We Bet You Didn’t Know About The VA’s ‘Top-Up’ Program

Military Benefits
U.S. Army photo by Spc. Erica Isaacson

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers tuition assistance to service members called the Tuition Assistance “Top-up” Program.

This type of aid, which can be used to finish a degree, pays for whatever portion of a college course's tuition and fees that are not covered by other forms of financial aid. If the total expense of the courses is more than the tuition assistance offered, then the VA covers the difference, and subtracts that money from a student's remaining GI Bill benefits.

In order to be eligible, you must be an GI Bill participant, still on active duty, and must have served at least two full years. The top-up program is only available for recipients of the Montgomery GI Bill or Post-9/11 GI Bill programs.

The way it works is that if a three-month course costs a certain amount and a service member gets approved for half the cost in tuition assistance, top-up will cover the other half, but subtract the three months out of the top-up program’s 36 months of offered payments.

Top-up aid stipulations vary by GI Bill program as well, however.

Related: The VA program for veteran caregivers you may not know about »

With the Montgomery GI Bill, your entitlement is charged based on the dollar amount of benefits VA pays you. When using top-up, you are charged one month of entitlement for each payment you receive that is equal to one month at the full-time rate.

If you utilize the Post-9/11 GI Bill, then the entitlement is charged based on the training time during which you are enrolled. Service members attending classes on a part-time basis will be charged for that portion of time in accordance with Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for each month, regardless of the money paid. It’s more about the time enrolled than the funds used.

Top-up benefits are best used by service members that plan to use tuition assistance to complete a degree program while on active duty and don't necessarily plan to continue education post-service.

Service member that decide to use the top-up benefit will have his or her regular GI Bill benefits reduced. Those interested in applying are required to file Form 22-1990 to establish eligibility.

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