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Using Your Post-9/11 GI Bill on Active Duty

Thinking about using your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to pay for college while on active duty? With temporary suspensions of military tuition assistance (TA) programs, many service members have considered tapping into their veterans education benefits.  The GI Bill is a valuable tool that can help you continue pursing your education goals. However, there are important distinctions between your benefits as veteran and as an active duty service member.

Differences in Active Duty Benefits

  • While serving on active duty, military members will not receive full Post 9/11 benefits. As a veteran, benefits include:
  • Payment of tuition and fees, sent directly to the school
  • Monthly housing allowance sent to the veteran
  • A stipend for books and supplies sent to the veteran
  • A one-time $500 rural benefit for certain veterans

However, members on active duty (or their spouse if benefits were transferred) will only receive payment of tuition and applicable fees paid directly to the school. While active duty members are now eligible for the book stipend, there is no additional housing allowance.

Funding Eligibility

How much money you receive is based on your time in service and the type of institution you are attending. When the Post 9/11 GI Bill was changed in 2011, active duty military member funding eligibility was affected. Instead of all active duty members receiving 100% funding for tuition and fees, the percentage of maximum benefits paid is based on your years of service. Basic eligibility includes individuals who served at least 90 aggregate days on active duty after September 10, 2001. For those who have been on active duty for less than 36 months, the following table represents the percentage of tuition costs you can expect to receive:

Member Serves: Percentage ofMaximum BenefitPayable
At least 36 months 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 12 months, but less than 18 months 60%
At least 06 months, but less than 12 months 50%
At least 90 days, but less than 06 months 40%

Note: The active duty time does NOT include basic and initial skills training until you reach 24 months of service.

If you have served 36 months or more, you are eligible to have all in-state tuition costs funded at any public university. If you are attending a private school, there is a national maximum cap of $18,077.50 (excluding AZ, MI, NH, NY, PA, SC, TX) per academic year. If your private school’s cost exceeds the national cap, you may be eligible to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program.

Impact on Remaining Benefits

In addition to what and how much you receive, using your GI Bill while on active duty does impact the rate at which you use your benefits. Unlike military TA, where funding is based on actual costs ($4,500 per fiscal year cap), VA education benefits are based on months of eligibility (generally 36 months). For example, if you use $750 of TA for one class (generally, 3 semester hours) in a traditional semester (15 weeks), you would have $3,750 remaining for that fiscal year. If you took the same course and used the GI Bill to cover the costs, VA would pay the $750. However, taking three credits in a traditional semester (15 week semester) would be considered 1/4 time. Therefore, you will be charged accordingly (15 weeks = 105 days x .25 = 26 days of entitlement deducted from your 36 months of benefits). Also, you would receive the book allowance ($41.67/SH), based on level of entitlement (40%-100%).

As you can see, there are several factors to consider when choosing to use your GI Bill benefits. The VA offers a Fact Sheet and GI Bill comparison chart to assist in making an informed decision. If you are just starting school, search this site and talk to your Services local or virtual education center counselor for alternate ways to earn and pay for credit college credit before accessing your GI Bill. If you are close to completing your degree, your counselor may be able to recommend courses with shorter terms (5 to 8 weeks) to reduce the months of GI Bill benefits you use at a time.

Visit the VA or call 1-888-GIBILL-1 (1-888-442-4551) for more information on their education benefits.