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Can I Use Tuition Assistance and the Montgomery GI Bill at the Same Time?

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: I’m looking for some insight on using tuition assistance and Montgomery/Post 9/11 GI Bills at the same time. I know in the Guard/Reserve you cannot use the Top Up program, but I am wondering if you can utilize both benefits, using one of the benefits for costs other than tuition/school related expenses. I have a wife and a newborn son and I want to go back to school full time, so I won’t have much time to work. Any info would be greatly appreciated. — Ian

A: You are correct Ian, the Guard and Reserve does not have Tuition Top-Up, but they do have the Federal Tuition Assistance (FTA).

I do want to make sure you know which Montgomery GI Bill you have as there is a considerable difference between the two. If you received your Montgomery GI Bill while you were on active duty, then you have the MGIB-AD. If the only MGIB you have is the one you got when you came into the Selected Reserve, then you have the MGIB-SR. The biggest issue is they do not pay anywhere near the same.

The MGIB-AD pays up to $1,648 per month to go to school full-time, if you served for at least three years on active duty. By comparison, the MGIB-SR pays $362 per month. With either GI Bill, you can use FTA, but keep in mind it usually pays up to $250 per credit with a $4,500 per year maximum.

Under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the pay structure is different than it is under either MGIB. The amount of housing allowance you get is directly related to how much eligible service you have, the school’s zip code and the number of credits you are taking.

If as a Selected Reservist the only eligible time you have is a one-year deployment for example, then you would only get up to 60% of the full amount. Three years of eligible service, such as being on active duty the whole time, or 3 one-year deployments, would get you to the 100% tier.

Under the New GI Bill, the VA would pay your tuition at a public school up to the resident rate (if there is a difference after FTA is first applied), plus you would get the monthly housing allowance, and a book stipend of about $500 per semester (up to the $1,000 per year cap). Under either MGIB, you have to pay your own tuition if there is a difference after what FTA pays.

The caution is the combination of what FTA pays and the Post 9/11 GI Bill will not exceed the total cost of tuition. You are not making “extra” money. And entitlement use is the same regardless of the amount the VA pays toward your tuition – four months of entitlement for a 16-week semester.

Under the MGIB however, entitlement use is calculated at one month of use for each $1,648/$362 paid out depending on which MGIB you use and you could make additional money using the FTA/MGIB combination as you are not limited to the total cost of tuition.

Plus, don’t forget you are also getting drill pay per month and any education benefits your state may offer to its Selected Reservists. It all adds up!

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