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Guide to Using Your GI Bill Education Benefits

Liz Heintz

Written By: Liz Heintz

Published: 12/1/2022

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Key Insights:

  • The GI Bill makes it possible for thousands of military service members, veterans, and eligible dependents to attend school for up to 36 months.
  • Service members and veterans earn certificates, undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, and gain technical and vocational training by using the Bill.
  • GI Bill benefits may help pay up to 100% of tuition and fees for beneficiaries who may otherwise find it difficult to complete higher education.
  • Spouses and dependent children of service members and veterans may be eligible to receive GI Bill benefits.

Passed over 75 years ago, the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 — the GI Bill of Rights — has helped scores of veterans pursue higher education while transitioning to civilian life. Congress has extended the Bill several times, most notably in 2008 with the Post-9/11 GI Bill and again in 2017 with the passing of the Forever GI Bill. The latter has further expanded benefits and removed the time limitation to use the Bill if your service ended after January 1, 2013. 

The GI Bill is designed to help you pay for technical or vocational training and earn an undergraduate or graduate degree. The Bill can help with expenses, such as tuition and fees, books and school supplies, and housing. There are additionally two programs within the GI Bill — the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the contributory Montgomery GI Bill. Within each program, there are several options to help with the costs of higher education. 

If you’re a military service member or veteran who has yet to take advantage of this benefit, we have put together information about the programs offered, eligibility requirements, answers to frequently asked questions, and how the GI Bill can help you or your qualified dependents achieve education and career goals.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill

Enacted in 2009, the Post-9/11 GI Bill extended the original GI Bill for veterans who have served on active duty since September 11, 2001. Since then, the Bill has helped over 800,000 veterans and their families access over $12 million in educational assistance.

The Bill pays the following amounts depending on your length of service:

Length of Service Percentage of Maximum Payable Benefit
At least 36 months 100%
At least 30 continuous days on active duty and must be discharged due to service-connected disability or received a Purple Heart (Purple Heart effective August 1, 2018) 100%
At least 30 months, but less than 36 months 90%
At least 24 months, but less than 30 months 80%
At least 18 months, but less than 24 months 70%
At least 6 months, but less than 18 months 60%
At least 90 days, but less than 6 months 50%

You may be eligible to receive benefits for up to 36 months of school. The Bill can help pay the following expenses during that time, whether you attend online or on campus:

  • Tuition and fees for certificate, non-degree, undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate degree programs on-campus and online — 100% of tuition and fees may be paid if you attend an in-state school and up to $26,042.81 for a private or foreign school annually
  • A monthly housing allowance based on your area's cost of living as long as you're attending college at least part-time
  • Up to $1,000 for books and supplies annually
  • Up to $500 in relocation expenses if you need to move from a rural area to be closer to school

The Bill may also cover expenses related to licensing and certification, high-tech degree-granting and non-degree programs, vocational and trade training, flight school, apprenticeships, and entrepreneurship training.

You may still qualify for other forms of financial aid if you're GI Bill-eligible, such as state-sponsored veterans' programs, FAFSA, loans, and scholarships. It may even be possible to leverage these various sources of funding to make them go farther, as Air Force veteran attorney Greg Rada did. After he separated from the Air Force in 2008, Greg attended law school at the University of Connecticut because "Connecticut offers a full tuition waiver for any state school if you are a veteran and resident. I grew up in CT and still had my residency so that was an easy decision." 

Greg explains how he still applied for the Bill and used his benefits. "Since tuition was waived, I used my GI Bill to pay for housing, food, and other cost of living expenses," he says. "The VA also gave me vocational rehabilitation benefits, which paid for books, computer equipment, and other supplies." As an attorney, Greg now represents his fellow veterans going before the VA, made possible in part by the GI Bill.

The Forever GI Bill Expanded Benefits

In addition to eliminating the Bill's expiration date for many service members and veterans, the Forever GI Bill includes the following benefit expansions:

  • Reservists who were called to duty to complete a health care exam, receive medical treatment, or complete a health care study can now claim that time as part of their active duty.
  • Honorably discharged veterans who received the Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, are eligible to receive 100%-paid education assistance for 36 months.
  • Fry Scholarship, Purple Heart recipients, and active duty services members are now eligible for the Yellow Ribbon program.

The Yellow Ribbon Program

The Yellow Ribbon Program helps pay for tuition and fees not covered by the Bill. These expenses may include out-of-state, private and foreign school, and graduate school tuition and fees. Amounts vary depending on the agreement between the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) and the degree program. The Yellow Ribbon Program may cover some or all of your remaining expenses after the Post-9/11 GI Bill has been applied.

Best Military-Friendly Online Colleges We've identified the best online military-friendly colleges in the U.S. by using our methodology to find the best fit to help you meet your goals and find the support you may need as a service member or veteran
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The Montgomery GI Bill

The Montgomery GI Bill is a contributory program that may help bridge the gap between how much you're eligible to receive from the Bill and what's left to be paid. The Montgomery Bill may also make it possible to attend college while still on active duty or in the reserves. If you don’t decline to participate when you enlist, $100 is automatically deducted from your monthly pay during the first year of your service.

