A hint that the Congress is seeking budget savings in the form of tightening access to Post-9/11 GI Bill transferability is hidden in the details of the Senate’s version of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.
Current Post-9/11 GI Bill rules on transferability allow eligible active duty service members to transfer their benefits to their education benefits to their spouse or dependent children – depending on the service member’s length of service and willingness to re-enlist. Transferability of benefits was a key facet of the original legislation and was seen as a necessary option to provide a reenlistment incentive and maintain troop levels.
The popularity of this part of the GI Bill, which offers spouses and dependents free-tuition and stipends for housing and books, has been phenomenal, as witnessed by the fact that over 928,000 eligible dependents have taken advantage of the program over the last five years, However, the cost of the program, more than $5 billion, is beginning to get some attention from those who see it as an opportunity to cut costs.
This brings us to the Senate Armed Services Committee’s draft of the defense bill, in which Section 534 states that the service secretaries “should be more selective in permitting such transferability,” giving each service branch the opportunity to redefine and tighten the eligibility for transferring the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
While this is cause for alarm, the section is couched in the terms “It is the sense of Congress” and the word “should,” which means it is not binding. But it does give the DoD permission to restrict access and it should be seen as a warning sign that next year’s National Defense Act could include a requirement for the DoD to reduce access to transferring educational benefits.
This is not the only sign of the tightening eligibility for transferring education benefits. Earlier this year the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission released a report in which they recommended that Congress change the time-in-service and reenlistment requirements from six years with a 4-year re-up requirement, to ten years with an additional two years of service obligation.
As a word of advice, if you are eligible and you are considering transferring your education benefits, now is the time to act. Electing to transfer your GI Bill benefits is not binding; you can change your transferability designations at any time. But if you are not locked in you are at risk of losing out on what may be a golden opportunity for you and your family.