The Department of Defense Thursday afternoon unveiled new changes to the Forever GI Bill, requiring service members to meet stricter requirements if they wish to transfer education benefits to a dependent — including a cap on how long you can wait to pass on those bennies. Previously, “There were no restrictions on when a service member could transfer educational benefits,” Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica R. Maxwell told T&P in an email.
Some veterans’ advocates are already criticizing the move. “This is a benefit and any time you take away a benefit, that’s not a good thing,” said retired Navy Capt. Paul Frost of the Military Officers Association of America’s transition center.
Here are some key takeaways about the new guidance:
- To transfer their GI Bill benefits to a dependent, service members must be eligible to serve four more years after the transfer; if they can’t meet the four-year requirement for whatever reason, they can’t shift those bennies. Those “reasons could include a mandatory retirement date, high-year tenure, retention control point, and those who are not medically qualified,” according to the DoD’s announcement.
- Previously, any service member with 10 years under their belt could transfer their GI Bill benefits without serving the additional four years, if a policy or member status — such as a medical condition or injury — previously prevented them from doing so. That option is no longer on the table, the Pentagon says: “Now such members must be eligible to serve an additional four years when they elect to transfer educational benefits.”
- In the case of involuntary separation due to a “force shaping” event — for example, officers being passed over for promotion twice or enlisted personnel failing “to meet the minimum retention standards, such as high-year tenure” — members remain eligible to transfer education benefits, even if they haven’t completed their service obligations.
- The policy change — which will be implemented over the next few months by individual services — is expected to impact roughly 9% of service members, Maxwell said.
- The updated policy still requires that you serve at least six years before you can apply to transfer benefits — at which point you must sign on for an additional four years.
- Beginning July 12, 2019, only those with less than 16 years of total service will be eligible to transfer their post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to a dependent. Once you’ve passed the 16-year point, it’s too late.
- If you’re on limited duty or involved in a medical, physical or disability evaluation process, you have to complete that process before you can apply to transfer your benefits. Those who applied to transfer their benefits but were denied over for medical, physical, or disability reasons, can request to transfer their benefits again — so long as they also commit to the additional four years of service.
- The changes announced on Thursday make it harder for service members to transfer their unused education benefits to their family members, according to the Military Officers Association of America. “This was quite puzzling when it first came out and was announced because we weren’t consulted,” MOAA’s Frost told T&P Thursday. “As far as we know, Congress wasn’t even brought into the discussion of making this change.”
- Senior enlisted service members and officers will no longer be able to transfer those benefits if they get married or have children in their 17th year of service or later, Frost told Task & Purpose on Thursday. Service members will also no longer be able to transfer the benefits if a medical retirement or high-year tenure prevents them from serving four more years, MOAA officials said.
- Transferability of a service member’s GI Bill to family members is a benefit that MOAA lobbied Congress for very hard,” said Aniela Szymanski, with MOAA government relations. “We really pressed Congress to institute this benefit because we thought that it was necessary to recruit and retain an all-volunteer force.”
- The American Legion also opposes “the curtailment of veterans’ earned benefits,” said Legion spokesman retired Lt. Col. Joe Plenzler. “We understand the minimum time-in-service for transferability eligibility, and that makes sense from a retention perspective, but the 16-year transfer or lose rule makes no sense to us as DOD has articulated it and disadvantages the veteran when it comes to the use of this earned benefit,” he said.