The Defense Department is tightening the ability to transfer Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to family members.
In the policy change, announced by DoD on Thursday, Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits can only be transferred to family members for servicemembers with fewer than 16 years of service. Those with more than 16 years will be able to keep the educational benefit, but will be unable to transfer it to family members.
If you are a servicemember approaching 16 years of service or have already passed it, you should consider transferring your benefit immediately, said Marine Lt. Col. Aniela Szymanski, MOAA's director of government relations for veterans benefits. The new rule is set to take effect July 12, 2019.
“If you're at or over 16 years of service this could be your last chance to ensure your child or spouse has a benefit that you earned through your dedicated service,” Szymanski said. “You worked hard for this, don't let it pass you by.”
Effective immediately, all service members must be eligible to be retained for four years from the date of their election to transfer benefits.
Servicemembers most likely to lose out in this change are those more senior officers and enlisted troops who can't make the service commitment or those with hopes to marry and/or have kids who have not yet done so, explained retired Navy Capt. Paul Frost, MOAA's program director for financial and benefits education.
The policy affects all uniformed services, including the Coast Guard, U.S. Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"DoD's announcement to limit the transfer of earned Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits is the first attempt to restrict use of an education tool popular with military families," said Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins (USAF, Ret.), MOAA's President and CEO.
"While we appreciate DoD announcing the policy change won't take effect until 2019, MOAA believes the unilateral change to cut off transferability will likely have a compounding, negative effect on recruiting and retention over time. As military families continue to serve during the longest period of sustained conflict in American history, we question the timing of this change and will seek to learn the VA's role and the interest level of Congress."
The transfer ability was created during the height of the war in the Iraq and Afghanistan as a recruitment and retention tool. The benefit is overseen by the DoD, but funded through Veterans Affairs.
"This is a benefit we lobbied very hard for to ensure an all-volunteer force," Szymanski said. "The military advocacy community understands this was necessary to retain an all-volunteer force."
The change was announced after a thorough review of the policy, according to Stephanie Miller, director of Accession Policy, Office of the Secretary of Defense.
"This change continues to allow career servicemembers that earned this benefit to share it with their family members while they continue to service," she said in a DoD news release. "This change is an important step to preserve the distinction of transferability as a retention incentive."
The provision that a servicemember must have at least six years of service in order to transfer benefits remains the same. Also, approvals for transferability will continue to require a four-year commitment in service and the member must be eligible to be retained for four years from the date of election.
If a servicemember doesn't fulfill their service obligation because of a "force shaping" move, such as an involuntarily separation, the servicemember would retain their eligibility to transfer education benefits.
Amanda Dolasinski is MOAA's staff writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMOAA.