Trio of senators look to ensure GI bill transfer rights to service members

There are only a few more months left for some service members to transfer their GI Bill benefits to dependents, but a trio of Democratic Senators want to put a halt to the change.

Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), John Tester (D-Mont.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced legislation Monday that would solidify eligibility to service members who want to transfer their education benefits to dependents after 2020.

The Post 9/11 GI Bill Transferability Entitlement bill would ensure all service members who completed 10 years of service can transfer their benefits while on active duty or as a veteran. The benefit is available to anyone who served six years or more.

“Our bill ensures that the men and women in uniform—who served our nation for years— are able to transfer their G.I. Bill education benefits to their loved ones without unnecessary hurdles,” said Tester, who is the Ranking Member on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this bill, so we can do right by our nation’s veterans.”

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The debate over the benefit — which covers the full costs of tuition plus room and board at an in-state public university — started last summer when the Defense Department announced transferability would be limited to service members with less than 16 years of total service.

“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,” Stephanie Miller, director of accessions policy at DoD said last July. “This change continues to allow career service members that earned this benefit to share it with their family members while they continue to serve.” She added “this change is an important step to preserve the distinction of transferability as a retention incentive.”

The decision got blowback from service member groups.

“At its inception, lawmakers insisted upon the ability to transfer GI Bill benefits as a way to recruit and retain America’s best and brightest. Transferability, coupled with an additional service requirement, became one of the cornerstones of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The option to transfer benefits is particularly valuable for military officers, many of whom already have collegiate and advanced degrees,” Dana Atkins, the president of the Military Officers Association of America said. “MOAA believes the unilateral change to cut off transferability will likely have a compounding, negative effect on recruiting and retention over time. As military families continue to serve during the longest period of sustained conflict in American history, we question the timing of this change and will seek to learn the VA’s role and the interest level of Congress.”

The policy was supposed to take effect this July, but when the deadline neared the Pentagon backed down and pushed the date to January 2020.

The Post 9/11 GI Bill Transferability Entitlement bill would do away with the policy.

“The Department of Defense’s confusing new policy moved the goalpost for transfer eligibility, breaking our promise to military families. Disqualifying service members with more than sixteen years of military services penalizes the men and women who have served this country in uniform for the greatest length of time. This policy change is fundamentally illogical and unfair, and exacerbates existing inequities in the transfer of education benefits – it should be remedied immediately by passing our bill,” Blumenthal said.

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