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Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: I am currently serving a 3-year enlistment which will pay off my student loans ($30,000). I am interested in going to law school and furthering my military career in the JAG corps. I would like to know if there are education benefits available to me. If so, how do I explore these options?

A: With a three-year enlistment and the Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) option, there isn’t much else left for you as far as GI Bill education benefits. You see, while you are under your SLRP three-year obligation, you are not acquiring Post 9/11 GI Bill eligibility. However, if you would reenlist for an additional three years, you would be 100% vested in the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Another option you could look at while still serving is the Tuition Assistance (TA) program.

Under it, your military branch can pay up to $250 per credit or $4,500 per year towards your tuition. Anything above that amount for now would be your responsibility. Once you are eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill, then you could also use the Top-Up program in addition to TA. The amount over TA would then come out of your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.

The trick to getting into the JAG Corp is to first make sure your ASVAB scores are high enough. Then you have to get your Juris Doctor (JD) or Bachelor of Law (LL.B) from an American Bar Association accredited law school. The final requirements are:
• being a U.S citizen
• admitted into the bar
• able to serve 20 years of active commissioned service before reaching the age of 62.

If you can meet all requirements, you may have a good chance at getting into the JAG Corps. Good luck!

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: If I use the VA Top-Up while on active duty, can I use the Post 9/11 GI Bill if I decide to leave the service?

A: Actually, it is called Tuition Top-Up. While using Top-Up does not affect your ability to use your Post 9/11 GI Bill after you get out, it does reduce the number of months of benefits you would have left to use.

Here’s how Top-Up works. First, it is used in conjunction with Tuition Assistance (TA). Since TA pays up to $250 per credit or up to $4,500 annually, anything above those limits is paid for through Top-Up.

Your service branch pays as much of your tuition as allowed by law and then bills the VA for the amount not covered by TA. The VA in turn, converts those costs to days and months of benefits and reduces your remaining unused Post 9/11 GI Bill by that amount.

TA and Top-Up are great programs because it helps you maximize your GI Bill benefits. Why? Because TA pays most of your tuition costs, leaving very little left to come out of your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.

If you are not using TA, you are leaving money on the table. You should be able to use TA and Top-Up and still have benefits left to use once you are out. See your Education Counselor for more in-depth information and the TA/Top-Up procedures used by your specific military branch of service.

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: My husband was honorably discharged Sep 25, 2009 – one month after the August of 2009 GI Bill was being put into place. He was unaware of the transfer of benefits and was not informed. I was told that we could appeal but when he called, some lady told him that he had to be active in the military in which he is not and told him automatically no without even getting any information from him. The GI Bill website says as long as he was in service on active or selective reserve on Aug. 1, 2009 in which he was, he is capable of benefits. There is a 1 month gap. How can we fight this and what do we need to do to appeal? Thank you.

A: There was a lack of information in general concerning the Post 9/11 GI Bill in the early days and months after August 1, 2009, so it is not surprising your husband did not know about having to make a transfer request while he was still serving. And that is one key of the Post 9/11 GI Bill and transfer to dependents option – still serving at the time of the transfer request.

The other two are he has to have served for at least six years and would have had to agree to serve an additional four years on his enlistment at the time of his transfer request.

So you can see why the “lady” told him he did not qualify – he was not currently serving at the time he wanted to make his transfer request.
However, all may not be lost yet. If your husband served in the Army or Air Force, you can appeal the fact that he did not know he had to make a request while still serving, however his request does not go the VA.

To make an appeal request, your husband has to fill out DD 149 – Application for Correction of Military Record and submit it to his service branch Board for Correction of Military Records. They will review his submitted information and make a decision on whether they think he knew and did not act while still serving, or if he in fact did not know until after he got out. You can get the address by Googling his branch of service Discharge Review Board.

The Board goes in under the assumption he knew, so it is his mission to convince them otherwise. It can take a while to hear back and right now only about 41% of the appeals are getting approved, but it is worth a try.

If your husband was in the Marines or Navy, he can still submit an appeal request, but these two branches have yet to act on any submitted appeals.

