Court: Veterans with Multiple Periods of Service Entitled to Additional GI Bill Benefits
What’s the issue?
In the past, if a veteran chose to use Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, they were required to waive the remainder of any Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) benefits they had earned to prevent “double dipping.” After waiving their remaining MGIB benefits, the veteran was only entitled to Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits in the amount of their unused MGIB.
An August 2019 court decision appeared to change this for some veterans by fundamentally altering how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administers these education benefits. Now, that decision has been affirmed by a court of appeals.
The veteran in the case, Rudisill, served from 2000-2002, which qualified him for MGIB benefits. He used these benefits from 2003-2004. Rudisill served again from 2004-2005. Altogether, he used MGIB benefits from 2003-2007 for a total of 25 months and 14 days out of the 36 months for which he was eligible. Rudisill returned to active duty and served from 2007-2011. At this point, he became eligible for Post-9/11GI Bill benefits. He later sought to use his Post-9/11 GI Bill and appealed the VA’s decision which only approved him for those benefits in the amount of his remaining MGIB benefits, which was just slightly more than 10 months.
Rudisill argued he was eligible for full Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, limited only by the overall 48-month cap on total education benefits. He claimed his multiple periods of service separately qualified him for full Post-9/11 GI Bill and MGIB benefits and that he should be allowed to use both. VA disagreed arguing the law required Rudisill to waive the remainder of his MGIB benefits in order to use his Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. They further insisted, that upon waiving his benefits, Rudisill was only entitled to Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits in the amount of his remaining MGIB benefits.
How the Courts Ruled
On August 15, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims issued its opinion in the case ruling that a veteran with multiple periods of qualifying service could use both Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) benefits up to each individual program’s 36-month cap, subject only to the 48-month cap on total benefits.
The Court looked at the statutes, associated regulatory framework, congressional intent, and pro-veteran canon—a form of statutory interpretation calling for doubt to be resolved in a veteran’s favor. In the end, it determined the statute was best read to afford the veteran maximum benefits and flexibility in using those benefits.
Specifically, the Court concluded that the law allows veterans with multiple periods of service to “receive entitlement under both programs subject to a 36-month cap on utilization of each of the two separate programs and a 48-month cap overall.” It further emphasized that for veterans with multiple periods of service the relevant “statutes require neither relinquishment nor exhaustion” of MGIB benefits prior to using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
VA appealed the decision, but on July 8, 2021, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued an opinion confirming the lower court’s ruling.
VA has the option to pursue a final appeal to the Supreme Court, though it is currently unclear whether they plan to do so. SVA is waiting for details from VA about how they plan to notify students about the change. This article will be updated as we learn more.
This article is intended to serve as a summary of the legal proceedings discussed herein. The information conveyed above is specifically not intended as legal opinion or analysis and is not meant to serve as professional legal advice or counsel. If you need legal advice, opinion, analysis, or other assistance, you should contact a licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction.