When the Post-9/11 GI Bill was passed in 2008, it was hailed as a significant improvement to military education benefits. Under the new bill, military personnel with just 90 days of active-duty service could be partially eligible for benefits. After three years of active-duty service, individuals would be eligible for full benefits including not only tuition reimbursement but also housing and book stipends.
But while the Post-9/11 GI Bill was a step forward in military benefits, it left one group behind: National Guard members. However, that has now changed with the passage of GI Bill 2.0, a package of legislative updates to the Post-9/11 plan.
Education benefits for National Guard members
The fact that guard members were left out of the original Post-9/11 GI Bill speaks to the “remarkable speed” with which the bill was passed, said Peter Duffy, deputy director of legislative programs for The National Guard Association of the United States, or NGAUS.
“If it had more time to be vetted,” Duffy said, “the National Guard probably would have been included.”
Still, NGAUS isn’t complaining. Duffy says the Post-9/11 GI Bill was “absolutely terrific,” and created a robust program that has helped sustain service members looking to go back to school during a difficult economic time. While the previous Montgomery GI Bill only offered limited tuition reimbursement to those with a minimum of two years continuous enlistment, the Post-9/11 GI Bill dropped the service requirement to 90 days of active service and expanded the amount and type of reimbursements available.
The addition of National Guard members to the Post-9/11 GI Bill is a welcome addition. Mathew Tully, a Lt. Colonel in the Army National Guard, knows firsthand the limitations of previous programs.
“I went to law school on the old National Guard GI Bill,” said Tully, who is a founding partner of the Tully Rinckey law firm and specializes in military law. “That was very bad. This new program is light years better.”
Differences between National Guard and active-duty benefits
The Post-9/11 GI Bill was just one example of the type of disparity that has often existed between National Guard members and active-duty personnel. While that disparity often favors active-duty servicemembers, there are some exceptions. For example, several states offer free tuition at public universities for their National Guard members–a benefit not afforded to other service members.
Still, NGAUS has identified three areas in which it sees an opportunity to bring National Guard benefits more in line with those of active-duty members. Duffy cites the following as priorities for his organization:
- Retirement pay: Currently, active forces members can begin to collect their retirement pay immediately after they reach 20 years of active-duty service, regardless of their age. Meanwhile, National Guard members–even those who have 20 years of active service–cannot begin to collect their retirement benefits until they reach age 60.
- Health care benefits: While National Guard members must undergo a periodic health assessment, the military does not pay to address a medical readiness problem unless the member is within six months of deployment. Even for those who are within this window, NGAUS believes the window should be extended considering the other responsibilities National Guard members have while preparing for deployment.
- Flight privileges: Eligible military personnel can travel for free on military flights with extra room, a benefit known as “space available” or “space a” travel. Seats on these flights are granted based on a priority system, and currently National Guard members fall into the lowest priority category. NGAUS argues this is one benefit that should be equalized.
Increasing service, increasing benefits
The push for greater benefits comes at a time when the National Guard is called upon to provide greater service. The Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States, or EANGAUS, points out some of the first troops to be activated after the 9/11 terrorist attacks were National Guardsmen. These members filled positions in Operation Airport Guardian, a precursor to the Transportation Security Administration.
With the changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, National Guard members may be finally getting their due. Of course, there is always room for improvement–Tully said state-level active duty, such as responding to natural disasters, does not apply toward federal benefits–but for now, many of those familiar with National Guard benefits are pleased. After all, EANGAUS estimated in their publication New Patriot that the Post-9/11 GI Bill represents a $50,000 benefit for each Guardsman who reaches 100 percent eligibility.