The Montgomery GI Bill consists of two benefits depending on your service:

  • The Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty program (MGIB-AD) is for those who have served at least two years of active duty. You have 10 years to use this benefit.
  • The Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve program (MGIB-SR) is for those serving as reservists in any branch of the armed services and the Army National Guard and Air National Guard. Eligibility requires a six-year service commitment, and you have 14 years to use this benefit.

The $600 Buy Up Program

You may also be eligible for the $600 Buy Up program to maximize your benefits. Through the Buy Up program, you can make additional Montgomery Bill contributions of up to $600, potentially increasing your total GI Bill benefit by $5,400.

Post 9/11 GI Bill Eligibility

At least one of the following must have occurred on or after September 11, 2001, to be Post 9/11 GI Bill-eligible:

  • You served at least 90 days on active duty, whether all at once or cumulatively
  • You received a Purple Heart and an honorable discharge, regardless of length of service
  • You served for at least 30 continuous days and were honorably discharged due to a service-related disability
  • You're a dependent child of a qualifying veteran or service members using benefits

Survivor Spouse and Dependent Child GI Bill Benefit Eligibility

A surviving spouse or dependent child may be eligible for VA education benefits through the Fry Scholarship or the Survivors' and Dependents' Education Assistance Program (DEA). These benefits help pay tuition for education and training, housing, and books and supplies.

At least one of the following requirements must be met for the spouse or child of a service member to qualify:

  • The service member died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001
  • The service member is considered missing in action or was captured in the line of duty by hostile forces
  • The service member was detained by force in the line of duty by a foreign government
  • The service member sustained a service-related disability and is in the hospital or receiving outpatient care while awaiting discharge

At least one of the following requirements must be met for the spouse or child of a veteran to qualify:

  • The veteran sustained a debilitating service-related injury and is permanently and totally disabled
  • The veteran died while on active duty due to a service-related injury

Applying for GI Bill Education Benefits

You can apply for GI Bill education benefits by creating an account through the VA's website. Creating your account and profile will save time when you fill out your application. Signing into your account before you start your application will allow it to be saved.

There are then four steps in the process of applying for benefits:

1

Prepare to apply by having the following information handy:

  • Your social security number
  • Military history
  • School information
  • Direct deposit information
  • Education history

2

Apply by completing your online application. You'll have 60 days from the start of your application to complete it. Otherwise, you'll have to start the process over.

3

Give the VA up to 30 days to review your application. You'll receive a letter in the mail if they need more information.

4

Wait for the VA's decision in the mail which will include a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) if you've been approved to receive benefits.

Greg Rada reflects on an additional step he had to complete once he was deemed eligible for the Bill to attend law school. "The process in general was having the 'certifying official' — someone in the registrar's office at school — complete a form verifying my enrollment and number of classes/credits," he remembers." I would then submit that form through an online portal to VA, and they would make payment to the school. I had to do that prior to the beginning of each semester."

If you need additional help, you can reach out to a student veterans services representative at your school or contact the VA Education Service Center at 888-442-4551.

Education Programs for Veterans Ineligible for the GI Bill

There are other VA-sponsored benefits for which you may be eligible if you are ineligible for the Bill:

Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses

VET TEC connects beneficiaries with training providers to develop in-demand high-tech skills.

Post-Vietnam Era Veterans Educational Assistance Program

VEAP provides educational assistance to Vietnam-era veterans and their beneficiaries after monthly contributions are made.

National Call to Service Program

National Call To Service assists those who've performed a period of national service as an alternative to the Montgomery Bill benefits.

FAQs About GI Bill Benefits

What Does It Mean To Be GI Bill-eligible?


You may be considered GI Bill-eligible if:

  • You served at least 90 days of active duty after September 11, 2001
  • You received the Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged
  • You served at least 30 continuous days on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged due to a service disability
  • You are a dependent child of a qualifying service member

What Benefits Does the GI Bill Give Me?


GI Bill benefits may give you financial assistance towards tuition and related fees, textbooks and school supplies, housing, testing and licensing fees, and relocating from a predominantly rural area to attend school.

How Can I Access My GI Bill Education Benefits?


To access your GI Bill education benefits, you'll need to determine your eligibility status and apply for benefits online or call the VA Education Service Center at 888-442-4551. Once benefits are awarded, you can check your GI Bill benefits statement online at any time.

What Does the GI Bill Cover For Dependents?


As part of the GI Bill, the Fry Scholarship and Dependents Education Assistance (DEA) may cover costs for tuition and fees, books and supplies, housing, and other educational and training expenses for qualifying spouses and dependent children. 

Where Can I Use My GI Bill Education Benefits?


You can use your GI Bill benefits at a VA-approved school. The amount of benefit you receive and whether or not you can use Yellow Ribbon benefits also depends on the school you choose. 

Do GI Bill Education Benefits Expire?


Your benefits never expire if your service ended after January 1, 2013, through the Forever GI Bill. However, you have 15 years to use your benefits if your service ended before January 1, 2013.

Will My GI Bill Benefits Pay For a Dual Degree or a Double Major?


Your benefits won't pay if you're officially enrolled in a dual degree or double major program. However, after you've earned one degree, you can apply any leftover benefits towards a second degree. 

Are GI Bill Benefits Taxable?


GI Bill benefits for you and your dependents are not taxable. However, they will reduce the amount of any tax credits you may want to claim for your education expenses.

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