Provisions allowing Guard members to transfer some or all of their Post- 9/11 GI Bill benefits to their spouse or children are set to change, limiting the timeframe soldiers and airmen can transfer those benefits.
"You have to have a minimum of six years [in service] in order to be eligible to transfer benefits, and after 16 years you're no longer eligible," said Don Sutton, GI Bill program manager with the Army National Guard, describing the changes set to go into effect July 12, 2019.
The six-years-of-service rule isn't new, said Sutton.
"You've always had to have a minimum of six years of service in order to transfer your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits," he said, adding the big change is the cutoff at 16 years of service.
"You'll have a 10-year-window in which to transfer benefits," he said, stressing that Guard members won't lose the benefits after 16 years of service, just the ability to transfer them to their spouse, children or other dependents.
Soldiers and airmen from the Arizona National Guard.
"The Post-9/11 GI Bill and the transfer of benefits are two entirely different and separate programs," said Sutton. "Even though soldiers may be ineligible to transfer benefits, they still have the Post-9/11 for their own use."
For those interested in transferring their benefits, an additional four-year service obligation is still required.
"The [transfer of benefits] is a retention incentive," said Sutton. "It's designed to keep people in the service."
Being able to transfer benefits to a dependent may have been perceived by some service members as an entitlement, said Sutton, adding that was one of the reasons for the timeframe change.
"In law, transferring those benefits has always been designed as a retention incentive," he said.
The exact number of Guard members who may be impacted by the change wasn't available, said Sutton, adding that among those who could be affected are those who didn't qualify for Post- 9/11 GI Bill benefits until later in their career.
"We do have a small population of soldiers who are over 16 years [of service] before they did their first deployment," he said.
Some Guard members who may have earned the benefits early on, but didn't have dependents until later in their careers, may also be affected.
"They joined at 18 and now they're 15, 16 years in and they get married or have kids later on in life," said Sutton, who urged Guard members who plan on transferring their benefits to do so as soon as they are eligible.
"If you wait, you're potentially going to miss out," he said.
Some Guard members may have been waiting to transfer the benefits until their children reach college age.
Spc. Sabrina Day, 132nd Military Police Company, South Carolina National Guard, with her three-year-old son, Blake.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Brad Mincey)
"There sometimes are some misconceptions that they have to wait until their kids are college age or that they're high school seniors in order to do the transfer," said Sutton, adding there is no age requirement to transfer Post-9/ 11 benefits to dependent children.
"As soon as a child is born and registered in DEERS [Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System], you can transfer," he said.
After that transfer has been completed, Guard members can still make changes to how those benefits are divided between dependents or which dependent receives those benefits.
"Once the transfer is executed, and you've agreed to that service obligation, you can add dependents in, and you can move months around between dependents," said Sutton. "It's just that initial transfer has to be done before you hit 16 years of service."
However, there is one group of Guard members who will not be affected by any of the changes: those who have received the Purple Heart since Sept. 11, 2001.
"The only rule around transferring benefits that applies [to those individuals] is you have to still be in the service to transfer them."
Regardless of status, Sutton reiterated that Guard members are better off transferring those benefits sooner rather than later.
"Transfer as soon as you're eligible," he said. "Don't miss the boat because you've been eligible for 10 years and you just didn't do it."
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