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: Hi Ron. My husband has been active duty for over ten years now. He would like to transfer his GI Bill benefits to me, but we are unclear if he can do that at this point or whether he would have to serve an additional 4 years. We have heard that it is possible if he has served 10 years and we have also heard that he would have to serve four more to make this happen. We would appreciate your help!

A: He would most likely have to serve an additional four years. There are certain instances where if he has served for at least 10 years, he could make a transfer of his Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to you without having to serve any additional time. The rule reads:
“Has at least 10 years of service in the Armed Forces (Active Duty and/or Selected Reserve) on the date of election, is precluded by either standard policy (service or DoD) or statute from committing to 4 additional years, and agrees to serve for the maximum amount of time allowed by such policy or statute.”

If for some reason he could not extend due to a policy or statue, then he could agree to serve as long as he could right up to his discharge. Such an instance could be if he was an officer and came up against his mandatory date of either getting promoted or discharged. If there was not place for him to go to get promoted, then he could agree continue to serve under this rule while going through the discharge process.

He could make a transfer request to you during this time, however, be aware that his request must be approved before he is discharged. Once out, it is too late.

Because it can take 8 to 10 weeks to get a transfer request approved, the trick is for him to make his transfer request as far in advance as possible and to make sure the VA knows he is not able to extend for another four years due to policy or statue.

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: I am currently in the Navy, soon to finish my 6 year enlistment. I enlisted with the Loan Repayment Program in my contract and I also paid the $1200 for the Montgomery GI Bill. I have read on many websites that the MGIB is incompatible with the LRP with only a single enlistment period. But I have also read that the Post 9/11 GI Bill is still compatible, but I would lose 3 years of my enlistment as eligible time to put towards the benefit. Could the MGIB possibly work the same way? I would like the full benefit but it seems that I will have to opt for the new GI Bill to get anything at all. As an added twist, my previous college loans were not paid off by the Navy until just recently in one lump sum rather than during the first 3 years of my enlistment like most people who get the LRP. My paperwork kept getting delayed by my loan companies. Would my Post 9/11 eligibility (if I am, in fact, eligible at all) commence upon my loans being paid off? or at the 3 year mark (thereby putting me at the 100% tier)?

A: What you heard about the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) and Post 9/11 GI Bill in regard to your Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) is correct as they are both saying the same thing. You cannot get GI Bill eligibility – any GI Bill – and use the SLRP for the same 3-year enlistment period.

But with a six-year enlistment, you can get all three! Let me explain. The first three years of your enlistment went to pay back the obligation you incurred when you opted for SLRP. Your next three years fully qualified you for 100% of the MGIB. The two programs were “incompatible” in the sense that you can’t use that same eligibility time for both programs.

While you were gaining eligibility for the MGIB, you were also gaining eligibility for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. As far as when your loans were paid off, it is immaterial. Your SLRP obligation ended at the three-year mark.

So your loans are paid off and you have 36 months of education benefits you can use under the MGIB, switch, and have an additional 1 year of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. Not bad! That is how to work the system!

Oh…one more thing. If you only need three years of benefits to get to your education goal, switch to the Post 9/11 GI Bill with all 36 months of benefits intact right away and get your $1,200 MGIB contribution back once you have used up the last month. Plus, in most cases, the Post 9/11 GI Bill pays more to the user.

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: Hello. I used to be in the Marine Reserves and got out in January 2004. The last two years from January 2002-January 2004, I was activated. I live in Texas and meet all the qualifications for the Hazelwood Act. Since I got out, I’ve finished my Associate in Sciences Degree for pre-physical therapy, but then decided to switch fields and get a certificate in Travel and Tourism. I still want to do Travel and Tourism, but I also want to start a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration this fall to help me out in Travel and Tourism, if not just to help me out in general. I have used my Chapter 30 benefits for both the Associate in Sciences degree and the Travel and Tourism certificate and now have one month and 28 days to be exact left in my Chapter 30 benefits to use by January 2014. I have just now learned of the Post 9/11 GI Bill and its monthly housing allowance plus the books stipend. From what I understand, I can only use one (the Chapter 30 or the new Post 9/11 GI Bill) at a time? Is that right? I suppose if I only have one month and 28 days left on the Chapter 30, I probably won’t have too much left on the Post 9/11 GI Bill if I decided to switch(that is if I’m allowed). I want to start my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration this fall, but I don’t know which bill is better to use considering what I have left on my benefits, and if I can use the Hazelwood Act at the same time with one of the bills. I just want to get the most out of my benefits.

