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Pentagon to cap transfer eligibility of GI Bill benefits at 16 years

A recruit with Delta Company, 1st Recruit Training Battalion, takes notes during a class for educational benefits Aug. 26, 2015, on Parris Island, S.C.

AARON BOLSER/U.S. MARINE CORPS

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 12, 2018

WASHINGTON — Servicemembers who want to transfer their GI Bill benefits to their spouse or dependent children will have to do so before serving 16 years in a change set to take effect next year, the Pentagon announced Thursday.

The new policy narrows the window during which servicemembers may transfer their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to a family member to after their sixth year in uniform and before their 16th year of service. The policy will go into effect July 12, 2019, according to Pentagon documents.

Previously, any servicemember who had already served six years in the military and agreed to remain in uniform for an additional four years was granted the opportunity to transfer their GI Bill benefits to a family member. Effective immediately, servicemembers deemed ineligible to extend their time in the service for four or more years for reasons such as injury, mandatory retirement date or a medical condition cannot transfer their benefits to a family member.

The Pentagon is also doing away with an exemption that granted the right to transfer those benefits to family members for troops who served at least 10 years in the military but were precluded from extending their service for four years for a variety of reasons, including people medically discharged for injuries.

Servicemembers who are involuntarily separated under “force shaping” measures — typically efforts to reduce the size of the military — through no fault of their own before reaching their four years of extended service will be allowed to transfer their benefits, according to the new guidance.

The policy shift was part of an overhaul of the post 9/11 benefits aimed at encouraging troops to stay in the service as the Pentagon looks to increase the size of U.S. military, said Stephanie Miller, the Pentagon’s director of accessions policy.

“After a thorough review of the policy, we saw a need to focus on retention in a time of increased growth of the armed forces,” she said. “This change continues to allow career servicemembers that earned this benefit to share it with their family members while they continue to serve.”

However, it was unclear Thursday exactly how the policy changes affect retention efforts.

More so, veterans group officials indicated Thursday that they were not consulted by Pentagon officials regarding the change. Groups including the Military Officers Association of American and the American Legion expressed concerns about the new policy.

“The fact that nobody was consulted about this is alarming,” said Paul Frost, a retired Navy captain who serves as MOAA’s program director for financial and benefits education. “What else is being discussed on the changes of this bill, which is one of the key benefits that a servicemember gets?”

Joe Plenzler, a spokesman for the American Legion, called the change a “curtailment of veterans’ earned benefits.”

“We understand the minimum time-in-service for transferability eligibility, and that makes sense from a retention perspective,” he said. “But the 16-year transfer or lose rule makes no sense to us as [the Department of Defense] has articulated it and disadvantages the veteran when it comes to the full use of this earned benefit.”

The Pentagon said it brings the policy more in line with the original intent of the bill that became law in 2008. The law pays college costs for people who serve in the military in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and was meant to drive wartime recruitment and retention efforts, according to the Pentagon.

Defense Department officials first announced they were considering such a change on Capitol Hill in November. While the Department of Veterans Affairs administers the benefits, the Pentagon sets the policy.

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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