Brown Urges Defense Dept. to Honor Post-9/11 GI Bill Transferability to Military Family Members



Brown Joins Group of Senators Pushing Sec. Mattis to Oppose Policy that would Limit Service Members’ Ability to Transfer GI Benefits to Eligible Family Members

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today joined a group of Senators urging Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to oppose a new Trump Administration policy that would limit certain service members’ ability to transfer Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to eligible family members—changes that would hurt America’s military families.

Under the new policy only servicemembers with at least six years, but not more than 16 years, of total creditable service in the military would be eligible to transfer their unused education benefits to an eligible family member. This is a departure from the current policy, which does not place restrictions on transferability of education benefits for those with more than 16 years of service so long as the servicemember is eligible and agrees to serve four additional years of service from the date of the election. Additionally, service members who are not medically qualified to continue their military service could be ineligible to transfer their benefits, and the policy change counterintuitively punishes the men and women who have served this country in uniform for the greatest length of time.

“Though intended to promote recruitment and retention in the uniformed services, these policies institutionalize inequity among servicemembers who are subject to different eligibility considerations based on family and dependent circumstances. Because these changes are effective immediately, servicemembers may be precluded from making appropriate transferability arrangements if they cannot extend their current contract or reenlist to fulfill the four-year additional service requirement based on their End of Active Service (EAS) date. These perverse and seemingly arbitrary retention policies must be subject to congressional scrutiny,” the Senators wrote in their letter.

Brown penned this letter to Secretary Mattis alongside Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Patty Murray (D-WA).

A copy of their letter can be found below and HERE.

Dear Secretary Mattis:

We write to express our opposition to recent Department of Defense (DOD) policy changes that limit servicemembers’ eligibility to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to eligible dependents. We are concerned that the new policies outlined in DOD Instruction 1341.13 are inconsistent with congressional intent, break our promise to military families, and sow confusion among servicemembers by moving the goalpost for transfer eligibility. We urge you to immediately make servicemembers aware of the implications of this policy order and request a staff-level briefing regarding the impetus and impact of the policy changes.

These recent policy changes exacerbate existing inequities in transfer of education benefits (TEB) eligibility. The requirement that servicemembers commit an additional four years of military service at the time of TEB application–rather than after six years of military service when servicemembers become eligible to apply–disadvantages servicemembers who marry or have children later in their military careers. It is also concerning that servicemembers with 10 years of service who are not medically qualified could be ineligible for TEB. This policy could potentially prevent a servicemember wounded in combat from transferring education benefits, including servicemembers with physical or cognitive disabilities that preclude them from using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Additionally, the disqualification of servicemembers with more than 16 years of military service penalizes the men and women who have served this country in uniform for the greatest length of time, counterintuitively punishing the very servicemembers that DOD seeks to retain. Despite the Post-9/11 GI Bill being a substantial post-service education benefit, the transferability provision that allows career servicemembers to share their education benefits with immediate family members should be honored once a servicemember attains the milestone of 10 years in service, without incurring additional service obligations.

Though intended to promote recruitment and retention in the uniformed services, these policies institutionalize inequity among servicemembers who are subject to different eligibility considerations based on family and dependent circumstances. Because these changes are effective immediately, servicemembers may be precluded from making appropriate transferability arrangements if they cannot extend their current contract or reenlist to fulfill the four year additional service requirement based on their End of Active Service (EAS) date. These perverse and seemingly arbitrary retention policies must be subject to congressional scrutiny.

While we agree that maintaining robust force levels is critical to national security, additional information is needed to determine whether these policy changes will have a meaningful impact on a servicemember’s decision to continue his or her military career and how these changes will affect future recruitment and retention rates. The impetus for these policy changes–as well as any DOD recruitment and retention challenges–are unclear. We request a copy of the guidance DOD issued to notify Military Departments and servicemembers of these policy changes and urge you to ensure that these policy changes are implemented consistently across military services. Additionally, we request clarification regarding the circumstances under which an eligible servicemember might be unable to obtain transferability approval and whether DOD will use waivers to ensure that servicemembers have the opportunity to petition to overturn a transferability denial. These questions must be answered in a staff-level briefing to provide Congress with an opportunity to explore and assess these policy changes.

Most importantly, DOD must ensure that servicemembers who will have served for 16 years or more are aware that they must transfer education benefits before the policy changes go into effect on 12 July 2019 by providing transparent, accessible information regarding transferability eligibility to all servicemembers. DOD should be targeting outreach efforts to servicemembers who will be affected by transferability limitations, specifically servicemembers who will have served for more than 16 years on 12 July 2019. DOD shares a responsibility with the Department of Veterans Affairs to guarantee that all those who serve our country have access to quality education when they transition into civilian life or are afforded the opportunity, if eligible, to transfer their unused benefits to family members. We look forward to receiving additional information on this matter and scheduling a briefing for staff members.

Sincerely,

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL)

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)

Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN)

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)