One of the most sought-after benefits of the Post 9/11 GI Bill is the ability to transfer education benefits to a spouse, dependent children or both. However, that same benefit has also been the one to come under the most fire recently. From its beginning, the basic rules of transfer eligibility for the New GI Bill were:
- The servicemember had at least six years of service and agree to serve an additional four years.
- Or the servicemember had at least 10 years of service but could not extend for an additional four years by law or policy – known as the 10-year rule.
- The transfer request had to be made and approved before the service member separated from service.
- Benefits had to be used by the servicemember or spouse by the 15th year from date of discharge. Children must use their transferred benefits by age 26.
There are some other twists and variants to these four basic transfer rules, however.
Forever GI Bill
One of the first changes came as part of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, also known as the Forever GI Bill signed into law on August 17, 2017. One provision that was effective immediately was the elimination of the 15-year use-of-benefits limitation of the Post 9/11 GI Bill. However, this change only applies to service members discharged on or after January 1, 2013. Service members discharged prior to this date are still bound by the 15-year limitation.
Department of Defense 2018 Policy Update
The next change affecting transfer was a DoD rule change in which service members had to have at least six years of service, but no more than sixteen at the time of transfer. The rationale was that because the ability to transfer education benefits was a retention incentive, servicemembers with sixteen years of service would extend for four more anyway to get to 20 years, so retention was not an issue at that point. But this also meant that children added to the family after the 16th year of service would not be eligible for a transfer of benefits.
Another part of that change was the elimination of the 10-year rule. This meant that servicemembers with 10 years of service or more but who could not extend for four more years would no longer be able to make a transfer of benefits.
The implementation date of the DoD policy update was supposed to be effective July 12, 2019, however, it met with such opposition by service members, advocates and Congress that implementation was delayed until January 12, 2020. According to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, James Stewart “The delay was designed to allow for implementation of the changes, and not a reconsideration of the decision.”
Recent Proposed Legislation
In September 2019, a trio of Democrat Senators, Jon Tester (MT), Sherrod Brown (OH) and Richard Blumenthal (CT), introduced legislation that would guarantee service members with at least 10 years of service could make a transfer of benefits while still in or after getting out. Because under the current rules, a spouse and dependent children must be registered in DEERS to be eligible to receive a transfer of benefits, thus children born to veterans after getting out are not eligible for a transfer of benefits.
Another feature under this change – if signed into law – is that it would be retroactive back to September 10, 2001 meaning it could affect thousands of veterans that still have unused education benefits they would like to transfer, but could not under the current law.
In a statement Senator Blumenthal said, “The Department of Defense’s confusing new policy moved the goalpost for transfer eligibility, breaking our promise to military families. Disqualifying service members with more than 16 years of military services penalizes the men and women who have served this country in uniform for the greatest length of time. This policy change is fundamentally illogical and unfair.”
Their legislation is currently in a Joint House and Senate Conference committee and waiting further action at the time of writing.