The Pentagon’s new rules on transferring GI Bill benefits to dependents, announced last week, have created a lot of concern and confusion among service members, veterans and military families.
Will you still be able to transfer your benefits? What if your toddler won’t be old enough for college by the time you hit the new time-in-service limit? What effect will this have if you've already transferred your benefits?
If you've been struggling with questions on the new rules, we've got you covered.
1. What changes have already taken effect?
The Defense Department requires service members to commit to serve an additional four years in the military in order to transfer GI Bill benefits to a dependent. Prior to last week’s policy change, that requirement could be waived in some cases if it wasn’t possible for a service member to serve another four years.
The new policy ends such exceptions, meaning that regardless of what branch of the military you serve in, if you can’t commit to another four years for any reason, you can’t put in for a GI Bill transfer. Though there’s been some confusion about whether this aspect of the policy change applies immediately to members of all service branches, this change is, indeed, currently in effect across DoD.
“If there are reasons that preclude a service member from committing to four years of service, that service member cannot sign up to transfer their benefits," a DoD fact sheet on the policy said, listing this as one of the changes that "go into effect immediately."
2. How long must I serve to be able to transfer my GI Bill?
Previously, DoD required troops to have served at least 6 years in order to request a GI Bill transfer. That requirement remains, and the Pentagon's new policy will also require that service members not have served more than 16 years. So you'll need between six and 16 years in uniform.
It’s important to note that because the 16-year cap doesn’t go into effect until July 12, 2019, service members who have been in longer than that have a year to transfer their GI Bill benefits — as long as they can still commit to serving four more years. So, if you’ve been in for 20 years and can commit to 24, make sure you take advantage of this before time’s up.
3. I’ve already transferred my GI Bill benefits. Does this rule change affect me?
No, you’re safe. The policy chance will not affect service members who have already transferred their GI Bill benefits, according to Jessica Maxwell, a DoD spokeswoman.
4. If I transfer my benefits now, can I make changes later on?
Yes, you can. If you want to add another child to your list of beneficiaries or divvy things up between your dependents a little differently, you can do that even if you’ve been in the service for more than 16 years.
5. Does my kid have to be old enough to use the GI Bill by the time I hit 16 years?
A dependent child must be 18 or younger when the GI Bill benefits are transferred to them -- or under 23 in special cases for approved programs, Maxwell said. To use the GI Bill, the dependent must be 18 or a high school graduate.
So in other words, you can go ahead and transfer the GI Bill to your 2 year old without a worry. They just won’t be able to use it until they’re of age.
6. I’m in the Coast Guard. Do these changes apply to me?
Even though the Coast Guard is under the Department of Homeland Security and not DoD, the same changes apply.
7. I want to transfer my GI Bill benefits. How do I get started?
Log onto DMDC milConnect. At the top of the page, you’ll see a section labeled, “I want to.” Click on the “Transfer my education benefits” option and go from there.
Military Times contributor and former reporter Natalie Gross hosts the Spouse Angle podcast. She grew up in a military family and has a master's degree in journalism from Georgetown University.