When you become eligible for any of the GI Bill education benefit programs you have 36 months of benefits. (This is called your entitlement.) That means that you can be undergoing full-time training or college on the government's dime for 36 months. For each day you're in school or training, a day will be deducted from that original 36 months until you use up your entitlement.
This 36 months of entitlement has nothing to do with the amount of time you have in which to use the entitlement. Depending on which program you fall under, you have different amounts of time in which to use your entitlement.
For the MGIB-AD it's 10 years from your last period of active duty that was at least 90 days long.
For the MGIB-SR you're eligible as long as you stay in the Reserve. When you leave the Reserve, your benefit ceases.
For REAP, it's 10 years from the date you leave the Selected Reserve with an honorable discharge.
For the new GI Bill, it's 15 years from your last period of active duty that was at least 90 days long.
Under the Buy-Up program anyone who didn't refuse the Chapter 30 Montgomery GI Bill (Active Duty) can make additional contributions to his/her GI Bill education account. For every dollar you contribute (up to a maximum of $600), the government will put in $8. So if you put in the maximum, $5,400 will be added to your basic GI Bill education benefit.
This translates to an increase in the amount you receive from the GI Bill of up to $150 per month. (Divide the total amount you contribute by 4 to determine the monthly increase.)
This option is open you're on active duty. That is, you can contribute to this program until the day you separate from the Coast Guard. And, if you signed up for the GI Bill during one enlistment (in any service), paid your $1,200, then got out and came back into the service later, you again become eligible to take advantage of this $600 buy-up option.
To do this, fill out the Increased Benefit Contribution Program form (DD2366-1) and take it to your personnel office. If you plan to make payments over a long period, you can set up an allotment or pay by check or other means periodically. The minimum amount of each payment is $20, and each contribution has to be a multiple of $20, but you don't have to pay contribute the same amount every time or make contributions regularly.
For more information, contact Debt Collections at the Coast Guard's Pay and Personnel Center. The phone number is: 785-339-3610. The person there can also take credit card info over the phone if you want to charge the full $600 contribution to a credit card (for example, if your RELAD date – when you become ineligible – is tomorrow).
Before you can get GI Bill education benefit payments from the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA), you must first activate your benefit by submitting an application. You can do this either with a paper Application for VA Education Benefits form or using the DVA's on-line application called VONAPP (Veterans On Line Applications).
If you want to use the PDF/paper form, download it, fill it out , then sending it to the DVA office nearest you (listed on the last page of the form's instructions).
I recommend you activate your account as soon as you can because the DVA quotes a 3- to 4-month processing time for your application.
If you're in the regular Coast Guard and have the MGIB-AD, after you've completed two years of active duty.
If you're a Reservist under the MGIB-SR, immediately after completing "A" school.
If you're eligible for the new GI Bill, whenever you want after completing 90 days of active-duty service.
The procedure's the same as activating any of the GI Bill benefits, using either the on-line VONAPP (Veterans On Line Applications) or the PDF Application for VA Education Benefits form. For more information, see the question directly above: "How do I start using my GI Bill education benefits?"
The only GI Bill benefits you're currently authorized to transfer to a dependent are those under the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act (also called the new GI Bill). Check out the info about the new GI Bill elsewhere on this web site.
To be eligible to transfer your benefit, you have to be on active duty and have served for six or ten years in the Coast Guard (regular, Reserve, or any combination of the two), depending on whether you want to transfer it to your spouse or a child. And you may or may not have to agree to further obligated service, depending on how close you are to retirement.
Once you've gone to the Transfer of Education Benefits (TEB) web site and filled out the on-line application your request to transfer benefits will be forwarded to the Coast Guard. In short order (often just a few days), the Coast Guard will approve or (infrequently) disapprove your request and send you notification of the approval/disapproval decision by e-mail.
After that, you and your dependent will then fill out the VA form 22-1990E – either the PDF form or the on-line VONAPP (Veterans On Line Applications) – to activate what is now the dependent's benefit. (The DVA can take three to four months to process this request.) Once it's been completed, your spouse will receive a certificate of eligibility. If you transfer your benefit to a dependent child, hold off on filling out the 22-1990E form until the child has graduated from high school or turned 18, whichever comes first.
