By Terry Howell
Several readers have asked "what's the big deal about choosing the Post-9/11 GI Bill over the Montgomery GI Bill." In fact, one reader asked, “I don't understand this. How can another program be better for me if I want to attend college? Isn't the reason for the new Post-9/11 GI Bill to pay for any state tuition of my choice?”
Many veterans think this is a no-brainer, but there are several factors that can severely limit your GI Bill education benefits. And, since you cannot change your mind once you make the switch, choosing carefully is your best option.
As a friend of mine likes to say, "the devil's in the details." Well, here are some of those details - reasons to choose carefully:
- Payment rates are set for undergraduate tuition rates – this could mean that veterans who wish to attend grad school will need to pay the difference out-of-pocket.
- The housing stipend is not available for students taking all their courses through non-traditional classes – online and other distant learning students won’t receive payment for cost of living. In addition, veterans talking courses on a half-time rate and active duty servicemembers are also excluded from the housing stipend.
- The Post-9/11 GI Bill is set at the in-state undergraduate tuition rate which varies from state-to-state. In some states the tuition rate may severely limit a student's education options. For example, the tuition rate for California is $0 and Massachusetts is only $71. That won’t go very far in a private college or master's degree program.
- The new Post-9/11 GI Bill does not cover trade schools or on the job training and apprenticeship programs like the Montgomery GI Bill.
I am not the only one warning servicemembers and veterans about making an uneducated decision about their education benefits. Department of Veterans Affairs officials are also encouraging anyone considering enrolling in the Post-9/11 GI Bill program to learn the facts and make sure the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the right fit for them.
The VA recommends getting answers to the following before changing programs:
1) Which benefit will pay more?
2) What tier of benefit am I eligible for under the Post-9/11 GI Bill?
3) What type of training do I want to pursue?
4) How long do I expect to take to use the benefit?
5) Do I plan to attend school less than full-time?
The Bottom Line
If you plan to attend classroom based courses at a state operated college on a more than half-time basis – or - you intend to transfer your benefits to a family member, then the Post 9/11 GI Bill most likely fits your needs perfectly. Otherwise, take your time – don't be in a rush.
If you have questions about your personal eligibility or need more assistance, please call the VA at 1-888-GIBILL-1 or visit the VA's GI Bill website at www.GIBILL.VA.gov.