Recently, I was catching up with a fellow USAF flight surgeon who is leaving active duty for the greener pastures of civilian residency. When I shared with him that he would qualify for GI Bill compensation as a resident, he seemed shocked and completely unaware of this fact. This is exactly what I did 3 years ago. Below I relate my experience and some additional info regarding the GI Bill that I hope readers may find helpful.
Added bonus: GI Bill payments are considered a stipend and therefore tax-free!
GI BILL DURING RESIDENCY
I graduated from my residency in Emergency Medicine at the University of Utah in June 2018. I had left active duty after 5 years as a USAF flight surgeon in June 2015. My residency was exactly 36 months long and I was fortunate enough to collect the GI Bill for a commensurate time period. This additional income was hugely helpful as a resident’s salary is not particularly impressive.
It is important to begin considering how you will use the GI Bill while still active duty. You may have the option of using either the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) or the Post-911 GI Bill. If planning to use the Montgomery variant, you will definitely want to take advantage of the option to ‘Buy Up’. On the other hand, you may decide you don’t want to use the GI Bill yourself at all and instead transfer it to a dependent. Your call.
Montgomery GI Bill
As of writing this (Apr 2019), the MGIB currently awards a monthly payment of $1,994. This “payment rate” automatically adjusts for inflation on the first of October each year. With the buy up, this amount is actually $2,144.
I began receiving approximately $1700/month at the beginning of residency and this slowly climbed up to around a monthly payment of $1900 upon graduation. These numbers include the additional $150 per month I was receiving because I activated the buy up program while active duty.
You do have to pay $1200 into the MGIB while active duty. You also need to serve at least 2 years and receive an honorable discharge to qualify.
As alluded to above, the MGIB also allows you to ‘buy up’ which increases your total award by $4800 (see below).
Post-911 GI Bill
The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides education benefits for servicemembers who have served on active duty for 90 or more days since Sept. 10, 2001. The Post-9/11 GI Bill can pay your full tuition & fees at school, provide you with a monthly housing allowance while you are going to school, and give you up to $1,000 a year to use for books and supplies. The Post-9/11 GI Bill will even provide you with a one-time relocation allowance to move to where your school is located.
Another provision of the Post-9/11 GI Bill allows eligible servicemembers to transfer their unused benefits to family members.
You can use your Post-9/11 GI Bill for college and many other types of training. See this list of all the covered learning programs.
Post-9/11 benefit payments are tiered based on the amount of creditable active-duty service you have since Sept. 10, 2001.(See the table below to determine your benefit tier). 1
Since you will be a paid resident and not being charged tuition, if you choose the Post-911 GI Bill the only benefit you will receive is the housing allowance. So this is the main variable to consider. This stipend is based on the DoD’s Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for an E-5 with dependents. Essentially, if you are doing residency in a location that has a high cost of living, this may be the better option. For me, Salt Lake City conferred a higher stipend by doing the Montgomery GI Bill with Buy-up option (see below).
Check out this: VA GI Bill Comparison Tool
Buy Up Program
If using the MGIB, you will definitely want to take advantage of this feature. Essentially, you pay a total of $600 for the ‘buy up’ benefit and it increases your stipend by $150 for each month you receive benefits. So, if you are using your full VA GIB during residency your ROI is $5400 ($150/mo x 36 mo) – $600 = $4800. This is math even doctors intuitively understand.
I started researching all of this just a few months prior to separation, so quickly filled out a DD Form 2366-1 thru my finance office and paid the entire $600 in one payment. But you can also do so in $20 installments over 30 months.
When I got the call I had matched into the University of Utah’s EM program on match day March 2015, I was absolutely ecstatic. At the time, I was TDY with my F-16 squadron in Estonia. I had planned to leave active duty service for a while, but it wasn’t until I matched, that it became a tangible and inevitable reality. The following week, I began to research life after active duty military. I focused on how to use the GI Bill in residency and also how I could continue serving as a flight surgeon in the ANG or USAF Reserves during residency (a future post will cover this topic).
For the purposes of the GI Bill, I recognized that the MGIB with Buy Up feature offered a higher monthly stipend for me compare to the Post-911 GIB. I confirmed that I had already paid the $1200 and qualified for the MGIB. I then paid an additional $600 for the buy up. I searched on the VA’s WEAMS Institution Search website and found that the University of Utah was indeed a registered institution, but once I contacted the University of Utah’s VA rep from the phone number on the WEAMS site, I realized that the GME office had not had a GIB recipient previously. This required me to fill out a few additional documents, requesting that the VA recognize my residency as a qualified program. This did take several months to approve and although I missed the first two monthly payments, the VA did later reimburse me for these. So, start this process early!
Here’s the step-by-step
- Determine if you qualify for either or both GI Bills (see above).
- Determine which GI Bill pays the highest stipend for your residency program (location, location, location).
- If the MGIB is your best option, confirm you have paid the $1200 for it and take advantage of the $600 buy-up feature.
- Confirm your residency program is registered with the VA. Each GME institution should have a VA certifying official that should be able to answer any questions you have. Number can be found on the WEAMS Institution Search site.
- Enjoy your VA benefits! You’ve worked hard. At least you’ll be well compensated as a resident.