Wednesday, June 22, 2022, marked the 78th anniversary of the GI Bill, which was enacted in 1944 to support those returning home from World War Two. The Department of Veterans Affairs issued a press release in honor of the anniversary, noting its impact over the years. “The G.I. Bill has come a long way” since its debut, the press release states, adding, “VA continues to seek ways to meet the needs of Veterans and improve their G.I. Bill experience.”
The GI Bill has had a long and at times complicated history, and is still one of the most popular and important VA benefits offered today. Some 25 million veterans and their families have taken advantage of this VA education benefit.
The GI Bill got its start as a veteran-only option for those returning home from one war. Today it has been expanded to include active duty, Guard/Reserve, and even options for dependents and spouses to consider.
A Brief History of the GI Bill
The 1944 GI Bill, then known as the GI Bill of Rights, included things not found in today’s version. Those old options included loans for veteran-owned businesses, loans for farms, and the option to draw unemployment compensation.
The GI Bill of Rights was created for veterans only. No GI Bill benefits at that time were offered to those still on active duty or to dependents. The program was incredibly popular with some sources estimating about $4 billion in total GI Bill benefits offered to approximately nine million veterans in a five-year period starting in 1944.
The original GI Bill of Rights was not offered to all who served; just those who served during World War Two. When the Korean War had more service members returning home from yet another conflict, legislation called the Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966 extended the GI Bill to Korean War veterans.
Enter the 1980s
Big changes came in the 1980s thanks to the efforts of former Mississippi Congressman Gillespie Montgomery, who revamped the GI Bill of Rights to include a variety of features such as making the GI Bill an opt-in during Basic Training,
Trainees paid $100 a month for a year, after which they could qualify for a much larger matching contribution from the DoD. There was a time limit for the benefits after retirement or separation from military service, and there was no housing stipend offered.
This overhaul of the GI Bill of Rights became known as the Montgomery GI Bill after its creator and required both an honorable discharge and a high school diploma/GED. An important development of the GI Bill during this time was the creation of a Guard/Reserve version of the Montgomery GI Bill.
The VA official site says those eligible for this version had to meet certain criteria including a six-year commitment in the Selected Reserve, “signed after June 30, 1985” with additional requirements for officers.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill
When the VA official site announced the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which took effect in August of 2009, it did so knowing there was much anticipation about key features of the new VA education benefit. One of the most important of those was the ability to draw a housing stipend while attending classes, and another critical update involved the ability to transfer GI Bill benefits to a spouse or college-age dependent child.
Important features include but are not limited to:
- Up to 36 months of education entitlement;
- Eligible for use at colleges, universities, trade schools, on-the-job training
- Payment of tuition;
- Payment of certain fees;
- A monthly housing stipend equivalent to an E-5 basic allowance for housing (BAH) payable for the zip code of the eligible school;
- Books / Supplies Stipend ($1000 per year maximum).
This new GI Bill was intended for veterans with active duty service who served on or after September 11, 2001. The Post 9/11 GI Bill increased educational benefits above and beyond tuition alone.
The new GI Bill also included an option to switch from the old Montgomery GI Bill to the new Post 9/11 version. A choice was required, once the choice was made it was irreversible.
The Forever GI Bill
Some of the most important changes to the GI Bill program came in 2017 thanks to the passage of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act. It was promoted as the largest expansion of veteran benefits in roughly a decade, and the GI Bill benefitted from the Act in a number of ways:
- The Forever GI Bill offers the benefit to all Purple Heart recipients regardless of time served;
- No more time limit for using GI Bill benefits for qualifying service members discharged on or after January 1, 2013;
- New protections for GI Bill recipients attending a school that closes before a degree program is completed;
- New GI Bill options for Reservists such as more lenient time-in-service requirements.
Recent developments have further enhanced GI Bill benefits. Servicemembers now have the option to transfer VA education benefits to a qualifying foster child or ward thanks to the VA Transfer Of Entitlement program. In order to qualify, you must apply using Application for Family Member to Use Transferred Benefits (VA Form 22-1990E).
You can submit this to any VA Regional Office. This is a process for those still serving on active duty. Once you leave active duty you can still submit a written request to modify a transfer via milConnect.
It should be noted that the Forever GI Bill is NOT a separate program from the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Instead, it enhances the Post 9/11 program and adds to it. You won’t apply for a Forever GI Bill option, you’ll use Post 9/11 GI Bill options that have been improved by the updated legislation.
Transferring Your GI Bill Benefits
The Post 9/11 GI Bill allows those who are still on active duty to transfer their education benefits to spouses or college-age children who are enrolled in DEERS. To qualify for the benefits transfer, the active duty member must have a minimum of six years time-in-service and must agree to a four-year military commitment. VA rules for this transfer have included the following:
- When you meet the six-year time-in-service requirement, you are permitted to transfer some or all of your unused Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.
- The Department of Defense or Department of Homeland Security reserves the right to limit how many months you may transferable.
- Transferred Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits are available for spouses, one or more dependent children, or any combination of spouse and child.
A Word About The Digital GI Bill
In March 2022, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced something called the Digital GI Bill. This is the VA effort to modernize the GI Bill program including switching to a digital platform and improving benefits.
The VA official site says of this modernization effort, “…this platform will enable VA to call, email, text and chat with GI Bill beneficiaries, grant the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) immediate access to beneficiary records and respond to questions from colleges and universities instantaneously”.
It’s described as a “multi-year effort” and won’t happen overnight. That said, a VA contract for this project was awarded in March 2022 and the plan is currently underway. This effort is funded in part by some $243 million the VA received under the CARES Act during the global pandemic. Full details about the upgrades are not available at press time, but the VA says it desires feedback from students, administrators, and others who may be affected by the changes.