The legislation, which passed the House by a 377-48 vote, includes language prohibiting the Defense Department “from imposing a general limit on transferability [of education benefits] based on the number of years served.” The $738 billion legislation then passed the Senate by a 86-8 vote.
Plan to Limit GI Bill Benefits TransferabilityThe Department of Defense’s (DoD) plan was met with criticism from military family advocates and lawmakers, who said it amounted to punishing service members who have dedicated their lives to their military careers. But defense officials argued the transferability portions of the education benefits were designed to be a recruiting and retention incentive, and therefore should not apply to long-serving service members.
Currently, troops with at least 6-years of service may transfer their education benefits to a spouse or child, provided they agree to serve in the military for 4 more years. The value of the benefits can total tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, housing stipends, and related education costs.
However, just days before the plan was set to take effect in July 2019, Defense Department leaders announced they planned to delay the implementation of the controversial change until January 2020. If the authorization bill becomes law, defense officials would be forced to drop the idea completely.
Support for the LegislationReport language included with the legislation notes that while Pentagon leaders will still have the authority to make decisions on the eligibility and transfer rules for education benefits, the lawmakers are “encourage[ing] service secretaries to develop policies that properly treat transferability as one of many possible recruiting and retention tools to attract and keep high-quality servicemembers.”
Connecticut State Representative Joe Courtney, who co-authored the provision, praised his colleagues for adopting the language: “The Defense Department’s plan to restrict our longest-serving service members from transferring those G.I. Bill benefits falls far short of honoring their sacrifice, and would have wronged those vets who are willing and able to continue their service. Ending this plan once and for all is the right thing to do.”
Successful Protection of GI BenefitsOn January 10, 2020, the Navy issued a Navy Personnel Command Directive that states service members with more than 16-years in the military may continue to transfer their GI Bill education benefits to their dependents.
The Pentagon proposed the 16-year cap, which was scheduled to take effect on January 12, 2020, but Congress specifically prohibited the measure in the NDAA, according to the Navy Directive. The policy’s cancellation applies to all service branches.