A: Yes that is right. You will have to choose which GI Bill you wish to use. Eligibility for the Post 9/11 GI Bill goes back to September 10, 2001, so you have some eligibility for the New GI Bill that you can use – as a matter-of-fact 80%.

Because you are eligible for two GI Bills, here are a couple of things to think about. One, if you use up your remaining Chapter 30 benefits and then switch to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, you could get an additional 12 months of education benefits. If you switch with one month and 28 days left of your Chapter 30 benefits, that is the same amount of time you would get under the Post 9/11 GI Bill and not the additional time.

Or two, you can receive Hazelwood Act benefits and Chapter 30 benefits at the same time, however, you can’t get both under the Post 9/11 GI Bill. So while you could get Hazelwood Act benefits for almost two months, while you use up your remaining Chapter 30 benefits, I don’t think it is worth the hassle. But that is just me.

So it makes sense to exhaust your remaining Chapter 30 benefits first and then switch to the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Use up that additional year of benefits and then switch to your Hazelwood Act benefits. Under this plan, you could use up almost 14 months of GI Bill benefits and then still have 150 hours of Hazelwood Act benefits left to use.

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: Hello Mr. Kness. I currently have the Post 9/11 GI Bill and I am due to separate from the military in about a month. I have everything setup at my school and I have also accepted financial aid that was offered to me at my University. I was informed by the Veterans Affairs office at the University that my GI Bill payments won’t be disbursed soon enough to pay my tuition until February or March. The semester begins in January. My concern is I don’t want my financial aid that I accepted from the school to pay the tuition before the GI Bill pays it mainly because I would like the extra money from the financial aid to go directly to me. Will the school consider the tuition paid since they know the GI Bill is eventually going to pay it? What will happen with my GI Bill if my financial aid pays off the tuition before the GI Bill does?

A: Both great questions, because many people using the Post 9/11 GI Bill don’t understand how scholarships can affect how much the VA pays towards their tuition. There are two types of scholarships- those that are specified to pay tuition and those that can be used for anything. If yours is a “fenced” scholarship – one that must be used to pay tuition, then you would not get any additional money because the VA would end up paying less in tuition (because your scholarship paid a good chunk of it). The VA is the last payer in cases where there are other forms of financial assistance dedicated to paying tuition.

If your scholarship is of the non-dedicated type, then it can be used for anything and you should get the additional money to spend as you wish. While your scholarship sounds like a non-dedicated type, your school may use it to pay your tuition unless you talk with them and explain you are under the Post 9/11 GI Bill which will pay your tuition.

Once you start under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, it can take 8 to 10 weeks before you or your school see any money. With that said, they may pay your tuition with your scholarship right away and then bill the VA. If they do, that money is gone. However if they agree to wait for their money and bill the VA for the whole amount, then your scholarship money will come to you.

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: I joined the Air Force in Feb. of 2009 when the new Post 9/11 GI Bill was not an option, and I didn’t not like what the Montgomery GI Bill had to offer so I did the College Loan Repayment Program. I still paid the $1200 just in case the rumor of the new Post 9/11 GI Bill came out because I did not know what it would require. I enlisted for 4 years and do not plan on reenlisting active duty. I may go AF Guard, but I was wanting to know if I qualify for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. If there is a reference somewhere that helps explain my option. I do plan on going back to school to finish my degree, and it would be extremely awesome if I got the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Also, if I don’t get the Post 9/11 GI Bill, what are my options? If I join the AF Guard, do I eventually get the Post 9/11 GI Bill? Is there a waiver for me because the new Post 9/11 GI Bill hadn’t came out before I signed the agreement to get the College Loan Repayment Program? Any and every bit of information counts. Thank you in advance for your help.

