More troops, families to qualify

by Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON — Troops nearing retirement eligibility may be able to tap into the transferability benefits provided in the new Post-9/11 GI Bill, even if they’re unable to serve four more years of duty due to service policies, a senior defense official said.

The Post-9/11 Veterans Education Bill that takes effect in August and will offer more benefits and the ability to transfer benefits to a spouse or child has proven to be a hit with the troops, said Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for military personnel policy.

Of servicemembers surveyed in August, 97 percent said they plan to take advantage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, particularly its transferability provision, Mr. Carr said.

“Enormous interest has been expressed in the transferability provision and how it would work, because so many in the force have families,” Mr. Carr said. He noted that half of the military force is married. By the time troops have served six years of duty, about two-thirds have families.

To qualify for transferability under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, servicemembers must have served six years on active duty or in the Selected Reserve and must commit to another four years. But Mr. Carr said the rules could be tweaked soon to allow mid- or late-career troops to qualify, even if they can’t sign on for another four years of duty due to service restrictions.

Rules expected to be published in the months ahead will clarify exactly who is or isn’t eligible to transfer their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. Mr. Carr said he expects those rules to be “very flexible” to allow servicemembers with 15 or even 20 years of service to qualify. What’s definite now is that only those in the active or reserve components on Aug. 1 will be eligible for transferability under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

“The law doesn’t allow it to be retroactive” to cover those who already have left the military, Mr. Carr said.

The new bill represents the most comprehensive education package since the original World War II-era GI Bill, he said. Unlike the current GI Bill, it covers 100 percent – rather than 80 percent – of the cost of tuition, fees and books. Servicemembers will no longer have to pay $1,200 out of pocket, at the rate of $100 a month for their first year of service, to qualify.

In addition, most troops will receive a “living stipend” while drawing GI Bill benefits. That benefit will equate to the basic allowance for housing that an E-5 with dependents serving on active duty receives, Mr. Carr said. And for the first time, servicemembers will be able to transfer any benefits they don’t use themselves to their immediate family members.

Troops automatically are eligible to transfer to the Post-9/11 GI Bill program when it takes effect, but must elect to do so, officials said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, which administers the program, has more details about the basic program on its Web site. The Defense Department will oversee the transferability program and set up a Web-based application service members can use to request transfer of their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, Mr. Carr said.