Despite a recent win in the Post-9/11 GI Bill transferability battle, one veterans service organization says there are still improvements to be made.
A controversial policy that would have ended the ability of service members to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits after 16 years of service was originally meant to go into effect in July 2019. Implementation was eventually delayed until January 2020 before being canceled when Congress overrode Department of Defense Instruction 1341.13.
“The 16-year limitation was not applied in practice,” said DOD spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell in an e-mail message. “However, consistent with the law, the Department issued the guidance on January 10, 2020, clarifying that eligible service members with 16 or more years of service have the ability to transfer Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits provided they are willing and able to commit to an additional four years of military service.”
John Kamin, assistant director of American Legion’s Veteran Employment and Education Division, said he believes Congress’ decision was thanks, at least in part, to the advocacy of groups like his. GI Bill transferability is not something the American Legion would normally weigh in on, but the group made an exception in this case, he adds.
“In this case when we looked at the reasons for the changes, it didn’t make sense. We were not satisfied with the answers we received,” Kamin said during a phone interview. “We don’t like to get involved with recruitment and retention but this did not look like something made in good faith. How does it affect retention?”
Kamin explains the American Legion is happy the change didn’t go into effect but added there are still improvements to be made regarding the Post-9/11 GI Bill. One problem, he said, is that when the benefit is transferred to a dependent, that dependent assumes fiduciary responsibility. This can lead to problems when there is a miscalculation of the number of months the service member needed to complete in order to transfer the benefit or when the wrong information is passed along.
“[The Department of Veterans Affairs] will issue a debt collection to the child,” Kamin said. “You have an 18-year-old who is $30,000 in debt because of an administrative error.”
Kamin described the problem as a long-term issue, and said the solution is more transparency for service members regarding the transfer of education benefits.
Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Mike Richman verified that both the dependent and the veteran are responsible for debts associated with a failure to fulfill a service obligation but said it’s not something that would result from an administrative error.
“Such debts are only created after VA has consulted with the Department of Defense and received verification that the veteran did not complete the service obligation and did not retain eligibility because of a qualifying separation reason,” Richman said. “VA does not create debts against veterans or dependents for administrative errors on the part of VA or DoD.”
Richman added that service members can prevent these kinds of issues by verifying they have met their obligation. He said beneficiaries can request a waiver of debts associated with GI Bill education benefits, including those associated with transferred entitlement.
Most debts result from students dropping classes or leaving school after the VA has processed a payment for tuition and fees.
“Depending upon the timing of the reduction, and when the school reports the change to VA, debts associated with the monthly housing allowance and the books and supplies stipend may be created as well,” Richman said. “Also, as noted above, debts must also be created for any transferred benefits used when a veteran fails to fulfill the additional service requirement and is not discharged for a qualifying reason.”
According to VA spokesman Randal Noller, under the current rules service members on active duty or in the Selected Reserve can transfer Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits if they have completed at least six years of service on the date their request is approved, they agree to serve at least four more years and the person receiving the benefits is enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System. Service members can split their 36 months of benefits among multiple dependents.
Service members and veterans also have the option of revoking some or all their transferred benefits.
Applications for the transfer of benefits are submitted to, and approved by, individual service branches through the milConnect web site at https://milconnect.dmdc.osd.mil/milconnect/.
Service members may transfer benefits to a spouse or dependent child. Dependents may still qualify even if a child marries or the veteran and their spouse divorce. Service members and veterans may cancel or change a transfer of entitlement at any time, which is also done through milConnect.
To learn more about Post-9/11 GI Bill transferability options visit https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/post911_transfer.asp.
The following conditions apply to family members using transferred benefits:
For military spouses—
- May use the benefit right away
- May use the benefit while you’re on active duty or after you’ve separated from service
- Don’t qualify for the monthly housing allowance while you’re on active duty
- Have the same benefit eligibility period as the transferor (15 years if last discharged prior to January 1, 2013; no time limit if last discharged on or after January 1, 2013).
For military children—
- May start to use the benefit only after service member has finished at least 10 years of service
- May use the benefit while service member is on active duty or after separation from service
- May not use the benefit until they’ve received a high school diploma (or equivalency certificate), or have reached 18 years of age
- Qualify for the monthly housing allowance even when service member is on active duty
- Can only use benefits up to age 26.