"The GI Bill" is a short-hand way of referring to a collection of education and other benefits provided to servicemembers and veterans, the first of which was enacted by Congress in 1944. Today, there are four GI Bill education programs. In the order in which they were created, they are the
Members of the regular Coast Guard are or may become eligible for benefits under the MGIB-AD and the new GI Bill. Members of the Coast Guard Reserve are or may become eligible for benefits under all four programs.
No matter which program you're under, you start out with a 36-month entitlement to benefits. "36 months" is a way of keeping track of how much of the benefit you have left; it is completely unrelated to the amount of time you have in which to use your entitlement.
When Congress enacted the original GI Bill in 1944, it wanted to make sure all veterans returning from World War II would be able to get a bachelor's degree if they wanted one. A bachelor's degree typically requires four years of school. A school year is typically nine months long. Four years times nine months per year is 36 months.
For each day the World War II veteran was in school, a day would be deducted from his 36-month entitlement until it was exhausted, at which time he (and back then it was only available to men) had also completed a bachelor's degree.
The same is true today under all four GI Bill education benefit programs. You're entitled to 36 months of benefits. If you're going to school full-time, for every day you're in class and receiving benefits, a day will be deducted from your entitlement until it's all gone. If you take a term off from school, no days will be deducted from your entitlement since you're not taking courses or (as a result) receiving benefits.
If you go to school less than full-time, less time will be deducted from your 36-month entitlement. If you're in school half-time, half a day will be deducted for every full day you're in class and receiving benefits. The same principle applies if you're in school ¼- or ¾-time.
None of what you read above has ANYTHING to do with how long you have to use your GI Bill benefit, however.
Those eligible for the MGIB-AD can use their benefit for a decade after they leave active duty. That is, a 10-year timer starts ticking the minute you leave active duty. Once it goes off, you can't use your GI Bill any more. However, if you return to active duty some time later (for 90 consecutive days or more), that 10-year timer will stop and be re-set to 10 years again the next time you leave active duty.
Reservists can use their MGIB-SR benefits for as long as they're in the Reserve.
The situation for Reservists under REAP is more complicated. In general, you have ten years after being honorably discharged from the Selected Reserve to use your REAP benefits. But if you're eligible for REAP, please check with the DVA to determine exactly how long you have to use your benefits.
Those who elect to receive benefits under the Post-9/11 Veterans' Educational Assistance Act ("new GI Bill") have 15 years from the date they leave active duty. That is, a 15-year timer starts ticking the minute you leave active duty. Once it goes off, you can't use your GI Bill any more. However, if you return to active duty some time later (for 90 consecutive days or more), that 15-year timer will stop and be re-set to 15 years again the next time you leave active duty.
One more thing. Although you're entitled to only 36 months of benefits under any single GI Bill program, you're also entitled to up to 48 months of benefits under any combination of GI Bill programs.
EXAMPLE: If you served out a four-year enlistment in the regular Coast Guard then leave active duty and sign a 6-year contract with Coast Guard Reserve, you'll be eligible for MGIB-AD, new (Post-9/11) GI Bill, and MGIB-SR benefits. You can choose how many months from each program to use, as long as the total number of months doesn't add up to more than 48.
Reservists are under the same 48-month rule, and also have to be eligible for more than one DVA education program to take advantage of it.
Many people are confused about the policy on using GI Bill benefits and tuition assistance at the same time. They often call the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) to ask if it's OK to do so. Invariably, the response from the DVA is “Yes”. But when they try to use both at the same time for the same courses, the Coast Guard says that's not allowed. Here's why.
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, even for the same courses. But the DVA has absolutely no authority over the Coast Guard's TA program, policies, or procedures.
Each of the armed forces has its own version of TA which each controls absolutely. This means each can set its own rules on when and under what conditions TA can be used. That’s why the five services each have slightly different TA rules.
Navy personnel can only use TA for 16 semester credits or 24 quarter credits per year. There are no such limits for Coast Guard personnel.
Coast Guard civilians are authorized to use TA, while civilian employees of the DoD services are not.
This being the case, the Coast Guard has decided that its personnel are not allowed to use TA to pay for courses they will receive MGIB-AD, MGIB-SR, or REAP reimbursements for or for courses the new GI Bill will pay for.
The DVA can say whatever it wants about using TA and GI Bill benefits at the same time and for the same courses, but the Coast Guard and other services have the final word on when, how, and for what TA can be used. The main point to remember is that you may not receive GI Bill benefits for courses paid for by TA.
