Being late to the party doesnâ€™t always mean youâ€™ve missed it entirely. However, in the case of thousands of military retirees, being eligible to transfer GI Bill education benefits to family members came and went before they knew it could be done in the first place. Now, they are looking toward Congress to give them a second chance.
Support is not currently offered by the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs Department to retirees who want to try again to transfer benefits to a spouse or children.
Although some members of Congress see this as unfair treatment of retirees, putting a little slack into this rule is one of several Post-9/11 GI Bill changes being pursued whose supporters have not found a way to pay for. This hurdle, however, has not deterred retirees who feel that the benefit passed them by.
The opportunity to transfer rights for GI Bill benefits began August 1, 2009. This required a service member to make a new four-year military commitment in order to qualify to share unused GI Bill benefits. However, special rules allowed retirement-eligible members to transfer benefits without having to serve longer provided they made the transfer while still in uniform.
Those who retired before August 1, 2009 have protested about being denied transfer rights for the new GI Bill. Those retiring after the new program took effect made a point that they deserve special attention because DoD, VA and the services did a less-than-satisfactory job of explaining how the program works.
For example, retired Army Colonel Randall Mackey, who retired September 1, 2009, said he would have applied to share his benefits with his daughter if heâ€™d known he could. Ironically, his last day was July 30 â€” one day before the Post-9/11 GI Bill took effect. He was still eligible, however, to transfer his benefits because his official retirement day was more than a month later.
Mackey noted that many soldiers who retired last summer did so before they knew they had to accomplish any transfer of this benefit beforehand.
Guidance on transfer rights came from DoD just in time for Mackey and others to have learned about this benefit â€“ June 22, 2009. Unfortunately, this information was buried on Page 17 of a 29-page policy document. After trying to move through official channels to have a chance at transferring benefits, Mackey was turned down by the Army Board for Correction of Military Records.
â€œ(The Board) told me that I was aware of this detail but simply chose not to do a transfer,â€ said Mackey.
According to Pentagon spokesperson, Eileen Lainez, benefits must be transferred by law while the member is still in the service. There is, however, the ability on the part of the services to approve recently retired members who attempted to transfer while eligible, and who were affected by a technical problem that precluded completion of the transaction.
Legislation is pending before the House Veteransâ€™ Affairs Committee to offer a second chance for people who retired before transferring benefits. While the intention of such legislation is positive, it is likely to advance only if a way is found to cover the costs.
At present, two other bills to change the transfer rights policy are also pending before the committee. One will allow transferred benefits to be used as payment for special education classes for dependents, while the other would allow children to use transferred benefits until age 26, which is three years later than what is now allowed.
â€œWho wouldnâ€™t fight to get access to 36 months of tax-free education benefits for their children?â€ asked Mackey.