7/7/2004 By Rudi Williams, Headquarters Marine Corps
Guardsmen and reservists whose active duty time is extended past the normal 12-month call-up may be eligible for active duty-level benefits of the Montgomery GI Bill under certain circumstances, according to a senior Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman.
Currently, members participating in the active duty GI Bill receive $800 or $985 per month for full-time training, depending on their length of service. But reserve-component members receive only $282 per month for full-time training, said Dennis Douglass, VA deputy director for education service.
Reserve-component personnel are now eligible for the greater active-duty benefit when their active-duty time is extended to 24 or more months, Douglas noted.
Douglass said the Montgomery GI Bill historically has been broken into two segments: the Montgomery GI Bill for active duty and the Montgomery GI Bill - Selected Reserve, for the reserve components.
The Selected Reserve GI Bill is for members of the Selected Reserve of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard and the Army and Air National Guard. It provides education and training opportunities for eligible service members who have completed high school.
"The active-duty bill is a program designed for those who enlist in active military service for a period of two-plus years," Douglass noted. "If they only serve two years, they get a lesser benefit than an individual who signs up for three or more years."
He said the authors of the two GI Bill programs never imagined that reservists and Guardsmen would be called up to active duty for extended periods of time as they have been in Operation Iraqi Freedom. "I don't think that was envisioned in the original legislation," he added.
The Chapter 30 program, or the GI Bill program for active-duty service members and veterans, is currently paying $800 per month for full-time training for those who serve two years. Those who serve three years or more receive $985 per month.
Douglass pointed out the $282 reserve-component members get per month is a "dramatic difference" in the level of benefits.
"Another interesting difference in the two programs is that in the Selective Reserve program, eligibility starts when the military tells us to start it," Douglas noted.
High school graduates are eligible for benefits after they've completed their initial period of active duty for training and have been assigned to a reserve or Guard component, he explained. Eligibility for active-duty people, however, doesn't begin until after they've served for two years.
"They actually have to be on active duty for two years before they can avail themselves the use of the benefit," Douglass noted. "For the most part, they don't even start using it then; they wait until they become veterans to use it."
Douglass noted that reserve-component call-ups have been averaging nine to 12 months. He said it would be "a disservice" to Guardsmen and reservists to take their $100 per month for the GI Bill, as is done for active-duty personnel. "That's because at nine or 12 months, they have no hope of being eligible for the greater benefit of the (active-duty) Montgomery GI Bill."
However, Douglass said, some individuals have been activated for an initial period of 12 months and then extended for another 12 months. The Defense Department and the services are offering those individuals participation in the Montgomery GI Bill.
"(The military) would begin to deduct $100 per month from the service members' pay, just as they do for active-duty service members," he said. Upon release from active duty, those individuals would become eligible for the greater benefit, he added, assuming they'd completed their 24 months of active duty.
To be eligible for the same benefits active-duty personnel get, Guardsmen and reservists must have served for 24 months without a break in service.
"So, if they serve nine months, go home for awhile, and then serve another 15 months, they can't add them together to come up with 24 months," Douglass noted.
But Senate Bill S-2099, if it becomes law, would make Guardsmen and reservists eligible for the active-duty Montgomery GI Bill if they serve 24 months on active duty in any five-year period, he noted.
An estimated 15,000 to 18,000 Guardsmen and reservists have been called to active duty and stayed active for a period of two years or longer, he said.
Douglass also touched on the Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance Program, an education benefit for spouses and children of seriously disabled or deceased veterans whose death or disability was service-connected. Douglass noted length of service has no bearing on this benefit.
Normally, Montgomery GI Bill benefits are not available to spouses and children of healthy veterans who contributed to the Montgomery GI Bill, but didn't use the benefits. The Air Force tested such a program as a retention tool for a limited time in 2003, but has since discontinued it, Douglass said.