From The Military Times — 

A recent federal court decision could dramatically expand veterans education benefits by allowing them an extra year of tuition assistance if they qualify for both the Post-9/11 GI Bill program and the older Montgomery GI Bill payouts.

Veterans Affairs officials have not yet decided if they will appeal the ruling, which if put in effect would impact tens of thousands of veterans and run a price tag into hundreds of millions of dollars. Education groups are watching the legal fight closely.

The decision, from the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims earlier this month, found the Department of Veterans Affairs practice of making veterans relinquish their Montgomery GI Bill eligibility in order to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill payouts is improper. Department officials in the past have argued that move is necessary to ensure veterans aren’t duplicating benefits.

But in a 2-1 decision, the judicial panel ruled that federal language prohibiting such “double-dipping” more appropriately means that “someone may not receive assistance from more than one program during a single month, semester, or other applicable pay period, but may switch freely between programs.”

As a result, if veterans are eligible for both programs, they should receive payouts from both, just not simultaneously, the decision said.

Under current rules, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides 36 months of tuition assistance and living stipends veterans (or their family members) who served at least three years on active-duty after Sept. 10, 2001. The Montgomery GI Bill provides a smaller, standardized stipend for 36 months to veterans who served on active duty for at least three years and paid into the program upon enlistment.

In all but a few cases, veterans receive one benefit or the other, but not both.The Montgomery GI Bill benefit has become controversial in recent years because many servicemembers still contribute to the program even though they’re unlikely to see any benefit from it. Since the Post-9/11 GI Bill is more generous in its payouts, most veterans relinquish their Montgomery program benefits when it comes time to attend classes. Lawmakers have discussed ending the program in coming years.

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