Military Advantage

Post-9/11 GI Bill Transferability Update Questions Answered

A boy reunites with his father during a homecoming ceremony at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Kentucky. (U.S. Air National Guard/Dale Greer)
A boy reunites with his father during a homecoming ceremony at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Kentucky. (U.S. Air National Guard/Dale Greer)

A major change to a Pentagon policy that allows troops to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to a spouse or child has many wondering how the new policy affects them and whether they are going to be able to use the benefit as they had previously planned.

It's also highlighted many misunderstandings about how the GI Bill transfer policy works. Here's the rundown:

Current Post-9/11 GI Bill Transfer Basics

Troops who have served at least six years can agree to extend their service four more years in exchange for the ability to give their Post-9/11 GI Bill college benefits to their kids or spouse.

Those who have served at least 10 years can give it away even if they aren't allowed to serve an additional four years (Example: They are going through a medical retirement process). Those who have served less than 10 years and are being medically retired can typically get a waiver to do the transfer.

The transfer can be split up among dependents. For example, you might give your wife 10 percent and split the rest among your kids. After you leave the military, you can change who has what amount and remove transferees. But you can't add new people.

You cannot transfer the post-9/11 GI Bill after retirement. And you cannot transfer the Montgomery GI Bill, the version of education benefits troops who joined before 2009 have. Those troops must decide whether to hang onto that version or swap it for the post-9/11 version.

The 2018 Post 9/11 GI Bill Transferability Change

A new policy, issued July 12, 2018, makes one major change to transferability that will kick in July 13, 2019 for all troops and one change that will start then for all troops except sailors. That means most have a year left to use the rules in the current policy.

First, it caps the transfer window at 16 years of service. That means troops must do the transfer paperwork before they hit 16 years. If they don't, they will not be able to transfer. All troops have until July 13, 2019 before this rule starts.

Next, it removes the rule that allows troops who have served at least 10 years to transfer regardless of whether they are permitted to serve an additional four years. That means those going through medical retirement will no longer automatically be permitted by policy to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill. 

Expert Advice: Transfer Your Benefit Today

Military advocates I spoke with universally agree on two key pieces of advice.

First, troops who qualify and are even considering allowing their spouses or children to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill should not wait to make the transfer. The benefit can always be revoked, even after retirement. And the additional service obligation can be canceled so long as the transferred benefit has not been used. If a service member qualifies, there is literally no reason he or she should delay making the transfer. While the Defense Department could do literally anything it wants with this policy, it is unlikely to go back on a transfer once it's been made, experts agreed.

Second, troops who make the transfer should get confirmation in writing that the transfer has gone through both at the time of election and after they have fulfilled their additional obligation (assuming it not yet been used). I receive countless emails from service members who thought they transferred but never checked for confirmation, only to find after getting out that it didn't happen.

Some even served extra time thinking they were fulfilling an additional obligation, only to retire and find that the transfer paperwork was never done.

Experts I spoke with agree: Do not trust anyone to make sure this high-value benefit is there for you. Check on it yourself, and then check on it again. Print out and file away confirmation that your transfer has been completed. Visit your on-base education center if you need assistance. If you wait until after retirement to take care of this and it didn't work like you thought it did, you will have no transferred benefit and no recourse.

Does the New Policy Mean You Can't Transfer Your GI Bill?

The new policy doesn't start until July 2019. That means even if you are at 16 years today and still want to transfer, you can.

Does the Policy Change Mean Your Kids Can't Use Your GI Bill When You Retire After All?

Many readers wonder if the new rule means anyone who has more than 16 years of service who already made the transfer won't be able to use it for their spouse or kids after all.

The new policy does not take away an already transferred benefit. Those who have already completed the transfer or who made the transfer and are still serving their additional requirement are safe.

Furthermore, the policy does not start for a year. That means troops who are at or over the 16-year mark have an entire year to transfer the benefit and sign up for their additional service.

What About Troops Who Are Being Medically Retired?

One expert we spoke with was unaware of any medically retired troops who were barred from transferring their Post-9/11 GI Bill under the current policy before getting out. Whether that continues to be permitted, however, is still unclear.

Why Is the Military Taking Away This Earned Benefit?

Regardless of whether anyone thinks transferability should be an earned benefit, one thing is true: Lawmakers and defense officials don't see it as one.

By law, the ability to transfer the Post-9/11 GI Bill is not an earned benefit. Instead, the Pentagon was ordered to use it as a retention incentive.

Think of it like a re-enlistment bonus. If you don't re-enlist, you don't get the bonus. Why would they give a re-enlistment bonus to someone who is getting out? Transferability is seen by lawmakers and the Pentagon as exactly the same.

This story was updated July 17 to reflect a Navy policy change.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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