Transfer That GI Bill Now: The Big New Benefit Risk

Think your favorite GI Bill perks, like being able to transfer it to other family members, are safe? Think again.

There are two kinds of military pay and benefits: the kind that Congress mandates and the kind that Congress allows.

That's a big difference and here's why: The mandated kind is set in stone until congress orders otherwise -- they are "entitlements." Those are things like your Tricare benefits and the commissary. But the allowed kind is OKed "at the discretion" of the Defense Department (a nice way to say "if they feel like it").

Lawmakers give the DoD the leeway to decide how to offer a benefit, how much of it to give and, most importantly, when to take it away. Congress gives them the thumbs-up to have it on the menu -- but the DoD gets to decide how much of it they'll serve. What benefits fall into that category? Things like paternity leave, incentive pays and tuition assistance, including certain facets of the GI Bill.

Big changes could be coming to some parts of the post-9/11 GI Bill. Here's what you need to do about them.

We've long known that parts of the post-9/11 GI Bill are in danger. Last year a committee ordered by congress to examine military benefits recommended that the housing allowance payout of the GI Bill be eliminated when the benefit is used by a child. In early 2013 the Army announced that even though they met the qualifications, about 4,000 senior NCOs who were about to be named as ineligible for reenlistment would not be able to transfer the benefit once their names were announced. Then, in July of that year, the DoD changed the policy to require every service member making the transfer -- including those who were about to retire -- to serve an additional four years.

Now the Senate has included in their version of the annual Defense authorization act (where they tell the DoD what programs to offer, what policies to put in place, OK spending and generally give them an official piece of their mind) a few lines asking the DoD to seriously reconsider cracking down on the transfer benefit.

"It is the sense of Congress that each secretary concerned should exercise the authority to be more selective in permitting the transferability of unused education benefits to family members in a manner that encourages the retention of individuals in the Armed Forces," the bill says.

That's government-ease for "hey DoD -- stop offering this to just anybody who has been in six years and wants to stay four more, and dangle it instead as a way of getting people to stay military even longer."

In practicality that could mean a lot of things. It could mean the DoD starts using the transfer option as a trick to get people into jobs that need filling. ("Want to transfer that bad boy? Welcome to acquisitions!") It could mean that they make the bench marks higher ("Want to transfer? You have to be in eight years and agree to eight more"). Or it could mean that they completely ignore Congress.

But here's what it definitely means: the Senate, at least, is willing to mess with this one. Transferability is not sacred. And if you want to make sure you can take advantage of it, you should transfer it as soon as possible. This measure is not yet law -- and it may never make it into law at all, but it does give us a picture into what is going on in the minds of lawmakers.

Just because you choose to transfer does not mean you have to keep it that way. Per the DoD, you can undo or change the transfer at any time. Transferring the benefit does not mean your kid has to use it -- it just means it will be available to him later if does. You also don't have to transfer it all to one person. In this house my husband's GI Bill is split between our two sons. But if he decides he wants to get out and go back to school, he can undo the transfer and use it himself.

If transferring is something for which you qualify and could possibly want to do ever, seriously consider doing it today. Learn how here.


Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

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