Your service in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard has set you up for a lifelong career, whether or not you choose to leave the military. Current service members and veterans have access to better military education benefits than any past generation.
Taking advantage of your education benefits is the best thing you can do for your career. Higher education is the gateway to a lifetime of higher wages and more control over your job choices and future. Understanding your military benefits will help you make better education decisions and get you started on your path to a rewarding career.
Your Military Education Benefits
Many variables will affect which benefits apply to you. Are you on active duty? A veteran? How long have you served? Which service are you or were you in? Your answers to these and other questions will help you know how the military will chip in for your school costs.
These are the benefits that apply to most servicemen and women.
The GI Bill®¹
The original GI Bill® is usually referred to as the Montgomery GI Bill®, to distinguish it from the updated Post 9/11 GI Bill®. Some benefit restrictions apply to those who are currently serving. Because of this, many military personnel choose to use their GI Bill® benefits after they complete their active duty.
Montgomery GI Bill®
This benefit covers almost any kind of education or training for 36 months. This is how long an average student takes to complete a four-year degree. Coverage is good for almost any school-related expense. Recipients receive $1,564 for each month they are enrolled full time in college.
If you are a veteran, your eligibility will be determined by when you served and for how long.
Post 9/11 GI Bill®
If you served after Sept. 11, 2001, you’re covered by the updated GI Bill®. This version benefits you for the same 36 full-time months as the original bill, but can be applied only to strictly defined costs. Housing, tuition, some fees and textbook costs are eligible. The dollar amount depends on your time spent on active duty.
One additional feature of the new GI Bill® is that it can be applied to your spouses and children, instead of you.
If you’re serving on active duty, Tuition Assistance may be your primary education benefit. It is offered by the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. In most cases, Tuition Assistance applies to Reserves members, and pays 100 percent of your tuition-related costs. While serving in the Air Force, Army and Marines, you could receive up to $4,500 per year.
Tuition Assistance will also cover enrollment fees and some of the miscellaneous fees that other scholarships often ignore. Many colleges require fees for specific classes or technologies. For most personnel, Tuition Assistance pays both lab fees for science classes and computer fees.
There are some restrictions and exceptions to your Tuition Assistance, depending on which service you’re in:
The Coast Guard has the most restrictions on how your assistance is paid. Active-duty members and Reserves on active duty are eligible for only 75 percent of tuition coverage, and for slightly less per credit hour. You can spend only up to $2,200 each year. Additionally, the Coast Guard’s coverage does not cover certain technology or miscellaneous fees.
The Marines are the only service not to include Reserves members in their Tuition Assistance benefit. If you serve in the Corps, take advantage of your Tuition Assistance while you’re on regular active duty or you will miss out on this opportunity.
Unlike the Marines, Coast Guard, Army and Air Force, the Navy doesn’t attach a $4,500 or $2,299 cap to their yearly Tuition Assistance allowance. Instead the Navy allows its active duty and Reserves sailors to pay for up to 16 credit hours each year.
Tuition Assistance does not cover room and board because most military personnel who participate in it are on active duty and already receive a stipend for living expenses, or are housed on a base. Similarly, Tuition Assistance will not cover the expenses of a full-time college student.
Take the best advantage of this military benefit by using up your dollar amount or credit-hour limit each year. Even if you don’t know what degree you hope to gradate with, this is a good way to complete general-education classes like English, math or science that will transfer easily to another college.
Tuition Assistance Top-Up
If you are eligible for the Montgomery GI Bill®’s active-duty allowance, you may be able to use additional money for school through the Top-Up program. This benefit works hand-in-hand with the GI Bill® and can sometimes make up the difference between your GI payments and the total expense of tuition. One warning: The Top-Up program will affect your GI Bill® payments.
Reserve Education Assistance Program
The Reserve Education Assistance Program (REAP) is paid by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. REAP, officially known as Chapter 167, was created to serve those service members called out of Reserves into active duty any time after Sept. 11, 2001. If you were ordered to report for duty as a reaction to national or military emergencies and served for at least 90 days, you are probably eligible for REAP.
National Guard members and anyone injured in action before serving their initial 90 days will also be eligible, pending approval. The Department of Defense is the investigative body which approves service members for the REAP benefit and determines which military actions apply to the program.
