Army may let soldiers who re-enlist share education benefits with spouses
May 24, 2006
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Army may allow re-enlisting soldiers to forgo a re-enlistment bonus in exchange for sharing GI Bill education benefits with their spouses, said Army spokesman Lt. Col. Brian Hilferty.
Officials hope to make a final decision on the program in the next few weeks. Military family advocates praised the idea, noting that military spouses could benefit from the opportunity.
“We find that especially due to the op tempo, servicemembers aren’t able to take advantage of the education benefits, but their spouse is able to,” said Kathy Moakler, of the National Military Families Association.
If the program is approved, soldiers who re-enlist would be able to give their spouses some of the funding they receive to defray higher education costs, Hilferty said. Exactly how much money spouses could receive and other details on the proposed program are unavailable, because the plan has not yet been approved.
In 2002, Congress gave all branches of the service the power to allow military spouses to receive GI Bill education benefits, but only the Air Force has attempted to implement such a program. Air Force officials canceled the program after a one-year pilot program in which 1,200 airmen were eligible but only 60 families participated.
Hilferty said nothing specific has prompted the Army to consider allowing soldiers to share their GI Bill education benefits with spouses now.
“We have lots of authorities from Congress we don’t use, but we continue to improve our retention programs,” Hilferty said.
Should the Army approve the plan, it would begin as a pilot program for soldiers with critical skills, said Maj. Gerald Conway, enlisted professional development branch chief.
“If approved, and if successful, the Army may explore expanding this program to all Soldiers as well as offering a similar program to Reserve Component Soldiers eligible for MGIB-Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) benefits,” Conway said in an e-mailed statement.
Joyce Razer, director of government relations for the National Military Family Association, said the association supports the concept behind the benefits transfer but does have concerns about the preliminary details of the Army’s plan.
“It falls short in that the service gets to choose who’s offered it and there’s also this time limit, where a servicemember has to be in at least seven years to give it to a spouse, at least 10 years to give it to a child,” Razer said.
In addition, she said, military families have said they want all soldiers to be able to transfer their GI Bill education benefits, not just soldiers with critical skills who are up for re-enlistment.