GI Bill Advantage

The GI Bill Advantage: The Will, Drill, and Thrill

There are many reasons to join the military but I joined for a lackluster teenage reason – to avoid going to college. 

Many join for patriotic duty, adventure, or to avoid trouble. I was checking yes to all those boxes too but more than anything, I needed time to figure out what to do with my life. Plus, there was a chance I would love the military and stay for a 20-year career. 

Retiring early sounded marvelous and still does!

Sometimes life doesn’t go according to plan. And sometimes life goes off the deep end and makes friends with a giant squid named Nancy. 

I joined the Navy, tying up four years to a branch that is dedicated to honor, courage, and commitment. I signed the allotted one-hundred-and-fifty-two-page document, which was my first taste of federal employment. Afterwards, I spent my last summer carefree and bill-free before being shipped off to boot camp in the fall.

While in boot camp, the deluge of paperwork continued. I was required to accept or reject the notorious GI Bill. 


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A Government Issued Bill (GI Bill)

The GI Bill (formerly the GI Bill of Rights) has been helping sailors and soldiers get a college education since 1944. Transitioning from military structure to civilian chaos has been challenging Americans since the Slinky era.

Though many agree it is one of the most important pieces of federal legislation that has ever come to pass, it stalled in Congress. The original bill included loans for home and college as well as an unemployment supplement. 

Some politicians objected to paying unemployed veterans because it would remove the work incentive. Some questioned if sending war-weary veterans to college was appropriate since it was a privilege for the rich.

After World War I

All agreed veterans needed help, especially after World War I. After serving the bloodiest battle ever witnessed, vets were shipped home with a train ticket and $60. 

During the Depression, veterans struggled to find employment, so Congress passed the Bonus Act. The intent was to provide a bonus for days served, but vets wouldn’t receive anything for 20 years. In the summer of 1932, a group of vets marched to D.C and demanded their bonus in full. 

They didn’t get it. 

Most went home. Some stuck around insisting payment. A bitter standoff with troops followed and a powerful and painful period of capital unrest began.


After World War II

After World War II, Congress hoped to avoid a similar fate with vets and prevent a looming crisis. The Senate and House agreed on education and home benefits but were reluctant to pass any unemployment aid. In June 1944, it was passed in its entirety by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Before the war, college and homeownership were distant dreams for the average American. With the GI Bill, millions opted for education instead of employment. Vets embraced the education and home loan benefits but didn’t use the controversial unemployment supplement; 80 percent of the unemployment aid wasn’t used.

In 1984, there was an update to the Montgomery GI Bill to guarantee the legacy for a new generation of combat veterans. The latest update was 2008. The Post-9/11 GI Bill covers more education expenses, a living stipend, and the ability to transfer unused benefits to a spouse and/or children.

A Living Legacy

I accepted the GI Bill 2.0 (Montgomery GI Bill) and paid the required $100 month for the first year of service. Right before I left the Navy, I enrolled in the kicker which was an extra $600 deduction, but it would boost how much I received as a college student. 

The GI Bill 3.0 (Post-9/11 GI Bill) was easy to enroll in since there is no initiation fee like the Montgomery GI Bill. The Post-9/11 only requires serving on active duty for 90 or more days after September 10, 2001. The amount depends on the length of active duty time but the average four-year contract guarantees full tuition and fees at a public school, $1000 for books and supplies, and a housing allowance. 

After my honorable discharge (military-speak leaving on good terms), I started with the Montgomery GI Bill. In 2008, the state of Wisconsin had a state GI Bill. When deployed with the federal GI Bill, I ended up with everything paid for and a housing stipend. 

While I struggled through ornithology and tried to memorize the hundreds of tiny brown terrors called sparrows, legislation changed. By the time I graduated, I had switched to the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

No matter the flavor, the GI Bill benefits helped save thousands of dollars by avoiding student loans. By the time I entered the workforce, I was a well-rounded candidate with military discipline merged with modern-day skills.


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  • Link checking and savings accounts for overdraft protection

Try First Citizen’s free checking with paperless statements or online savings accounts.


The Best Benefits and Advantages of the GI Bill 

In 2020, the average student debt was $37,500.

I was fortunate to avoid the student loan sting, but the cost was four years which included deployments to two wars – Operation Enduring and Iraq Freedom. 

It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, but it continues to be the best investment. Along with a free degree, I have unlimited access to health care at $15 per visit and prescriptions at $8. Plus home loans, free federal land access, and a five-point advantage for federal employment. 

For this salty sailor, four years was cheap. But, some of my shipmates weren’t so fortunate. 

Would I recommend military service? Yes but, with a healthy dose of caution.

There are many ways America shows her appreciation, and the benefits are the best. However, after signing the Denali-sized contract, you will swear everything up to and including your life to a document that is powered by people. 

Still worth it. However, less than one percent of Americans agree with me.

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Budget Life List
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Budget Life List (BuLL) is a Navy Veteran and Park Ranger who has big, bold dreams of accomplishing a life list and retiring at 51 even though she has yet to crest $30,000. Interested in her saving shenanigans, come join the BuLL ride!

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