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Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: Hello, I’ve served in the Army now for 5+ years and am in the process of ACAP to separate from the military. I plan to start school in Denver next fall…I recently failed a record PT test and was told that if I failed another I would be separated from the Army and would lose all benefits including the Post 9/11 GI Bill. I have heard numerous answers from that as long as you get an honorable discharge you will get your GI Bill benefits to if you don’t complete your term of enlistment you will forfeit all GI Bill benefits. I was just wanting to clear up the issue and see what the correct issue is on that.

A: What you heard – “as long as you get an honorable discharge you will get your GI Bill benefits” – is the truth. If you do end up failing another pt test, talk to your Commander about what discharge s/he is considering, your plans for using your GI Bill and how a discharge less than fully Honorable would prevent you from accomplishing your plans. You Commander knows all this stuff already, but it doesn’t hurt to let him or her know that you also know it and that you plan to better yourself if s/he allows you to use your GI Bill benefits.

As a matter of Code, your command has to do the following first before issuing a Chapter 13 discharge – Separation for Unsatisfactory Performance. You must have been formally counseled in writing at least once prior to initiation of the chapter action, and this counseling must include:

1. The reason for the chapter action.

2. The fact that separation action may be initiated if you fail another pt test.

3. The type of discharge that could result from the possible separation action and the effect of each type.

4. That you should have been given reasonable time to correct the deficiency.

This must not have happened yet or otherwise you would know what kind of discharge they were considering.

If the CO gives you a Chapter 13, then you would not be able to use your GI Bill benefits. Your only option then is to try and convince the Army Discharge Board to upgrade your discharge to Honorable – something done in only 41% of the cases heard.

As far as not finishing out your enlistment, don’t worry about that. You have served for at least three years after September 10, 2001 – all that is required for full 100% Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. Get the Honorable discharge and you’ll be all set.

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: What is the first step for a retiree who has never used any Montgomery GI Bill benefits, and wishes to use them now…especially since they cannot be transferred to my dependents since I retired in late 2008. Thank you. — Tom

A: The first step Tom is to realize they have an expiration date – 10 years from your date of discharge, which would make it 2018. Next would be to go to the eBenefits website and submit VA Form 22-1990. Be sure to check block 9B in Part II as the GI Bill you want to use. In return, you’ll get a Certificate of Eligibility that you’ll need when enrolling in school as a GI Bill student.

Right now, the payment for the Montgomery GI Bill is $1,648 per month. Out of that amount, you have to pay your own tuition, fees, books, etc.

But you do have another option – the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Because you had at least three years of service after September 10, 2001, you also have this GI Bill. One advantage is it has a 15-year shelf life giving you an additional 5 years to use your benefits. Also, under this GI Bill the VA pays your tuition directly to your school and you get a monthly housing allowance that is almost as much as what you get paid under the MGIB. Also, each semester you get a book stipend.

Generally speaking the Post 9/11 GI Bill is a better option for most students. And you have one more option. You can use up your 36 months of MGIB benefits, switch to the Post 9/11 GI Bill and get an additional 12 months of benefits and the additional 5 years to use them. All in all, it is a pretty sweet deal.

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: If I am divorced not receiving any BAH, yet my ex-husband is active and is receiving BAH…I AM STILL ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE HOUSING STIPEND, based on the fact that “I” am not receiving BAH benefits? If I provide VA with divorce decree and a letter verifying that I am not receiving BAH payments, does this make me eligible for the housing stipend?

A: No you can’t get the Post 9/11 GI Bill housing stipend if your ex-spouse is still serving and drawing BAH. That is the official policy of the VA. Now if your spouse chooses not to receive BAH, then you would be eligible for the housing allowance.

It doesn’t matter if you send in a divorce decree and a letter stating that you are not receiving BAH, you won’t get the housing allowance.
However with that said, some divorce lawyers skilled in military divorces have been successful in pressing the courts to allow the service member to transfer Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to the ex-spouse in lieu of the service member paying alimony prior to the final proceedings. The service member must still decline taking BAH, but would not have to pay an additional amount in alimony.

But with your divorce already final, that is most likely not an option. However even though you are not getting the Post 9/11 GI Bill housing allowance, hopefully you are getting a monthly alimony and you should be getting your tuition paid and receiving the book stipend.

The thing that could really hurt you now is if your ex-spouse would pull back your remaining unused Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, which unless that was addressed
in the divorce proceeding, s/he is entirely within his/her right to do so. If your lawyer was sharp, s/he put in a clause that would indemnify your ex-husband if he tried to revoke your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: I have 19 months left on my MGIB and it is scheduled to expire (10 years) in 2 weeks. I have not had an opportunity to use the rest of it. I am also eligible for Post 9/11 GI Bill. I assume that I can convert to the Post 9/11 and keep my 19 months (for another 5 years). Is there any way to let the MGIB “expire” and then start the Post 9/11…say the next day and get 19 months + 12 months? Thanks for your advice.

