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Is It True I Can Use Tuition Assistance If I Join the National Guard or Reserves?

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: Hey, I’m currently getting ready to ETSs and my NG/Reserve Recruiter on Fort Polk told me if I enlist National Guard that my Montgomery GI Bill will be paid to me and I can just use tuition assistance to cover college. How true is this? He made it sound as if all the monthly benefits would go to me and did not mention the stipulations of the Top-Up TA program (nor did he even mention it). Any help would be greatly appreciated. – Dylan

A: Well Dylan, what I think your Recruiter meant to say, or did say and you misunderstood him/her, was that by enlisting in one of the Reserve Components, which includes the National Guard and all the Reserves of the military branches, you could get your Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) and use Federal Tuition Assistance (FTA) at the same time, which is true but just to be clear, you have to go to school to get paid your MGIB benefits.

In your question, you made it sound like by enlisting in the National Guard or Reserves that you would start getting MGIB payments. You would also not get be able to use FTA or get paid state education assistance benefits when you are not in school.

However, you would continue to get your monthly drill pay as that is not connected with being in school and you may be eligible for other non-education state VA benefits depending on which state you enlist into.

As far as the Tuition Top-Up program, Reservist and National Guard members on drill status are not eligible for that program – only those on active duty.

Something your Recruiter might not have mentioned is that you are also eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill which is generally a better deal than the MGIB. Under the New GI Bill, the VA pays your tuition directly to your school and monthly you get a housing allowance and a book stipend once per semester (up to the $1,000 per year cap). The housing allowance alone averages $1,300 per month across the United States.

Under the MGIB, you would get up to $1,564 and have to pay your own tuition, fees and books. Also once you used up your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, you would get back the $1,200 contribution fee you paid to get the MGIB. It’s worth looking into!

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