Deciding on How to Use Your Education Benefit
By Military Connection Staff Writer Joe Silva
When I separated from the Navy in 2009, I had already earned my associate’s degree. This meant that it would take me approximately two years to complete my bachelor’s degree. My previous schooling made using the Post-9/11 GI Bill an obvious choice for how to use my Veteran educational benefits to attain my bachelor’s degree.
The Post-9/11 (Chapter 33) GI Bill pays 100% of tuition for Veterans who have completed 36 months or more of continuous service on or after September 11, 2001. This benefit also pays a monthly housing allowance, and a stipend of up to $1,000 per year for books and supplies. Those who served for less than 36 months are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill at a lower percentage of the total benefit.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill was specially designed to provide Veterans with the means to attend school, without having to drop-out in order to earn a living. The benefit accomplishes its intended goal; while a Veteran student is enrolled in classes, their monthly housing allowance is equal to the E-5 with dependents BAH rate for the school’s zip code. You can check the BAH calculator on Military Connection’s website to look up housing allowance payments. But if a Veteran student is not enrolled, they are not getting paid. This means that the weeks, and sometime months, between terms can be tight for Veteran families who use this benefit.
Veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill usually have to work at least part time, and plan accordingly for semester breaks. I worked part time as a security guard while I finished my degree. During school terms, I tried to keep my hours low, 8-24 hours per week. During semester breaks, I would always find ways to increase my hours to 40+ per week, to make ends meet. I recommend jobs that offer a lot of night and weekend hours, like security guard work, to Veterans while they use their GI Bill. Despite its imperfection, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the most generous education benefit to date, and is the most common benefit currently used by Veterans.
I thought about using the Montgomery (Chapter 30) GI Bill that I had already paid in to. But the Montgomery GI Bill only pays a flat monthly rate to every Veteran student (currently at $1,473), no matter where they live in the country. Out of that monthly payment, Veterans are left to budget the money needed for tuition, books, school supplies and fees. Veterans should note that the current flat rate for the Montgomery GI Bill is about $500 less than the monthly housing allowance that I received from the Post-9/11 GI Bill for my school’s zip code. Plus, my tuition was paid directly to the school by the VA, separately from my monthly allowance. And I received a $500 stipend at the start of each semester for books and supplies. This made the Post-9/11 GI Bill more desirable to me.
No matter which GI Bill Veterans choose to use, Veteran education benefits can be used to accomplish a variety of academic and career goals. Veteran students can choose to attend colleges, universities, and vocational/trade schools with their GI Bill. However, for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, all classes must be part of a VA approved degree, certification or license program.
Recipients of the GI Bills, including military dependents, should always choose to attend Veteran friendly schools with their benefits. The next installment in this series will offer some advice on choosing a school based on whether or not they are Veteran friendly.