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DoD Defines New GI Bill Transfer Rules
Tom Philpott | April 30, 2009

New GI Bill Transfer Rules Give Members More Control

Servicemembers nearing the end of their careers will find it easier than first thought to transfer new Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits to their spouse or children, under Department of Defense regulations.

And servicemembers who elect to transfer GI Bill benefits will be allowed to modify or revoke that decision at any time, thus keeping control of a benefit with an average start value estimated at $75,000 to $90,000.

Bob Clark, assistant director of accession policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, discussed the transferability feature of the new GI Bill in some depth during an April 29 phone interview.

The details should comfort many long-serving careerists – including enlisted members facing high-year tenure rules or officers facing mandatory retirement – who worried about being denied transferability because they might not meet a requirement in law to serve four additional years.

Clark said the four-year requirement will be relaxed, and for some waived entirely, for individuals near to retirement. The regulation on transferability isn't final yet because it hasn't been signed.

"We're awaiting a general counsel opinion on the [need for] publishing them in the Federal Register," Clark said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs administers all veterans' education benefits.  Defense officials are only responsible for transferability policy because of the potential impact on recruiting and retention. Officials decided to confirm policy details before they officially are set because VA will begin to accept Post-9/11 GI Bill application on Friday May 1.

Here then are the transferability details, as explained by Clark:

ELIGIBILITY – Only members on active duty or in the Selected Reserve on or after Aug. 1, 2009, can transfer new GI Bill benefits, and only spouse or to children or to any combination thereof.  Immediate family status will be confirmed through the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System.

Unused benefits, up to the full 36 months, can be transferred. "You can give 36 months to one child or one month to 36 children," Clark quipped.

To transfer benefits, members must have served a minimum of six years and commit to serving four more from date benefit transfer is approved.  However, exceptions – one permanent and five temporary -- will be allowed to the four-year added service requirement.

PERMANENT EXCEPTION: If a servicemember who already has served at least 10 years is barred by service policy or statute from serving an additional four years, because of high-year tenure rules or mandatory retirement rules, they still will be allowed to transfer GI bill benefits if they agree to serve the maximum amount of time allowed by that policy or law.

TEMPORARY EXCEPTIONS: Defense officials will allow five other waivers to the four-year requirement of additional service for categories of members nearing retirement eligibility or with retirement orders in hand.

These exceptions are to recognize, said Clark, "that we have a senior force out there who, had they had this opportunity many years ago, they probably would have selected transferability for their family members."

Granting these exceptions also help force managers, he said.  Without them, the services would see thousands of retirement-eligible servicemembers trying to stay four years longer to qualify for GI Bill transferability.  That could have "a very negative impact on our force profiles," Clark said.

"So we said, ‘Let's look at a way that we can phase this group out.'  We developed five rules.  All will sunset in 2013."

1) Members retirement eligible by Aug. 1, 2009, may transfer GI Bill benefits to an immediate family member and face no additional service requirement.  "Retirement eligible" means completion of 20 years of active service or 20 qualifying years of reserve service.

2) Members with approved orders to retire on or after Aug. 1, 2009, but before July 1, 2010, will not have to serve added time to transfer benefits.  This is to avoid forcing the services and members to change set retirement dates in the next year or so.  Retirements set for after July 1, 2010, officials decided, could be changed with little difficulty.

3) Members who first become retirement eligible on or after Aug. 1, 2009, but before Aug. 1, 2010, will be required to serve one additional year from the date that transfer of GI Bill benefits is approved.

4) Members who become retirement eligible on or after Aug. 1, 2010, but before Aug. 1, 2011, will have to serve two additional years from the date that benefit transfer is approved.

5) Members who become retirement eligible on or after Aug. 1, 2011, but before Aug. 1, 2012, will have to serve three additional years after benefit transfer is approved.

SUSTAINED ELIGIBILITY – After transfer of benefits, spouse eligibility will not be affected by divorce, and children will stay eligible even if they marry.  But the member retains ownership of the benefit and can modify or revoke transfer at any time without explanation.  Also, the GI Bill benefit cannot be treated by judges as property to be shared in a divorce.

LIMITS ON USE – A spouse can use GI Bill benefits like the member. The monthly living stipend, set to match local Basic Allowance for Housing rate, won't be paid if the member is on active duty.  If the member has left active duty, the spouse will be paid the living allowance.  Children get the allowance whenever they use GI Bill benefits.

Also, the spouse has 15 years to use benefits after the member leaves service. Children can use only until age 26.  They can start using transferred GI Bill benefits after graduating from high school or at age 18.

A spouse can use transferred benefits immediately. A child can't use GI Bill benefits until the member has served at least 10 years.

"We hope to start to accept requests for transfers in June," said Clark. "But the earliest date transfer would be approved is Aug. 1."

To comment, e-mail milupdate@aol.com, write to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA, 20120-1111 or visit: militaryupdate.com.

For more information check out the Post-911 GI Bill Transferability Fact Sheet.

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Copyright 2013 Tom Philpott. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.

About Tom Philpott

Tom Philpott has been breaking news for and about military people since 1977. After service in the Coast Guard, and 17 years as a reporter and senior editor with Army Times Publishing Company, Tom launched "Military Update," his syndicated weekly news column, in 1994. "Military Update" features timely news and analysis on issues affecting active duty members, reservists, retirees and their families. Tom also edits a reader reaction column, "Military Forum." The online "home" for both features is Military.com.

Tom's freelance articles have appeared in numerous magazines including The New Yorker, Reader's Digest and Washingtonian. His critically-acclaimed book, Glory Denied, on the extraordinary ordeal and heroism of Col. Floyd "Jim" Thompson, the longest-held prisoner of war in American history, is available in hardcover and paperback.