefits.

Qualifying for the VA’s Top-Up Tuition Assitance

You might not be eligible for VA benefits like the top-up program if you received a bad conduct, other than honorable or dishonorable discharge.

If you want to try to qualify for benefits like the top-up program, you can seek a discharge upgrade to restore your benefits.

About Post Author

Get Instant Access
FREE Weekly Updates! Enter your information to join our mailing list.

Reader Interactions

Leave A Comment:


About the comments on this site:

These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

The Military Wallet is a property of Three Creeks Media. Neither The Military Wallet nor Three Creeks Media are associated with or endorsed by the U.S. Departments of Defense or Veterans Affairs. The content on The Military Wallet is produced by Three Creeks Media, its partners, affiliates and contractors, any opinions or statements on The Military Wallet should not be attributed to the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, the Dept. of Defense or any governmental entity. If you have questions about Veteran programs offered through or by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, please visit their website at The content offered on The Military Wallet is for general informational purposes only and may not be relevant to any consumer’s specific situation, this content should not be construed as legal or financial advice. If you have questions of a specific nature consider consulting a financial professional, accountant or attorney to discuss. References to third-party products, rates and offers may change without notice.

Advertising Notice: The Military Wallet and Three Creeks Media, its parent and affiliate companies, may receive compensation through advertising placements on The Military Wallet; For any rankings or lists on this site, The Military Wallet may receive compensation from the companies being ranked and this compensation may affect how, where and in what order products and companies appear in the rankings and lists. If a ranking or list has a company noted to be a “partner” the indicated company is a corporate affiliate of The Military Wallet. No tables, rankings or lists are fully comprehensive and do not include all companies or available products.

Editorial Disclosure: Editorial content on The Military Wallet may include opinions. Any opinions are those of the author alone, and not those of an advertiser to the site nor of  The Military Wallet.