By Army Sgt. 1st Class Vaughn Larson, Joint Task Force Guantanamo Public Affairs
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (NNS) -- Military members thinking about or already enrolled in college may have a decision to make by the time the fall semester draws near.
The Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2008, also known as the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill or Chapter 33, takes effect Aug. 1. It does not replace the Montgomery G.I. Bill, also known as Chapter 30, but both education benefits cannot be used at the same time.
Members already receiving the Montgomery G.I. Bill can switch to the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, but they cannot switch back. More importantly, both bills generally provide up to 36 months of assistance, so any time already used under the Montgomery plan will be deducted from the Post-9/11 plan.
So, which program is best?
"It's not one program fits all," noted Candice Rice, director of the Navy College Office at Guantanamo Bay. She explained that factors such as the state, school and program impact the overall benefits available.
The Post-9/11 Bill, for example, covers tuition based on the highest public university tuition rate in that state. It also includes basic housing allowance at an E-5 rate for the zip code of the college, as well as a yearly $1,000 stipend for books and supplies. However, unlike the Montgomery Plan, the tuition coverage is paid directly to the college and not the service member. Also, if the state already provides military veterans with free tuition benefits for in-state schools, the Post-9/11 plan would only offer BAH and the stipend.
"You have to crunch your own numbers," Ernest Houston, a Veterans Administration program coordinator, told Joint Task Force Guantanamo troopers during one of several briefings this week. "You'll have to look at this individually."
The new G.I. Bill covers graduate and undergraduate degrees, vocational and technical school training offered by an institute for higher learning that has been approved for G.I. Bill benefits, tutorial assistance, as well as licensing and certification testing reimbursement. On-the-job training, apprenticeship, correspondence, flight and preparatory courses might also be covered.
Those who qualify for the Montgomery G.I. Bill or the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) are eligible for the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Active duty service after Sept. 11, 2001 determines the benefit amount members are eligible for. Individuals who served between 90 and 180 days of active duty, for example, are eligible for 40 percent of total education benefits under the new bill. Those who have served at least 36 months since Sept. 11, 2001 are eligible for 100 percent of benefits. All who qualify are eligible for benefits up to 15 years from the last period of active duty of at least 90 days.
Qualifications for the new G.I. Bill also include honorable discharge, placement on the retired or temporary disabled retired list or transferred to the Fleet Reserve or Fleet Marine Corps Reserve, or discharge due to hardship, condition interfered with duty (CIWD) or existed prior to service (EPTS).
Other considerations include the $600 kicker payment made into the Montgomery plan, which is not recoverable if the member transfers to the Post-9/11 plan. Also, if a student loan repayment plan was in force during any of the service member's post-Sept. 11 active duty time, that time does not count toward the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill eligibility.
Houston cautioned that all the bugs have yet to be worked out of the latest G.I. Bill, and recommends visitingwww.gibill.va.gov for more information.