The Department of Defense issued a memorandum in May approving the concurrent use of Federal Tuition Assistance and the Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve Education Benefit (MGIB-SR or chapter 1606).
This policy change means that all qualified MGIB-SR service members are authorized to use both benefits at the same time when enrolled in an education program that is at least half-time or more.
DOD previously prohibited simultaneous receipt of TA and chapter 1606 benefits, meaning that men and women in the National Guard and reserves had to choose between one or the other. Nearly 41,000 students used the MGIB-SR in 2020 alone, according to a VA spokesperson, and with the added benefit of concurrent TA and MGIB-SR that number may climb, though “it’s too early in the process to see if there is an increase in usage,” the spokesperson said.
The update is aimed at aiding reserve component members “training at half-time or more in order to more fully cover the costs associated with education or training,” the spokesperson added.
As the Chief of the Education Services Branch at the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Virginia, Dr. Kenneth A. Hardy knows the history of education benefits well. The simultaneous use had initially been authorized for decades, he said, but that ended in July 2014.
“At that time, DOD decided that both TA and MGIB-SR benefits could not be received for the same course at the same time,” said Hardy. “Since the change, the ARNG, HQDA, congressional leaders and other key stakeholders have been actively engaging with DoD to reverse their decision and reinstate the simultaneous use of both benefits.”
The new change should help significantly, Hardy believes.
“By allowing reserve component members to once again use both benefits simultaneously, RC SMs will now be able to reduce their out-of-pocket costs by using their MGIB-SR benefits to help pay any additional tuition costs, fees, books, housing, transportation and other related costs of attendance,” he said.
Hardy’s office has done its part to spread the word by providing the 50 U.S. states and territories with operational messages, flyers, and social media posts to help market the new change. Individual states quickly jumped on the bandwagon, like Montana Army National Guard’s Instagram page: “Did you know? You are now able to use your GI Bill + TA!” The June post racked up dozens of likes.
While this policy update will cost the U.S. government additional dollars, Hardy said it is a worthwhile investment.
“The ARNG strongly supports education benefits, as they are the number one reason applicants join,” he said. “In addition, the use of education benefits helps soldiers in their military and civilian careers, so it also positively impacts retention rates as well.”
The automation system for Federal Tuition Assistance recently transitioned from GoArmyEd to ArmyIgnitED, which will impact the number of guardsmen and reservists using both benefits. But Hardy and his colleagues are hopeful that when the transition is completed by this fall, the numbers of beneficiaries will climb with autumn enrollment.
“Our hope is that this change will positively impact recruiting and retention efforts by encouraging soldiers to attend college, reducing their out-of-pocket expenses, and reducing the amount of time it takes for them to complete their degree,” Hardy said.