A: When you signed up for the College Loan Repayment Program (CLRP), you incurred a three year obligation. During that obligation, you did not acquire GI Bill eligibility because you can’t use the same period of service for both. Your CLRP obligation ended in February 2012 and you are now gaining eligibility toward the Post 9/11 GI Bill. However, if you get out in February 2013, you would have 12 months of eligibility the 60% level; two more years of service would get you to the 100% level.

The reference you are looking for is on the VA’s website. Under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the VA would pay your tuition and fees directly to your school. Monthly, you would get the housing allowance based on the zip code of your school and the number of credits you are taking multiplied by your Post 9/11 GI Bill eligibility percentage.

As far as getting the Post 9/11 GI Bill after enlisting in the Air Guard, you would have to deploy for at least 90 days on a Title 10 order in support of a contingency operation to acquire minimum eligibility of 40%. However you already have 60%, so any additional eligibility time would be added onto your existing time and increase your percent of eligibility. If you want the full eligibility, you can either deploy for up to two years as part of the Air Guard or Air Force Reserve, or serve an additional two years on active duty.

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: I am active army and have only 9 months left until I ETS. I’ve been in 4 years and deployed before. I already bought a house and want to go to school there, but I have not used any of my GI Bill. I like that the Post 9/11 GI Bill pays for housing while you go to school. How long will the Post 9/11 GI Bill pay for full-time school? Thanks.

A: The fact that you deployed while on active duty really doesn’t factor into anything as you have already earned the maximum Post 9/11 GI Bill benefit of 36 months by serving at least three years on active duty.

With your 36 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, you can get a four-year degree by attending four 9-month academic school years, so potentially you could get your housing allowance for that length of time. You would also get a book stipend once per semester (up to the $1,000 per year limit) and the VA would pay your tuition up to the resident undergraduate rate if you attend a public school or up to $18,077.50 per year if you choose to attend a private school.

However, I want to note that you have to take at least 51% of the number of credits your school considers full-time as classroom classes to qualify for that housing allowance. And if your rate of pursuit is less than full-time (which it doesn’t sound like yours will be), your housing allowance would be prorated to a lesser amount based on the number of credits you take.

Just so you know, if you take all your classes online, then the maximum housing allowance you would get is capped at $684 per month. Your book stipend is calculated at $41.67 per credit.

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: I have 21 years of combined military experience and reside in the state of CT. 1989-1993 Active Army (Desert Shield Desert Storm Vet and went to school under the GI Bill/Army College Fund. 1993-1996 CT Army National Guard. 1999-present Army Reserves TPU with 2 tours to Iraq. Am I eligible for the new Post 9/11 GI Bill? If so, can I transfer these benefits to my two daughters so they can attend college? I am enlisted, currently an E-8 and plan to remain in the Army Reserves at least 9 more years.

A: I have good news and bad news. The good news is that with your 2 tours in Iraq, you have some eligibility under the Post 9/11 GI Bill. How much? Well it depends on the length of your deployments.

Assuming they were one year each in length, you would have 80% eligibility with 24 months of eligible service, meaning the VA would pay 80% of the tuition and the benefit user would get 80% of both the monthly housing allowance and book stipend. If your tours were less than 24 months, but more than 18 months, then you would be at the 70% tier.

The bad news is if you transfer your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to your daughters, you would either have only the number of months you had left under your original GI Bill, or if you used up those 36 months, 12 months of eligibility that you could transfer and split between them. Why?

Because under the Rule of 48, if you are eligible for two or more GI Bills, the maximum number of combined months of benefits is capped at 48. So if you used your 36 months of MGIB you earned from active duty, then you can only get 12 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill eligibility. If you did not use up your full 36 months of MGIB, then the most you can get under the Post 9/11 GI Bill is that same number of months you had left under the MGIB.

However, regardless of what you have, you can transfer them to your daughters. Just be aware that each daughter won’t get many months.