Senior service members would once again be able to share their GI Bill benefits with spouses and children under a provision included in a House panel’s budget bill draft.
The measure was unanimously approved by the House Armed Services Committee during their debate of the annual defense authorization bill on Wednesday. Sponsor Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., said the idea is to reverse “a truly lousy decision by the Department of Defense last year.”
The measure still must survive negotiations with the Senate before it becomes law, but supporters said they hope it sends a clear message to Defense Department leaders about their disapproval of the rule change, which blocks troops with more than 16 years of service from transferring their education benefits to a spouse or children.
That move goes into effect on July 12. Military officials in recent weeks have warned affected service members to finish their transfer paperwork before that deadline or lose out on sharing tens of thousands in education benefits with their family.
“This decision … punishes those who have served over a long period of time, maybe got married late or started a family later,” Courtney said. “It cuts them off from being able to get the GI Bill’s really special component of transferability.
“If you talk to service members, it is one of the most popular aspects of the benefit — to have that for their family.”
Service members wounded in combat are exempted from the rule change.
Courtney said reserving the decision would not have a significant financial impact on the federal government but could help with retention and morale.
The post-9/11 GI Bill benefits cover the full cost of in-state tuition plus a monthly living stipend for eligible troops, veterans and family members. Troops must serve six years before they can transfer benefits to a family member.
Officials from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have lobbied for the change in recent months, arguing it unfairly limits benefits promised to service members.
Senate officials have not yet 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.