Your REAP benefits will be calculated by your length of service. Expect amounts between about $600 for serving less than a single year to a full $1,100 per month if you’ve served over two years since being called up for active duty. To keep pace with rising higher-education prices, REAP benefit payments increase slightly every year. The total amount any service member may be paid is slightly less than $40,000.
Veterans Educational Assistance Program
The Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP) is available to veterans who joined a service between 1977 and 1985. VEAP is an education account you contribute to, saving money for education expenses. As you contribute to this account, the government matches your payments on a $2 to $1 basis.
For example, if you contribute $2 the government chips in $1. If you contribute $100 the government pays you $50. You must contribute at least $25 monthly for three months to make payments from this account.
VEAP may be applied to most higher-education tuitions, as well as to job-related training and certifications. The Veterans Educational Assistance Program is not a risky investment. The money you’ve contributed will be refunded to you if you do not use it within 10 years of leaving active duty.
Military Tutorial Assistance Program
Just because the government is paying for part or all of your college education, you may not be ready for college-level study. Many military education benefits that you may qualify for will not pay for certain fees, such as tutoring costs. The Tutorial Assistance Program (TAP) is designed to help service members who are seeking education, but need a little extra help.
If you struggle in a class that is essential to the program you’re enrolled in, TAP can help you pay up to $100 per month for up to 12 months total. You must demonstrate that tutoring is necessary and that the assistance you receive meets your school’s standards.
My Career Advancement Account
This benefit is for the spouses of service members in certain pay grades who are on Title 10 orders. My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) gives spouses up to $2000 per year for up to two years, for a total or $4000. Spouses can initiate the process themselves, and the benefit is paid directly to the institution where they study.
MyCAA is available for military spouses pursuing licensing, certification or associate degrees. Bear in mind that many associate degree credits can be transferred into bachelor degree programs, so spouses could conceivably use this benefit toward a higher degree.
The Marines, Army, Air Force and Navy offer MyCAA, only the Coast Guard withholds it from military spouses. For Reservist and National Guard spouses, the benefit can be used only during Title 10 orders, so there is a narrower window with MyCAA than with other financial benefits.
Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance
The Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance (DEA) benefit is a generous scholarship dedicated to making higher education possible for the children of service members who lost their lives or were otherwise tragically affected by their military service.
Students must be no older than 26 and no younger than 18. To qualify, the student’s parent must have been killed, detained, deemed missing-in-action or died as a result of service-related injuries or illnesses. Additional eligibility is extended to those whose parent is presently serving, but is in a VA facility and will likely be discharged due to a permanent disability.
The DEA program covers most higher education, vocational, and special training, and can be used for up to ten years after enrollment in the program, or until the student turns 31 years old. The money can be used for tuition and fees. DEA payments are stepped according to the student’s full time or part time status, and depending on what kind of training he or she is receiving. The maximum benefit equates to 45 months of education, slightly more than necessary to earn a bachelor degree.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Military Education Benefits
Where you use your military education benefits is almost as important as which ones apply to you. Choose a military-friendly college or technical school to ensure that you don’t waste any time or benefits on the wrong kind of education.
Military-friendly schools should meet these criteria:
Flexible Course Offerings
Online classes are ideal for military personnel serving overseas. Some schools throw together virtual classes to attract students, but the learning environment and experience can lack organization. Find an accredited school that has a large online program that has been operating for several years. Talk to people who have gone through the program to determine if it’s right for you.
Interested in a physical campus? Look for colleges or technical schools with both day and evening courses and have multiple campuses. These schools generally offer more sessions of popular classes, making it easier for you to fit your courses into your schedule.
Many schools offer shortened course calendars to better enable students to earn their credits on an accelerated schedule. If you know you’ll be moving around a lot and you have time to spend studying, a five- or eight-week class could be perfect for you.
Experience With Service-Member Benefits
One of the most important things to know about a school is whether its financial-aid officers have experience with military education benefits. Your school should be just as eager as you are to take advantage of government scholarships, and should be even more knowledgeable than you are about which benefits you’re entitled to. If you find yourself dealing with admissions or financial-aid people who don’t understand your situation, look into other schools.
The education benefits you have aren’t charity. You earned them through hard work and sacrifice. Learn as much as you can about the programs available to you, so you can leverage your past or present service into a future career
¹GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.