Logo American Veteran

Decoding The Military Benefits: How Do GI Bills Work?

July 18, 2023

Ever found yourself puzzled and thinking, "how do GI Bills work, anyway?" Don't fret; you're not alone. These educational benefits are a lifeline for many service members, veterans, and their families, but understanding the intricacies can be a challenging endeavor. So, buckle up as we demystify the GI Bills for you in this comprehensive guide. From their historical origin to modern application, we'll cover it all. Let's get started!

Origin of GI Bills: The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944

World War II was an era of great turmoil and change, and when it ended, the U.S. government wanted to give its veterans a leg up. Thus, in 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act into law. Known popularly as the GI Bill of Rights, this law provided a range of benefits to war veterans, including low-cost mortgages, business loans, and, most importantly, funding for education and vocational training.

The Modern GI Bill: What Is It?

In the evolving landscape of military service and higher education, the GI Bill has also undergone significant transformations since its inception in 1944. Today's service members and veterans have access to two major forms of the GI Bill: The Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill

Fast forward to the 21st century, the Post-9/11 GI Bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008. This bill provides education benefits to service members and veterans who served on active duty for 90 or more days after Sept. 10, 2001. These benefits are tiered based on the number of days served on active duty, creating a "payment percentage" that ranges from 40% to 100%.

Eligibility Criteria for Post-9/11 GI Bill

To be eligible for benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you must have served at least 90 aggregate days on active duty after September 10, 2001, or have been honorably discharged from active duty for a service-connected disability after serving 30 continuous days following September 10, 2001. 

Additionally, the character of discharge can affect eligibility, with only those receiving an honorable discharge typically qualifying for full benefits. Furthermore, members of the Reserve or National Guard may be eligible based on their active service.

The Montgomery GI Bill

Unlike its younger sibling, the Montgomery GI Bill is divided into two parts: The Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD) for those who are serving or have served on active duty, and The Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) for those who have committed to six years in the Selected Reserve.

Eligibility Criteria for Montgomery GI Bill

For the MGIB-AD, you must have served at least two years on active duty, and for the MGIB-SR, you must be a reservist with a six-year obligation in the Selected Reserve.

Factors such as the period of service, the character of discharge, and the specific commitments within the Selected Reserve could also influence your eligibility for MGIB-AD and MGIB-SR.

What Do GI Bills Cover?

At the heart of the GI Bill lies a commitment to aiding veterans, service members, and their dependents in attaining higher education or specialized training. So, what exactly do the GI Bills cover? Let's delve into the specifics.

Tuition and Fees

First and foremost, the GI Bills offer a robust coverage of tuition and associated fees. If you are eligible for full benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) comes forward to pay the entirety of your tuition and fees if you're attending a public school. If a private or foreign institution is your choice, the VA will cover either the actual tuition and fees or an annually determined national maximum amount, whichever is lesser. This gives beneficiaries the flexibility to pursue higher education across a wide array of institutions without financial strain.

Housing Allowance

Moving beyond education, the Post-9/11 GI Bill recognizes that living expenses also pose a significant financial challenge. Therefore, eligible beneficiaries may receive a Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA). This allowance mirrors the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for an E-5 rank with dependents and is determined based on the zip code of your school. This additional support can ease the cost of living, especially in high-rent areas, and allow students to focus more on their studies.

Books and Supplies Stipend

Understanding the manifold expenses associated with pursuing education, the Post-9/11 GI Bill extends a stipend for books and supplies. You can receive up to $1,000 annually, disbursed proportionally according to your enrollment status. Whether it's textbooks for the new semester, a needed piece of software for your course, or other essential academic materials, this stipend helps mitigate the often overlooked costs of supplies, ensuring you're well-equipped for success in your academic journey.

The GI Bills, thus, provide a holistic support structure, encompassing not just tuition but also other significant expenditures associated with the pursuit of higher education. They are designed to help beneficiaries stride forward in their academic pursuits without financial burdens holding them back.

How To Apply for GI Bills?

