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What Is the Best Way to Maximize My Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits While In the PHS?

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: I am currently active duty in the Public Health Service. I want to enroll in an online post-graduate program and remain active. Everything I read says to not use the Bill while active, but I don’t think the PHS has tuition assistance. What would be the best way to approach maximizing my benefits? Also, I am not clear on the 36-month allotment. Hypothetically, does this mean I can go to school half-time for 8 years, even if there is a 2-year gap in there somewhere? Thanks for the help!

A: I don’t know that using your Post 9/11 GI Bill while on active duty is a “bad” thing; it is just that you would not maximize your GI Bill benefits by doing so. The difference is the Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA).

Active duty members drawing BAH are not authorized to also get the MHA. Being you are taking classes online, this amounts to $714.50 per month that you would not receive. If you were taking classes on campus, you would be losing over twice that amount.

But on the other hand, the VA would pay your tuition directly to your school and you would get the book stipend. If you are at the 100% tier, meaning you have three or more years of eligible time, then your tuition would be paid in full at the resident rate at a public school or up to $19,198.31 per year at a private school. The book stipend calculates out at $41.67 per credit with a $1,000 yearly maximum.

If your primary goal is to get your post-graduate degree before you get out of public service, then this is a great way to do it. If your goal is to make as much as you can from your Post 9/11 GI Bill, then you would be better off working on your advanced degree after getting out of public service.

As far as entitlement use, you use one day of entitlement for each day in school. So yes you could go to school half-time for up to 8 years. and you can start and stop your Post 9/11 GI Bill use at will up to 15-years after your discharge from the PHS.

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