A: Yes you can convert your present 19 months of Montgomery GI Bill entitlement that is set to expire over to the Post 9/11 GI Bill and get an additional 5 years to use your remaining benefits.

The way to do it is to go over to the eBenefits website and submit VA Form 22-1990. In Part II, be sure to put a check in Block 9f as the Post 9/11 GI Bill is the one you want to go to, put an effective date on the line, and check the Chapter 30 box as the GI Bill you are giving up.

According to official VA policy, all you would get is the 19 months you have left and not the additional 12 months of benefits, however, I have heard from some veterans that when they converted to the Post 9/11 GI Bill after their MGIB had expired, they not only got their remaining MGIB months, but also the additional 12 months.

So in light of that, I would let your MGIB expire and then switch over to the Post 9/11 GI Bill. You have nothing to lose by doing so and everything to gain.

If all you get is your 19 months, then oh well. That is all you would have received if you would have converted before your GI Bill expired. If you end up getting 31 months all the better!

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: So basically I can only get one degree (i.e. a bachelor’s) in that 36-month time frame? It took me 20 months of benefits to get my B.S. degree. The master’s program I want to take will far exceed the remaining 14 months of benefits left. Therefore, I am unable to go beyond a bachelor’s degree. Am I understanding this correctly? If so, is there any way around this to tap into all those unused funds that I am entitled too?

A: The 36 months of benefits provided for in your GI Bill is enough for one four-year degree. That was all it was ever intended to provide. If you have 14 months left to use on you Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB), you can use it as a start on your master’s degree. Granted it won’t pay for the whole thing, but it should pay for over half of it as most master’s degree programs are two-year programs.

If you also qualify for the Post 9/11 GI Bill, by serving for at least three years after September 10, 2001, then you could get an additional 12 months of benefits which should give you enough to finish your master’s degree when paired with your remaining 14 months of MGIB benefits.

The way to switch from the MGIB to the Post 9/11 GI Bill is to go to the eBenefits website and submit VA Form 22-1990. Be sure to mark Block 9f in Part II, enter an effective date when you want your Post 9/11 GI Bill to kick in (make the date well after you run out of MGIB benefits) and check Chapter 30 as the GI Bill you are giving up.

If you did not opt for the MGIB when you enlisted, then all you have is 36 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits and in that case, you would have to fund the remaining part of your master’s degree out-of-pocket.

While you may think the Uncle Sam “owes” you both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, he does not. I know a lot of students who would be thrilled to get their four-year degree and half of a master’s degree paid for.

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: My name is Abraham and I am looking into attending Pima Medical Institute next year but I am unsure of a few things.

1. I have 100% of my Chapter 33 and enough months to finish out the program, but will it be covered entirely or will I owe a portion of the program? The program is for an associate’s degree as a Physical Therapy Assistant.

2. Will I receive the full amount of MHA each and every month since it is a year round program and I will be completing more than 12 credits a semester? If I will not receive the full amount, how much should I expect to receive each month? I would be attending the Mesa campus.

A: The Pima Medical Institute is a private post-secondary school Abraham that has 13 campuses total in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas and Washington. However, only their Mesa, Tucson, Denver, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Houston and Seattle locations have the associate degree program in Physical Therapy Assistant.

On their website, they are showing $11,070 in tuition and fees, and $559 in books and supplies. Being you are at the 100% Post 9/11 GI Bill tier, the VA should pay for all of your tuition and fees. Their new maximum for private schools is up to $20,235.02 per year as of August 1st.

Because it is a degree–producing course, they would also pay $41.67 per credit per semester (with a $1,000 per year cap) in book stipend money. You should get paid the book stipend for all the semesters except the summer one. With only $559 in book costs, you’ll make a little extra money there.

Pima’s website is showing your program at 18 months long; going year round is no problem. The VA will pay you the full amount due to you each month while in the program.

As far as how much you’ll get in housing allowance, the BAH Calculator is showing $1,461 per month for Mesa, AZ. For 12 credits per semester, your book stipend would be $500 per semester. This should give you a good idea of how much you should get so you can plan accordingly.

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: If I wanted to get a certification in massage therapy school, can I get paid the housing allowance? If yes, what type of schools can I attend?

