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How Does the GI Bill Work?

As a veteran who’s ready to advance your career, you may have questions about the education benefits available to you through the GI Bill. How does the GI Bill work? Can you apply for more than one program? Who qualifies and what educational expenses does it cover?

Although there are many benefit programs available to veterans, navigating these options and understanding which benefits best fit your goals can be challenging. If you’re interested in going back to school or expanding your career prospects, learn how to start using the GI Bill to fund your education.

What Is the GI Bill?

The GI Bill provides education benefits to active or former service members who want to pursue post-secondary education or job training. It was created as a resource for veterans wanting to make a smooth transition back to civilian life and obtain the skills and resources needed to thrive economically. Since then, the Department of Veterans Affairs has paid about $400 billion in education benefits to 25 million beneficiaries through the GI Bill.

GI Bill History

The GI Bill originated during World War II, when many veterans struggled to find employment upon returning home. To combat this crisis, President Franklin Roosevelt passed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act in 1944, which provided education grants, cost-of-living stipends, low-interest mortgage and business loans, unemployment benefits, and a VA hospital network.

According to History.com, with the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act expiring in 1956, it wasn’t until 1984 that Rep. Gillespie V. Montgomery proposed a permanent extension of the bill that would include all veterans, even during peacetime. The Montgomery GI Bill was the prevailing legislation until 2008, when President George W. Bush passed the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act. This bill generously expanded veterans’ programs and even allowed servicemembers to transfer educational benefits to children or spouses.

Most recently, President Donald Trump signed the Forever GI Bill in 2017, which improved campus support for veterans, reduced some eligibility restrictions, and added work-study programs to the list of benefits.

Current Options

Post-9/11 GI Bill

The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides broad educational benefits for active service members or veterans who want to advance their career through degree programs, vocational training, licensure, apprenticeships, and other professional goals. The bill can help cover a variety of education- or job-related costs, ranging from tuition and certification exams to flight training.

Veterans who served on active duty on or after September 11, 2001 for at least 90 days are eligible. However, this requirement is waived for service members who received a Purple Heart and reduced to 30 continuous days for veterans who suffered a service-connected disability and were honorably discharged.

The amount that the military will pay for college, however, depends on the number of months of active-duty service during which a veteran served. Veterans discharged before January 1, 2013, are eligible for benefits up to 15 years after leaving active duty; for veterans discharged after that date, education benefits do not expire. This is one of many changes to veterans’ benefits passed into law in the 2017 Forever GI Bill.

There are many programs available to veterans through the Post-9/11 GI Bill. For example, the Yellow Ribbon Program offers extended tuition coverage for veterans who wish to attend a foreign, graduate, private, or out-of-state school. Since these schools are typically more expensive than in-state colleges, this program helps cover some or all of the cost left after GI Bill tuition benefits are applied. To qualify for this program, you must be eligible for the maximum 36-month benefit under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Montgomery GI Bill

The Montgomery GI Bill served many veterans prior to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. A number of the original GI Bill’s programs are no longer relevant now that the Post-9/11 GI Bill is in place; however, some veterans may still choose to use these benefits.

Veterans with two-to-six years of active duty service may qualify for 36 months of education benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill, which can be applied to degree programs, job training, entrepreneurial courses, technical training, and more.

The Montgomery GI Bill includes two designations for aid:

  • Active Duty (MGIB-AD): Servicemembers with at least two years of active duty after June 30, 1985, may be eligible for this program. There are four qualification categories with highly specific criteria, so it’s beneficial to speak with a VA advisor before applying.
  • Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR): To qualify for this benefit, servicemembers must have been enlisted for at least six years in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Army National Guard, Coast Guard Reserve, or Air National Guard. To qualify, service must have occurred after June 30, 1985, and in most cases, eligibility is only active during enlistment.

Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) Program

The Veteran Readiness and Employment Program (formerly known as the Vocational Rehabilitation and Education Program) is an education benefit for veterans with service-related disabilities and their families. The VR&E program is designed to help disabled veterans gain independence back for employment.