This does not mean you can't receive GI Bill benefits for some courses at the same time TA is paying for other courses.
EXAMPLE: Say you're taking 6 courses totaling 18 credits. You know that the maximum benefits you can received under the MGIB-AD, MGIB-SR, or REAP top out at 12 credits (or whatever your school considers full-time attendance). That is, you don't receive any more GI Bill money for any credits beyond those 12.
If you wanted to, you could file a GI Bill benefits claim for 4 of your courses (12 credits) and use TA to pay for the other two courses (6 credits).
Just make sure the person verifying the number of credits you're taking for GI Bill purposes doesn't tell the DVA you're claiming 18 credits. Anything more than 12 and you'll be receiving benefits for courses being paid for by TA – which is contrary to Coast Guard regulations and could subject you to action under the UCMJ.
Before anyone who's eligible for any of the GI Bill education benefit programs can receive payments, she must first apply for her benefit (also called activating it). This is done via the "Application for VA Education Benefits" (on-line or PDF/paper).
The DVA requires paper activation requests to be sent to the DVA office that serves the region in which the school you plan to attend is located. If you're just activating your benefit, and haven't decided on a school yet or don't plan to use your benefit just now, send it to the office that serves the region you're geographically stationed in. (If you're submitting it via the on-line application, this is a moot point.)
Finally, if you're under the MGIB-AD or new GI Bill and are worried that activating your benefit will start the clock running on the expiration date, relax. Activating your benefit has no bearing on the length of time you will have in which to use your GI Bill benefit. You can use it for 10 or 15 years from the date you last served on active duty for more than 90 days, depending on which of the two programs you're under.
Activating your benefit is like applying for a credit card you plan to use on a long vacation. You don't apply for the credit card the day before you plan to leave on your trip, do you? The same is the case with activating your benefit. You want to have the activation process complete well before you want to use your benefits. (The process is currently taking as much as six months.)
New (Post-9/11) GI Bill: If you're eligible for the new GI Bill benefits you can submit your application after completing 90 days of military service.
REAP: If you're eligible for REAP benefits you can submit your application after completing 90 days of military service that was in support of a contingency operation.
MGIB-AD: If you're eligible for MGIB-AD benefits you can submit your application after you've served two years on active duty and have paid the required $1,200 (either in installments of at least $100/month or in lump sum).
MGIB-SR: If you're eligible for MGIB-SR benefits you can submit your application after completing "A" school. Because the process for the MGIB-SR is slightly different than for other programs (especially for those who didn't attend "A" school), click here for more information.
Various responsibilities with respect to the GI Bill are dispersed among many different government entities. The individual services fund it, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administers those funds, and the states decide which education and training programs can be paid for using GI Bill funds.
Before you make any decisions about where you're going to get your degree or your vocational training, make sure that it's been approved for GI Bill funding by the state it's located in. The DVA's web site has a search engine through which you can check to see if your program has been approved. If you don't find it via the search engine, it could be that the database hasn't been updated. In that case, you can contact the state approving agency directly. Remember to ask about the specific program you're interested in. A school can have some programs that have been approved and some that have not.
On the other hand, if you find out that a program you want has not been approved, ask some more questions. First ask if the school has sought approval. If it has, ask why it wasn't approved? If it hasn't sought approval, ask why not.
If the program is one you really think would be worthwhile, not only for yourself but for others who may want to attend using their GI Bill benefits, ask the school if it would be willing to seek state approval.
VA education benefits are not taxable.
Payments are prorated for the actual period (to the day) that you are enrolled. (Example: Start classes August 25 – your August check will be for 6 days, not the full monthly rate.)
Education benefits normally will not be terminated during any semester because your entitlement runs out. If you have one day of entitlement remaining at the beginning of a semester, the DVA will pay you through the end of that semester, provided you are within the ten- or fourteen-year eligibility period.
It normally takes three to six weeks for any changes in course work, dependent status, or address change to be reflected in your benefits check.
You can't just show up for classes to qualify for education benefits; you must be doing satisfactory work in all classes in order to receive benefits.
Associate's degree students in their last semester before graduation can add elective credits to their credit load to become eligible for a higher benefit rate. (Example: A student who needs only six credits to graduate in May may add six additional credits to become eligible for full-time DVA benefits.)
You may call the DVA toll-free (800-827-1000 or 888-442-4551) with questions concerning education benefits.
You will normally receive payments for the previous month (e.g., a deposit dated 01 April will be for the period 01-31 March).