You can apply for your GI Bill benefits in several ways, including online through the VA website, in person at a VA regional office, or by mailing in a completed application form. The process typically involves completing the appropriate application form and providing supporting documentation, such as your discharge or separation papers, proof of military service, and any additional evidence needed to support your claim.

Tips To Maximize the Benefits of Your GI Bill

The GI Bill offers an array of benefits to veterans and service members to aid in their pursuit of higher education. But, knowing how to utilize these benefits to their fullest potential can significantly enhance the value received. Here are some strategies to help you maximize your GI Bill benefits:

  • Understanding Your Benefits: First and foremost, make sure you understand the ins and outs of your specific GI Bill. Whether it's the Post-9/11 GI Bill or the Montgomery GI Bill, each comes with its unique set of benefits and eligibility criteria. Knowing what you are entitled to can aid you in making informed decisions.

  • Consider Public Institutions: The Post-9/11 GI Bill covers 100% of tuition and fees at state-operated schools. This could mean substantial savings if you opt for a public institution. Be sure to explore these options and consider whether they align with your educational goals.

  • Plan Your Course Load: The amount of benefits you receive can depend on your enrollment status. For instance, the book stipend and housing allowance depend on how many classes you take. Strategize your course load to optimize these benefits.

  • Explore Yellow Ribbon Schools: If you’re considering a private institution or graduate school, look for those participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program. This program can make up the difference if your tuition exceeds the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition, reducing your out-of-pocket costs.

  • Apply Early: The VA can take a few weeks to process your GI Bill benefits. Therefore, it's crucial to apply as early as possible to ensure your tuition and fees are covered before the deadline.

  • Use Career Counseling Services: The VA offers career counseling services to help beneficiaries make informed decisions about their education and career paths. Take advantage of these services to guide your academic journey.

  • Don't Forget about Non-degree Programs: The GI Bills also cover non-degree programs such as trade schools, boot camps, and certificate programs. If traditional college isn't your path, these options could be a perfect fit.

By leveraging these strategies, you can maximize your GI Bill benefits and make a significant stride towards a successful educational journey and, eventually, a rewarding career.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the purpose of the GI Bill? 

The GI Bill provides educational benefits to service members, veterans, and their dependents to assist them in their post-service transition to civilian life.

2. Does the GI Bill cover online courses? 

Yes, the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers both in-person and online training, giving you the flexibility to study in a way that suits your lifestyle.

3. Do I have to use my GI Bill benefits right away? 

No, you have up to 15 years from your last period of active duty of at least 90 consecutive days to use your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

4. Is the housing allowance under the GI Bill taxable? 

No, the housing allowance provided under the GI Bill is not considered as income, so it's not subject to federal or state income tax.

5. Can I transfer my GI Bill benefits to my dependents? 

Yes, the Post-9/11 GI Bill allows for benefits to be transferred to spouses and children, but certain conditions must be met.


Navigating the intricacies of "how do GI Bills work" can initially seem daunting, but with the right strategies and understanding, veterans and service members can significantly leverage their educational benefits. The GI Bill is more than just a financial aid; it's an investment in the future of those who have served their country. 

By maximizing these benefits, recipients are not only honoring their commitment but also building a foundation for a brighter, educated future. As you embark on your academic journey, remember to continually refer back to the core principles and guidelines of the GI Bill, ensuring you reap its full potential.

Interested in safeguarding your digital world? Dive into our comprehensive guide on Cybersecurity for Military Personnel and discover how you can fortify your online presence. The resources by American Veteran are dedicated to arm you with the right knowledge.

Michael Blair contributes his expertise to help veterans access government benefits and resources. Through his informative articles and guides, he plays a vital role in empowering veterans and improving their quality of life.
Logo American Veteran
Americanveteran.org strive to provide accessible information and assistance to help veterans navigate post-service challenges. Explore our collection of helpful guides, articles, and tools to access the benefits and support you deserve.
© 2024 American Veteran. All Rights Reserved.

DMCA.com Protection Status