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WASHINGTON — Spouses may be able to use GI Bill benefits for college classes if their soldier re-enlists, under a new program under consideration for 2006, Army officials said.

All four services have had the authority to allow family members of troops to use those education entitlements. In 2002, Congress authorized the transfer as a retention tool so military officials could hold onto hard-to-find specialists.

But only the Air Force took advantage of it, offering a one-year pilot program in fiscal 2003 to about 1,200 airmen. Dennis Douglass, deputy director of education services for the Veterans Affairs department, said fewer than 60 families participated, and the program was canceled the next year.

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Dennis Drogo, assistant director of marketing and incentive programs for the Defense Department, said transferring the education benefits hasn’t been targeted by officials because “it’s designed as a retention tool, and they didn’t see a need for it.”

But now, after soldiers petitioned Army officials to allow the transfers, the Army will begin a new program in January to allow troops with critical military occupational specialties to re-enlist and pass their GI Bill credits to spouses, according to service spokesman Lt. Col. Brian Hilferty.

He said officials are still working out details, but he expects all soldiers eligible for the selective re-enlistment bonus will be covered under the new program.

“They were the ones who have been asking for this,” he said.

Hilferty did not know how many soldiers that might affect.

The Montgomery GI Bill, passed in 1944 to help compensate troops returning from World War II, provides up to 36 months of education benefits for higher education classes or technical training.

For troops who are honorably discharged and served at least three years, the monthly education benefit is $1,034.

Unlike the Air Force’s 2003 program, the new Army program won’t allow children to receive their parents’ unused credits. Hilferty said that so far soldiers petitioning for the education flexibility have mainly requested it only for spouses.

Air Force officials said they have no plans to revive their program. Douglass said he has not received word of any similar Navy or Marine Corps proposals.

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