A: If you use the Post 9/11 GI Bill to attend a vocational school that teaches massage therapy, then yes, you would get the monthly housing allowance (MHA). It would be calculated based on the zip code of your school and because it is a non-degree program, it is considered to be a full-time program. In degree programs, the number of credit are factored into the housing allowance, so students with a rate of pursuit of less than full-time get less than students who have a full-time rate of pursuit.

You would also get up to $83 per month in book stipend money. This too differs from being in a degree program as those students get up to $41.67 per credit per semester in book stipend money.

The VA would pay your tuition and eligible fees directly to your school. If it is a public school, then they would pay up to 100%. If you would attend a private school, then the VA would pay up to $20,235.02 per year towards your tuition.

With either school, if you are at a tier less than 100%, the amount they would pay would be pro-rated down to a lesser amount and the balance would be your responsibility to pay.

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: I have been using my Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits for school under the system where my time on active duty qualified me for 60% of my tuition. I just learned that my Reserve time would qualify me for 90% coverage. If it is accurate and I am qualified for a higher percentage tier, will the VA back pay me for extra 30% that I was paying that the Post 9/11 GI Bill should have been covering?

A: I’m not sure what you mean when you say “… under the system where my time on active duty qualified me for 60% of my tuition.” That “system” is eligible time. If you are at 60%, then it means you spent at least 12 months, but less than 18 months, on active duty, so I’m guessing that time was on Title 10 Orders in support of a contingency operation in either the National Guard or Reserves. But then you reference your Reserve time, so I don’t think you were in the Reserves at the time you earned your Post 9/11 GI Bill.

For your Reserve time to count as eligible Post 9/11 GI Bill time, it would have to have been either mobilized Title 10 time or Title 32 time in the AGR (Army Guard Reserve) Program.

If you are eligible at the 90% tier level, the VA would pay you back pay in only two instances. One, you would have had to have been at the 90% level during the whole time you are claiming back pay and two the VA can only pay back pay one year back. So if the back pay you want to claim is over a year old, you would not get it anyway even if you were at the 90% eligible level and they paid you for 60%.

The one way to find out which tier level you are really at is to submit new VA Form 22-1990 from the eBenefits website. In return, you’ll get your Certificate of Eligibility that shows which GI Bill you have, the tier level, how many months of entitlement you have left to use and your delimitation date. Also send in with your form any documentation that would prove you should be at a higher level.

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: I bought into the Montgomery GI Bill while in the Air Force. I’m currently in and have four years of service. I’m just curious about transferring my GI Bill to the Post 9/11 GI Bill or if I even need to do that because we automatically are given the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

A: Before transferring to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, there are a couple of considerations you should first make. One, what is your education goal? If it is just getting a four-year degree and stopping, then you most likely would be better off with the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

However if you plan to get a graduate degree, then you may want to first use up your 36 months of your Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) to get your bachelor’s degree, switch to the Post 9/11 GI Bill and get an additional 12 months of entitlement which would go a long ways towards paying for a master’s degree. Doing it this way would also be a better use of your additional Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits because of the way the it pays and the high cost of graduate school when compared to undergraduate work.

Also, if you are considering of making a transfer of benefits to either your spouse or kids, you’ll want to transfer to the Post 9/11 GI Bill while you are still serving and make a transfer of at least one month of benefits to each one before you get out. The MGIB doesn’t have any transfer option to it.

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: I’m going back to school to be a full-time student… at the same time I want to use my Post 9/11 GI Bill to get a private pilot license/certification… I’m assuming the VA won’t allow that?

A: It is possible to use your Post 9/11 GI Bill to get your private pilot’s license, but you can’t do it as a standalone program. However, some of the four-year aviation programs that terminate with a bachelor’s degree in aviation include getting a private pilot’s license as part of their VA-approved program. If you are going to school full-time anyway, why not go for your aviation degree and let your Post 9/11 GI Bill pay for it.

The VA doesn’t pay for a private pilot’s license alone because they consider it an avocation instead of a vocation – which the whole point of the GI Bill in the first place – to train you in something that you can make a career of. Just getting a private pilot’s license alone doesn’t fill that bill.

However, when it is part of a larger aviation training program, like one that would lead to being a commercial pilot, then it is a requirement of the program and covered. See the difference?

If you decide to get your private pilot’s license on your own, and once you pass the medical certification, then you could use your Post 9/11 GI Bill to get a certification in:
• Rotary wing
• B747-400
• Dual engine
• Flight Engineer

For flight certification programs, the Post 9/11 Bill will pay up to $11,562.86 per year. If you choose a four-year aviation program, then it would pay 100% of tuition and fees at a public school and up to $20,235.02 per year at a private VA-approved school having a four-year aviation program.

To me it is a no-brainer – get your four-year aviation degree.