Sgt. 1st Class Justin Voss joined the Army primarily for the college funds. What he didn’t immediately realize, however, was that his education benefits would also extend to his wife through the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
“It allowed Chelsie the ability to go to school financially stress-free,” Voss wrote in an email.
READ: 3 veterans who used GI Bill benefits to pursue non-traditional education
That financial boon came to the Vosses thanks to the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, a law that allows service members to transfer their unused education benefits to immediate family members, including spouses and children. The original WWII-era GI Bill only permitted veterans to use the educational benefits for themselves.
Tradition of assistance
American military members have certainly taken advantage of the bill’s multiple revisions. In 2021 alone, approximately 118,387 family members received Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits from their military parent or spouse, according to a VA spokeswoman. That figure includes 91,548 minors and 26,839 husbands and wives.
“For 78 years, the GI Bill has provided veterans and their families with opportunities to enrich, enhance and expand their educational goals and accomplishments, with more than $400 billion in education benefits paid to over 25 million beneficiaries since 1944,” Mary Glenn, VA acting executive director of education service, said via email. “Since the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s inception in August 2009, VA has paid more than $126 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to nearly 2.5 million individuals.”
Voss, a recruiter stationed in North Carolina, found out about the benefit around 2012, when his wife, Chelsie, wanted to finish college. He had already decided to make the Army his career ― service members need at least six years of either active duty or Selected Reserve to qualify for the transfer ― and would use his tuition assistance (TA) for his own degree.
The couple found the transfer process to be “pretty easy,” only taking a few days. Chelsie used Voss’ benefit to earn a bachelor’s degree in religion and a minor in psychology at Liberty University. The move saved the Vosses approximately $55,000, not including books and supplies, for which she was compensated at $125 a class.
“I had previously stopped going to college because of military life and costs,” Chelsie said. “I would not have continued to pursue a college education if it had not been for the transferred benefits.”
One of the most common questions Glenn and her VA team receive relates to which service members can help their family members with college costs.
Service members must first be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill and a member of the armed forces (active duty or Selected Reserve, officer or enlisted) on or after Aug. 1, 2009, and:
- Have at least six years of military service (active duty or Selected Reserve) on the date of election;
- Be eligible to be retained for four years from the date of election and not be precluded, prior to approval, by either standard policy (Service or DOD) or statute.
Additionally, transfer requests can only be submitted and approved while on active duty.
- Once approved, the service member may transfer to a spouse; one or more of their children; any combination of spouse and children.
- Family members must be eligible for benefits and enrolled in DEERS.
The DOD decides whether or not someone can transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their family. The process can be done online or via mail. If approved, spouses can use benefits immediately, while children can take advantage upon receiving a high school diploma (or equivalent) or turning 18.
“Transfer of entitlement to eligible family members is an important benefit to service members and their families. It also helps DOD retain highly skilled personnel,” Glenn wrote. “It helps service members to know that their family can directly benefit from their military service by lessening the burden and costs of an education after they separate or retire.”