Almost a year ago now, several news sources reported that due to bureaucratic mistakes, many veterans that had transferred their Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement to one or more of their dependent children, are now being told their transfer was not valid. Unfortunately, in some of the cases, the so-called error was not discovered until the child was already using their transferred benefits.
Post 9/11 GI Bill Entitlement Errors
Take Paige Dotson, for example, in a story first reported by Stephanie Zimmerman with the Chicago Sun Times. She was attending DePaul University on transferred benefits from her dad’s Post 9/11 GI Bill. While attending DePaul, she found out from the VA that she owed them $20,000. The VA told her that they had discovered her father, a 22-year Navy veteran, was 89 days short of meeting the transfer eligibility requirements. Yet, the Navy had told him he had enough service time to transfer benefits to his daughter.
Another example is Eric Juarez, also a student at DePaul, whose benefits were cut off during the spring of his junior year. He was told he owed the VA $70,000 to cover the benefits paid to him in error.
Finding the Errors in the Process
So how does these errors occur when service branch records show enough service time to make a transfer of benefits, but the VA’s records show up after-the-fact not having enough time? The VA approved the transfer request and issued a Certificate of Eligibility, a requirement to use Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to go to school?
The discrepancies seem to center around the fact that military service records show one set of initial contract and extension dates for a service member, but the information used by the VA shows something different. Throw into the mix a difference in calculating qualifying days if the service member also has Reserves or National Guard time, and it can quickly become a mess.
Congress Pushes for a Fix
After Paige Dobson’s story broke, eleven members of Congress, led by U.S. Sen Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI), requested the Navy fix this problem. Honoring Congress’ request, the acting Navy Secretary changed Paige Dotson’s dad retirement date so that she (and her brother) have valid Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. Backdating the use of those benefits eliminated the debt the VA said she owed.
But as recently reported by news sources, these transfer of benefit errors continue to happen…more than they should. While the numbers are not great – 22 in 2019 – each one creates a financial disaster for the student it affects.
In an effort to minimize the effect of these errors, U.S. Sen Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) called on the Army and Air Force to follow the Navy’s lead and consider “compassionate resolution” to these issues. U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) introduced legislation (H.R.5522 – The Post 9/11 GI Bill Transferability Entitlement Act) early in 2020 that “would allow any veteran with at least 10 years of service to transfer benefits to a spouse or children at any point in their career, even after retiring”. Under current VA rules, service members must request a transfer of benefits no later than their 16th year of service; currently, veterans may not make a transfer of benefits after getting out, but they can move benefits (reallocate) from one dependent to another having already received benefits. As of the time of this writing, the bill is still in committee.
Will Modernization Bring About Post 9/11 GI Bill Improvement?
Hopefully, once the VA’s IT Modernization initiative as reported here in October is fully implemented, it will help provide a more timely response to Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement eligibility issues discussed in this article. However, until the VA and service branches are all on the same page as far as the information they use to determine eligibility, these discrepancies will keep happening.