The GI Bill is a valuable benefit that has helped veterans pay for college since World War II. The Post-9/11 GI Bill, introduced in 2009, and revised several times since then, expanded the benefits for people who have served in the military since September 11, 2001. Eligible service members and veterans can receive money for tuition, housing and books to attend college or other educational programs and can claim benefits for up to 15 years after leaving the military. Service members who separate on or after January 1, 2013, remain eligible to use their benefits indefinitely—they’ll never expire. Some can even transfer their benefits to their spouse or children.
Here's how to make the most of the GI Bill and start using the benefits.
1. Find out if you qualify for benefits. You can qualify for partial GI Bill benefits if you’ve served on active duty for at least 90 days since September 11, 2001. You can get full benefits if you serve for at least 36 months, or if you serve on active duty for at least 30 continuous days and are discharged because of a service-related disability.
For more information about eligible programs and benefits for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, as well as the older Montgomery GI Bill, see the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) website.
2. Sign up for benefits. If you want to use the benefits yourself, gather your paperwork and go to the How to Apply section of the GI Bill website for the online application, or apply by mail, in person or with the help of a trained professional. You'll need your Social Security number, bank account direct deposit information, education and military history, and basic information about the school or training facility you want to attend or are attending now.
A VA Regional Claims Processing Office will process the application, and the school will send a request to the VA for tuition and fees, which are paid directly to the school. Your housing allowance and stipend for books and supplies will be paid to you through direct deposit to your bank account.
3. Get extra help from the Yellow Ribbon Program. The GI Bill pays the full cost of in-state tuition at a public college or up to a predetermined rate (adjusted annually) for a private college. GI Bill benefits might not be enough to cover your bills if you attend an out-of-state public college or private college, or if you go to graduate school. Many colleges offer Yellow Ribbon scholarships, matched by the VA, to help fill in the gaps.
To qualify, you must be eligible for the maximum GI Bill benefits and apply directly to the college after you receive a Certificate of Eligibility from the GI Bill program. Visit the Yellow Ribbon Program at the GI Bill website for additional information.
4. Learn about transferring your benefits.One of the best features of the Post-9/11 GI Bill is that you may now be eligible to transfer your benefits to your spouse and children. They can use the benefits for college expenses. To qualify to make the transfer, you generally must have served on active duty or selected reserve for at least six years and must agree to serve four more years, and the person getting benefits has to be enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). For more information about eligibility and details about the application process, visit the VA's GI Bill Transfer website.
The Department of Education also provides information for military families and veterans about education benefits and resources, including links to sources of financial aid and information on federal student loan benefits.