Depending on your needs, VR&E benefits may assist you with tuition, vocational counseling, internships, resume development, and many other forms of work rehabilitation. The program may also provide resources such as case management and a monthly housing allowance for disabled vets who need independent living services.

GI Bill Benefits

One of the GI Bill’s greatest benefits to veterans and servicemembers is its flexibility. In most cases, the maximum benefits are calculated based on your length of service and the average annual cost of in-state college tuition. However, you can use the benefits to cover multiple education costs, as long as they are qualifying expenses. In other words, you’re free to apply your benefits how you choose as long as they are eligible.

Here are the most common education costs covered under military benefits:

  • Tuition: Those who qualify for the maximum benefit of 36 months can receive the full cost of in-state tuition at a public college or vocational school. Private and foreign schools are also covered with an annual maximum benefit. The bill covers enrollment in both undergraduate and graduate degrees, including distance-learning options. Non-degree programs are also included. The maximum rate of reimbursement is reset on an annual basis; for the 2021–2022 academic cycle, veterans attending a private college are eligible to receive up to $26,042 per academic year.
  • Housing: Veterans and servicemembers who are enrolled in school more than part-time may qualify for a location-based monthly housing allowance. The amount depends on the campus housing cost of your institution; or, if you attend online classes, the housing stipend is equal to 50 percent of the national average.
  • Books and supplies: Depending on your benefit amount, you may be eligible for a stipend of up to $1,000 a year for textbooks and educational supplies.

GI Bill Eligibility

While it’s possible to qualify for more than one GI Bill, servicemembers may only enroll in one program at a time. However, if you enlist for a new service term after using your benefits, you may become eligible for another program. In general, you must be honorably discharged to qualify for education benefits and must apply for a discharge upgrade or review hearing for a change in status.

Once you’re awarded benefits, you can view your Statement of Benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs online portal. This statement outlines the program you’re enrolled in, along with the remaining balance and expiration date of your benefits.

Certificate of Eligibility

When your application is approved, you should receive a Certificate of Eligibility in the mail. Since it contains the same information as the Statement of Benefits, servicemembers aren’t required to save this document. However, spouses and dependents who are using benefits, and don’t have a VA account, must obtain an up-to-date certificate when applying to educational institutions.

Transferring GI Bill Benefits

To transfer benefits under the GI Bill, servicemembers must be in the Selected Reserve or on active duty. Family members are eligible once you have served a six-year obligation and agree to extend your service for four additional years. Spouses or dependents can use all or a portion of the 36-month maximum benefit, but they must be enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS).

How to Apply for GI Bill Benefits

Applying online is the fastest, most convenient way to find your eligibility for education benefits. Before you apply, consider using the GI Bill Comparison tool to figure out how to maximize different program features.

Choosing the right school ensures that you get the greatest return on investment from your educational plans. Military-friendly schools offer more extensive career services and support networks, and the comparison tool allows you to search for VA-approved institutions, programs, and employers that closely align with your goals.

What You Need To Apply

When you apply for veteran education benefits, you’ll need the following:

  • Social security number
  • Military service history
  • Education history
  • Information about your educational plans or prospective college
  • Bank direct deposit information

On average, it takes 30 days to receive a decision letter. You can request a review to dispute a rejection or file an appeal to address any other eligibility issues that come up during the application process.

Where You Can Apply

The Department of Veterans Affairs website makes it easy to apply for all GI Bill programs using one convenient portal. You can also sign up in person at a VA office or send the paperwork by mail. If you choose to visit a VA office, you also receive professional assistance to help you understand which programs are best for you.

Northeastern is dedicated to active-duty servicemembers and veterans through the benefits and services it offers its military students. This includes extensive support services, CAVS group, and Yellow Ribbon program support.

Take Advantage of Your Benefits

Applying for education benefits doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Not only can you speak with other veterans who have gone through the process, but you can also reach out to professional VA advisors with the experience and training to assist you. The most important thing, however, is to explore your options and compare programs to make sure you use education benefits to their fullest potential.

To learn more about the financial benefit options available to you at Northeastern, visit our military student website or speak with a military admissions counselor to get your questions answered.


GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.