Long-serving troops and reservists have a little less than two months remaining to transfer their Post 9-/11 GI Bill benefits to their spouse or children before a new restriction kicks in on July 12.
While soldiers still must serve for six years before being allowed to request a GI Bill transfer, they will no longer have the opportunity to do so after they have served longer than 16 years.
This new rule will affect senior active-duty personnel and those who for whatever reason are unable to transfer any portion of their benefits to one or more dependents before that July 12 deadline.
“It’s a policy change that we knew could be implemented,” said Anthony Lowe, Veterans of Foreign Wars’ director of administration and economic opportunity. “Now it’s everyone’s responsibility to educate and inform the affected service members.”
The GI Bill transfer rules had been previously amended in 2018 so that troops with more than 10 years in uniform could no longer be excepted from a four-year service commitment if they wanted to transfer their benefits, including those who were forced into mandatory retirement.
Christopher Arendt, deputy director of accession policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, urged active-duty personnel approaching 16 years in uniform to make sure they are registered via the education-benefit transfer portal on MilConnect. Otherwise, they won’t be able to transfer any benefits at all.
He also advised those troops to double check that all the dependents who could potentially receive their benefits are registered as well.
“You never know which dependent is going to be the one to use it, so the registration of all applicable dependents is an important element,” Arendt said.
Lowe said that troops should transfer at least one month of benefits to eligible dependents before July 12 so they can still “transfer it back and forth after retirement and separation.” A Defense Department spokeswoman also recommended transferring at least one month of benefits to all eligible family members for that same purpose.
In addition, Lowe said that troops should contact their local military education offices and have professionals walk them through the transfer procedures so “that way they’re smart on the process.”
John Kamin, the American Legion’s assistant director of veterans employment and education, wants soldiers to make sure they know exactly how many years they’ve served on active duty, information that becomes increasingly important to know come July 12. He also said that MilConnect can sometimes be more reliable for that than military career counselors.
“It’s important because we’ve heard stories of even retention NCOs having incorrect information on this and providing wrong advice,” he said. “Your best bet is to go straight to the source.”
Ardendt said that the Pentagon decided to enact these changes as a recruiting tactic to keep more folks who want to transfer their benefits in uniform for a few more years.
“Once you become eligible, you need to consider this as a retention benefit,” Arendt said. “This is one of those options you have when you’re getting ready to re-enlist, in order to have a benefit.”
He also said that the Pentagon estimates that transferred benefits come out to an average of $22,805 per academic year, a “pretty significant sum of money.”
Some folks on Capitol Hill and who work for veteran-service organizations aren’t happy with the rule changes, claiming that the 16-year cap on transferring benefits feels arbitrary.
“We believe that these service members have earned the right to transfer their benefits based on years in service,” Kamin said. “The idea that serving too long can disqualify you seems absurd.”
The one DoD-enacted change that received the most positive reception was the Pentagon’s September announcement that service members wounded in combat would not be subject to that 16-year transfer limit nor would they have to commit to more service time in order to transfer their benefits.
“We are pleased that DoD was able to exclude those Purple Hearts and their ability to transfer their benefits to their dependents,” said Derek Fronabarger, the Wounded Warrior Project’s direct of legislative affairs. “That’s something that WWP advocated for and we’re happy DoD understood.”
There’s a small chance that congressional legislation might loosen these restrictions. In November, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. and now a presidential candidate, introduced the Veteran Education and Transfer Extension Act, which would allow veterans who did not have dependents when they left the military to transfer their benefits should they get married or have children later in life.
One legislator who would like to see the transfer rules at least softened is Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., who wrote an op-ed for Rebootcamp last August calling the new age cap on transferring benefits “a damaging and dangerous precedent.”
“We’re all unhappy with [the decision] and criticized it,” he said recently.
Courtney said that “there’s certainly going to be some sort of amendment offered” that would either curb or end this transfer rules change at some point. For now, he urged members of the military community to call their senators and representatives and urge them to pressure the Pentagon about easing up on its transfer policies.
“[W]e’re doing our best to try to surgically focus on the most doable fix that we possibly can,” he said.