When the certificate of eligibility arrives (by mail), make a few copies of it and put the original away with your important papers. Your spouse will then take a copy of the letter to his/her school and the school will take it from there.
The benefits not transferred are lost. To avoid your dependents having only one month each of benefits and the remaining months dying with you, you should transfer all 36 months (or however many months you have) to your dependents. You can always re-distribute them later.
If you're not going to use the benefit yourself, there's really no reason to activate it for yourself ‒ especially since it can take three to four months for the DVA to finishing processing your request.
I’m sorry to tell you that at the moment, you can’t. The statutes which authorize the new GI Bill include a provision which allows certain personnel to transfer unused benefits to dependents (38 U.S. Code §3319). This statute defines eligible individuals as “any member of the Armed Forces” who meets certain criteria. Title 38 of the U.S. Code (pertaining to veterans’ benefits) includes a section which defines terms used throughout the title. That section (38 U.S. Code §101) states that "The term 'Armed Forces' means the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard, including the reserve components thereof."
Because the Public Health Service is not included in the definition of “Armed Forces” for purposes of Title 38, you may not transfer unused benefits under the new GI Bill to dependents.
However, relief may be on the horizon. On 21 July 2010, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs committee held a hearing on proposed changes to the new GI Bill. One of those who testified was the head of the USPHS Commissioned Officers’ Association, who is seeking to extend the transferability provision to commissioned PHS personnel.
You can use the benefits at the same time, but not for the same courses. For example, let's say you're taking five courses for 15 semester credits. You can use TA to pay for the tuition (and certain fees) on courses 1, 2, and 3 and file a claim for GI Bill benefits for only courses 4 and 5.
If you do this, make sure your school's GI Bill benefits person knows that you only want to file a claim for 6 (or however many) credits and enters this number (not the full 15 credits) on the DVA form verifying the number of credits you're taking. You must ensure that the your DVA claim is only for 6 credits.
Or, if you take multiple courses from different schools, you can use TA for those you take at School "A" and your GI Bill benefits for those you take at School "B".
Another possibility (if you're under the MGIB-AD or new GI Bill) is to use a provision called "Top-up". "Top-up" pays the difference between the amount covered by TA and the total cost (see Top-Up).
The DVA is responsible for administering GI Bill education benefits and there’s nothing in the GI Bill statutes which prohibits GI Bill benefits from being used with tuition assistance (TA) at the same time.
But the DVA doesn’t have any control over TA. The individual services (including the Coast Guard) own TA. That means they can set rules on when and under what conditions TA can be used. That’s why the five services each have slightly different TA rules. (For two examples, Navy personnel can only use TA for 16 semester credits or 24 quarter credits per year and Coast Guard civilians are authorized to use TA, while civilian employees of the other services are not.)
This being the case, the Coast Guard has decided to restrict its personnel from using TA for the same courses they’re receiving GI Bill education benefits for. The DVA can say whatever it wants about using TA and GI Bill benefits at the same time, but the Coast Guard (and other services) have the final word on when, how, and for what TA can be used.
At a minimum you'll have to repay the amount covered by TA. You could also be charged and convicted under the UCMJ, and incur a penalty of up to $10,000 or up to 10 years in prison or both.
Unfortunately, the answer right now is “no”. There’s no provision in the new GI Bill (the “Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act”) which will allow you to use money you contributed under Buy-up or to get that money back. That is, the money you’ve contributed under Buy-up will be lost if you convert to the new GI Bill.
What does that mean to you? If you haven’t contributed the maximum ($600) under Buy-up, only you can decide if you should continue making Buy-up contributions. But if you’re absolutely sure you’re going to elect to go with the new GI Bill when that option’s available (sometime this summer), you should probably stop making your Buy-up contributions.
You can still use your additional Buy-up money if you stay with the MGIB-AD. But if you want to use it and convert to the new GI Bill, I highly recommend you contact your senators and representative in Congress to let them know your feelings. (If you need info to include in your letter/e-mail, feel free to contact me.)