Could DoD Nominee Change GI Bill Transferability?

November 16, 2017

The Post-9/11 GI Bill has been a significant retention tool for the military with the inclusion of a transferability option that incentivizes servicemembers to stay on active duty longer so that they can take advantage of transferring the benefit to their family. Now, DoD's incoming Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, Anthony Kurta, is telling Congress that, if he is confirmed, he would like to make servicemembers stay on active duty longer before being able to transfer the benefit.

When the Post-9/11 GI Bill was originally being contemplated as a new benefit in 2008, MOAA proposed that the transferability option not trigger until the 10th year of service, thus incentivizing career service. DoD proposed transferability at six years with the additional four years of service requirement, upon which Congress finally settled. Either way, the end result was incentivizing retention up to 10 years. 

What would those changes be and how would they impact servicemember behavior? When asked by Congress whether DoD would change the transferability rules, Kurta said:

Yes…the ability to transfer benefits will be limited to Service members with less than 16 years of total service. This change allows career Service members who earned the benefit to share it with their family members while they continue to serve, and it's an important step to preserve the distinction of transferability as a retention incentive.  

Currently, servicemembers may transfer their benefits after only six years of service if they agree to serve an additional four years on active duty after they execute the transfer. Kurta appears to be assuming that once a servicemember reaches the 16-year mark that he or she is already incentivized to complete the last four so that they can reach longevity retirement status, so it is only necessary to incentivize those who are under 16 years to stay on active duty.  

Kurta says that this anticipated change “is in response to concerns from Congress.” He didn't elaborate on what those concerns were, but it's probably safe to assume Congress believes this change will save them money. If fewer servicemembers choose to transfer the benefit, that would result in the savings. However, it is unclear that would happen; most servicemembers who intend to transfer will simply do so before reaching the 16-year mark, ultimately transferring the same amount of benefits, just sooner. For that matter, many servicemembers already plan to transfer benefits before they reach 16 years, in order to complete the four-year active duty requirement by the 20-year mark.

“The Post-9/11 GI Bill was arguably the most effective recruiting and retention tool Congress has ever passed. Now that it has been entrenched as an entitlement with the passage of the Forever GI Bill, it has become an expectation of service, and it is unlikely that Congress can ever eliminate it without the military suffering severe recruiting and retention cuts,” said Lt. Col. Aniela Szymanski, USMCR, MOAA's director of Government Relations for Veterans Benefits. “With the current NDAA calling for troop increases, MOAA will be keeping an eye on any changes to benefits proposed by DoD or Congress to ensure that the transferability option remains a benefit.”

 

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