By Raquel Harrah with Noëlle Bernard
The first GI Bill, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, was a monumental piece of legislation that transformed the lives of veterans and their families, establishing the ideals of the American Dream and creating the infrastucture for a stable middle class of the 1950’s. Now almost 70 years later, the new GI Bill, including the Post-9/11 and Montgomery GI Bill, has reestablished one of America’s greatest contributions to veterans. The Post-9/11 GI Bill introduces a new generation of veterans to the possibility of full coverage for an undergraduate degree at any public university or college in which the veteran resides.
“It’s an unbelievable deal to veterans,” said former army officer John Strohecker, who served for eight years. “Veterans Affairs assesses whether you’re available for full benefits depending on how much time you’ve served since 9/11. It’s really a remarkable and tremendous program.”
In an effort to help veterans like its predecessor, the new GI Bill was proposed in 2008 by Senator James Webb of Virginia as a means to fund college for veterans having served 90 days of active duty after September 10, 2001. The new GI Bill has three parts: tuition, books, and subsistence for up to 36 months, payable for up to 15 years after release of active duty.
Signed into law in July 2008, the Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect August 1, 2009.
Eligible veterans must have served either 30 continuous days of active duty and must be discharged for a service-connected disability, or served the 90 aggregate days.
Montgomery GI Bill
The Montgomery GI Bill and Post-9/11 GI Bill are separate and contain different benefits for veterans. Service members and veterans are not able to receive both education benefits simultaneously. If a veteran or service member is awarded both benefits, they must make the decision of which GI Bill to employ; the decision to use the Post-9/11 Bill in this situation is irrevocable and the Montgomery benefits will no longer be available.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill usually provides more benefits in certain circumstances, but it is important for the recipient to research which bill offers the most benefits to meet their needs. In most cases, the Montgomery Bill provides better overall benefits to veterans and service members taking online classes.
The Montgomery Bill is only available to enlisted service members and does not extend to officers. It works similar to a 401K; the service member contributes $100 a month for the first 12 months of active duty to receive a maximum monthly payment rate of $1,473 for 36 months. Qualified individuals must serve at least two years of active duty. The Montgomery GI Bill supports educational programs such as college, vocational school, apprentice or job training, flight training, and licensing or certification exams.
Disparate from the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s 15-year life expectancy, the Montgomery GI Bill expires after 10 years from separation of the military. However, if benefits have expired and/or benefits have been exhausted and the veteran is currently unemployed between the ages of 35-60, they may qualify for the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, which would award an additional year of Montgomery GI Bill benefits. Along with monetary benefits, the veteran would receive access to re-training programs.
Benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill are not transferable to children. This benefit is unique to the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Reinforcing Family Values
A major concern before the bill was enacted was the benefits offered in a relatively short time period that were presumed to deter longer service in order to take advantage of the schooling or training offered. The debate over the new GI Bill argued whether there existed positive reinforcements to stay in service for extended lengths of time.
The concern was resolved with a solution that measured the integrity and sacrifice of service members. As of August 1, 2009, individuals who served at least six years in the Armed Forces and who agreed to serve an additional four years are able to transfer unused entitlement to their spouse. After 10 years of service, individuals may choose to transfer benefits to their spouse or children. These provisions to the GI Bill have drawn appeal from a wide range of supporters.
“If you haven’t been in the military, you don’t know how much of the burden is carried by the family. The mom and dad are gone for six to 12 months at a time. Anything you can do for the family is great,” said Strohecker.
Since its enactment in 2009, nearly 800,000 veterans and service members have taken advantage of GI Bill entitlements, making higher education accessible to many military men and women who never considered it a possibility.
Strohecker, who is currently working full-time and seeking his master’s degree, recognizes the opportunity the Post-9/11 GI Bill grants him. The full benefits of the Post-9/11 GI Bill were unbeknownst to Strohecker (who knew about the Montgomery GI Bill, but wasn’t eligible since he already obtained a four-year undergraduate degree while involved in the ROTC program). A friend suggested using the Post-9/11 GI Bill towards an MBA.
“I wouldn’t even consider a full-time program if not for this. I have a wife and two kids; I’m sure graduate school would be totally out of some people’s reach if weren’t for this program,” Strohecker said.
Strohecker also points out that these programs allow returning veterans to work and seek higher education simultaneously with fewer constraints. The program makes school seem more accessible to veterans who wouldn’t find it possible otherwise to leave the workforce. Private school education and foreign universities’ assistance caps out at $17,500, but veterans may apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program, which can aid in additional funding towards higher-cost schools.
Improving Benefits to Meet Veterans’ Needs
The Post-9/11 GI Bill continues to undergo changes and tweaks. On October 1, 2011, students taking strictly online classes were eligible for up to half of the average monthly stipend awarded to veterans attending a university. Active-duty service members were also reconsidered and are eligible for annual book stipends.
Following August 1, 2011, members of the National Guard who performed active service duties were awarded Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. The 90 days of active service in the National Guard includes organizing, administering, recruiting, instructing, or training the National Guard, or responding to a national emergency.
However, as of August 1, 2011, veterans are no longer eligible to receive break pay, or interval pay, during times when the university is closed, unless for an Executive Order of the President or an emergency school closing. This change has stirred controversy from veterans who find it difficult to pay housing and living expenses within the two to four weeks of breaks without the monthly stipend.
Overall, there are still issues with the GI Bill and its accompanying legislation. What most can agree with, though, is the amount of good the bills have done since their original passing more than a half century ago. The GI Bill has helped provide educations for generations of returning veterans—an opportunity that continues to this day and hopefully will continue even longer.