Defense Department officials will delay a controversial proposal limiting troops ability to share their GI Bill benefits with spouses and children after complaints from advocates and lawmakers that the move could hurt recruiting and morale.

In a letter to lawmakers last week, acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness James Stewart said the move will be pushed back six months to January 2020. The changes had been set to go into effect later this week.

Stewart said only that the delay was designed to allow for implementation of the changes, and not a reconsideration of the decision. The move was first reported by

Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat from Connecticut who has been a vocal opponent of the changes and who sent a letter to the Pentagon’s leadership last month demanding the delay, called the decision good news for military families.

“This is a welcome decision by the department to slow down implementation of a policy that will unfairly affect some of our most seasoned servicemembers,” he said in a statement. “It is clear that our letter sent a strong message that the Defense Department should give Congress time to consider [legislation] which would block this restriction from going into effect entirely.”

Military officials announced plans to change education benefits rules to block troops with more than 16 years of service from transferring their post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their spouses of children.

Supporters of the idea in the past have argued that transferability of the education benefits was designed to be a recruiting and retention incentive, and is not necessary for troops nearing retirement. But advocates have said the changes amount to punishing service members for a long career.

The announced changes left many military families scrambling in recent months to update paperwork to ensure that they wouldn’t lose out on tens of thousands of tuition and housing stipends in the future.

Last month, Members of the House Armed Services Committee included language in their draft of the annual defense authorization bill reversing the decision. But that legislation isn’t expected to be finalized until this fall, after the initial July 12 enactment date of the rule change.

The new Defense Department delay potentially allows lawmakers to block any such plans before they go into effect. Courtney said he’ll be pushing for that in months to come.

Senate officials did not include the issue in their draft of the authorization bill and have not yet formally weighed in on the idea.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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