This weekend, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the GI Bill — a series of hallmark legislation providing World War II veterans housing, vocational and educational benefits.
The GI Bill helped to shift the economic landscape of America, affording returning veterans a pathway to the middle class. After years of tireless advocacy by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and others, the Post-9/11 GI Bill was passed into law — providing full in-state tuition, housing allowances and allowing for tenured service members to transfer their education benefits to their dependents. Since its passage, countless veterans and their families have had the doors to higher education opened for them.
Over the last two decades, the length and nature of America’s wars have placed unique burdens on military families. The Post 9/11 GI Bill has been a critical tool easing post-service transition from military to civilian life.
Yet, current policies governing transferability have the capacity to negatively affect some of our nation’s longest-serving veterans, leaving their families without access to life-altering educational benefits.
Unfortunately, the Department of Defense views transferability as a recruiting and retention program and not a tool to aid post-service readjustment. However, successful transfer of education benefits has been of extreme importance to the longest-serving families in our military and should be viewed as an incredibly effective tool in achieving positive outcomes for them.
Most notably, the new policy will end transfers for service members who have been in uniform longer than 16 years, starting in July.
On a far too regular basis, IAVA receives inquiries from veterans who need clarity or assistance around accessing their Post 9/11 GI Bill. Transferability issues have become far too common.
As it stands, the transferability process is rigid, unintuitive and unforgiving, rife with bureaucratic and administrative hurdles. In some instances, benefits have been revoked because veterans were grossly misled by military officials, inevitably leaving their dependents robbed of the opportunity to leverage the Post 9/11 GI BIll to pay for an education. Other veterans have met all the requirements for transferability, including additional time served, only to be told errors in online filings made them ineligible to transfer their benefit.
Even if the majority of Post 9/11 GI Bill transfers are successful, when things go awry — there are often catastrophic economic consequences for the affected families, with little to no formal avenues for redress. Through no fault of their own, some of these unlucky families have been left with debts upwards of $60,000, despite being told that they were eligible to transfer benefits.
In an effort to cut costs, rules around transferability are becoming more stringent and increasingly difficult to comprehend. A new law limiting transferability is due to go into effect next month, further complicating this issue.
Beginning in July, transferability will be limited to service members with less than 16 years of active duty service. That means service members who served for nearly the entirety of the War on Terror will no longer be able to transfer educational benefits to their dependents. New rules also stipulate service members who cannot commit to four additional years to qualify for transferability, are ineligible to transfer benefits under any circumstance. These new policies cut corners and save money at the expense of veterans who’ve given years — sometimes decades — in service to our country.
A House provision would reserve the limitations set by Defense Department officials last year.
IAVA stands against the new limits to Post 9/11 GI Bill transferability and has asked congressional leaders and the Department of Defense to address the shortcomings of the Post 9/11 GI Bill transferability process. Without targeted legislative action, transferability will continue to be plagued with issues and veterans and their families will be adversely impacted.
Until new laws governing GI Bill transferability are written, mechanisms like regular audits, reviews of pending transfers alongside streamlined notification of transferability issues and meaningful recourse for veterans who have exited the military need to be put in place.
Recognizing the success of the GI Bill must also come with addressing its shortcomings. Those who’ve served have earned these benefits and deserve a simplified and supportive process to use them effectively for themselves and for their families.
Panasyuk is the senior veteran transition manager at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.