Using Military Education Benefits Effectively

This article is Part II of three in a series written by Lt. Col. Paul Capicik, U.S. Air Force (Ret.) about finding, maximizing and avoiding the pitfalls of military education benefits. You may also view Lt. Col. Capicik’s webinar on these topics.

While a lot of service members use many of their benefits, few rarely use all benefits that are or can be available. Lack of planning or not knowing the rules and policies that govern their use can sometimes even cost a member money!

Tips & cautions in using your benefits

Equally important as knowing what benefits are available is knowing:

  • How best to choose what to use when
  • If an either/or situation, which path best meets your needs
  • Nuances of benefits and programs that can cause you difficulties or additional costs

The Tuition Assistance benefit

Tuition Assistance (TA) is fairly straight forward, but there are some very critical gotcha’s:

  • Each branch has rules. Early in your military career, ask about when exactly you can start using TA funding.
  • There may be a cut-off period. The maximum Tuition Assistance per fiscal year (1 Oct-30 Sep) is $4,500 – if funding is available. In most cases it usually is, but with budgets tight, cases may arise when the funding is cut-off for a period of time.
  • You have to pass your courses. If you get an “F” or you do not complete a course and there’s not a good reason for the school to forgive the cost of tuition, you will have to pay back that TA payment. Ouch!
  • Incomplete grades halt funding. If you get an incomplete for one or more courses, some or all of those courses may need to be cleared before additional Tuition Assistance requests are approved.
  • Exiting can halt funding. If you take steps to exit the military, there will be a cutoff date after which TA will not be approved.

Veterans Administration benefits are complex

There are several Veterans Administration (VA) benefits, some are an either/or choice, some can be used in conjunction with others. It is imperative that you verify all answers with a VA representative.

The two most commonly used VA benefits are the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) and the new 9/11 GI Bill. Many current service members are eligible for both, but you can’t use both at the same time.

  • You can start using the MGIB and then switch to the new 9/11 GI Bill, but the switch is irrevocable.
  • Some service members can get more benefits by completely using up the MGIB and then switching; others are better off starting with the new 9/11 GI Bill. You need to discuss the pros and cons with a VA representative.

More about GI bills

Your time in-service can limit the percentage you are paid for various benefits. Make sure you check what your percentage will be.

Also, your tuition payment limits vary by state. Compare your school-of-choice tuition rate with the state limits. If the school tuition is higher than the limit, ask if the school is a member of the Yellow Ribbon program. If so, check what the program limits are to see if you will be covered for the extra tuition.

Remember, the new GI Bill benefits are transferrable to your spouse and children (within limits and under certain criteria), so understand these while on active duty. This is the only time you are able to assign benefits.

If you are currently using the new GI Bill in veteran status and attend an online school, you will only receive tuition and book benefits. Efforts are underway to remove this limitation.

Supplementing TA

You can use your VA benefits while on active duty to supplement your Tuition Assistance benefits. Here are a few nuances that can affect you, however. You will not receive the same monetary amount using VA while on active duty that you will after you exit the military, so maximize your TA use.

For instance, if you use the new 9/11 GI Bill while on active duty, you will not receive your housing allowance and your tuition payment is limited to the actual tuition. Be sure to check with your VA rep to fully understand using VA benefits while on active duty.

There are several VA benefit programs in addition to the two mentioned here. (Compare all the plans to the 9/11 GI Bill.)

Look for Part I of this series, “Find Military Benefits that Maximize your Education Options,” and Part III, “Avoiding Incidental Education Disasters” by Lt. Col. Paul Capacik, U.S. Air Force (Ret.) as well as his webinar on military education benefits.

What questions do you have about military education benefits? Please post your thoughts and questions to our blog or contact me directly: or toll free 1-800-470-3743.

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