WASHINGTON, D.C. - It's official. The Defense Department signed off yesterday on policies and procedures servicemembers will use to transfer their unused Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their spouses or children, a Pentagon official said today.
Eligible servicemembers will be able to register their immediate family members to receive those benefits when a new Defense Department Web site goes live June 29, according to Bob Clark, the Pentagon's assistant director for accessions policy.
Defense officials are asking those whose families won't use the benefits for the upcoming fall semester to hold off registering until mid-July so applicants who need immediate attention get processed first.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill takes effect Aug. 1, offering a two-fold benefit, Clark said. It gives the military a tool to help encourage recruiting and retention, while allowing career servicemembers the first opportunity "to share the benefits they've earned with those they love," he said.
The transferability provision -- which Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates pushed after first hearing the idea from a military spouse group at Fort Hood, Texas -- has generated a lot of excitement.
"We have had an overwhelming response and do expect quite a few of our members to take advantage of this," Clark said.
To prepare for the anticipated response in the run-up to the Aug. 1 effective date, the department will launched a secure Web site next week so servicemembers can register any immediate family members to receive their unused benefits, Clark said.
"What we are doing is queuing up requests and approvals for the many family members that we expect to be going to school this fall" with hopes of using their spouse's or parent's Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, he said.
The site, https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/TEB/, will be accessible using a common access card, Defense Department self-service user identification or a Defense Finance and Accounting Service personal identification number.
Eligible servicemembers can register the names of any immediate family member they would like to share their benefits with, even designating how many months of benefits each person named can receive, Clark explained.
The servicemember's 36 months of benefits – the equivalent of four nine-month academic years – can be transferred to a spouse, one or more children or any combination, he said. The family member must be enrolled in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System to receive the benefits.
Servicemembers also have the option to use some benefits themselves and transfer what they haven't used to one or more family members.
Even after transferring the benefits, they remain the "property" of the servicemember who earned them, who can revoke them or redesignate who receives them at any time.
However, new names can be added as long as the member is in the military, but not after separating or retiring, Clark said. So defense officials advise erring on the side of caution and including every eligible family member on the registration form.
"We are recommending that every eligible dependent receive at least one month of benefit," he said.
Once the servicemember registers for the transferability provision, the application automatically gets forwarded to the appropriate service for processing. Clark said he expects that process to take about a week, at least after the initial surge.
When the service verifies that the member is eligible to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and processes the transferability provisions, the family member will receive a certificate of eligibility that can be used to cover educational costs.
In a nutshell, any enlisted or commissioned member of the armed forces serving on active duty or in the Selected Reserve on or after Aug. 1 will be eligible to transfer their benefits -- as long as they qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill and meet specific service requirements, Clark explained.
He emphasized that, by law, anyone who has retired or separated from the service before that date -- even if it's July 31 -- won't be entitled to transfer their benefits. Also excluded will be members of the Individual Ready Reserve and Fleet Reserve.
Most servicemembers who have at least six years of military service as of Aug. 1 and agree to serve an additional four years qualify, he said. But department officials have proposed measures to cover several categories of servicemembers whose circumstances don't fit neatly into the formula.
For example, those with at least 10 years of service -- but who can't serve an additional four years because of a service or department policy -- also would qualify, Clark said. They must, however, serve the maximum time allowed before separating from the military, he said.
"What we did not want to do was to penalize those people who had a service policy or statute that would not permit them to commit for the full four years," he explained.
Another sunset provision will cover servicemembers who will reach the 20-year service mark, making them retirement-eligible, between Aug. 1, 2009, and Aug. 1, 2013.
Clark explained the breakdown, which basically enables those affected to transfer benefits as long as they complete 20 years of service:
- Those eligible for retirement on Aug. 1, 2009, will be eligible to transfer their benefits with no additional service requirement.
- Those with an approved retirement date after Aug. 1, 2009, and before July 1, 2010, will qualify with no additional service.
- Those eligible for retirement after Aug. 1, 2009, but before Aug. 1, 2010, will qualify with one additional year of service after approval to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
- Those eligible for retirement between Aug. 1, 2010, and July 31, 2011, will qualify with two additional years of service after approval to transfer.
- Those eligible to retire between Aug. 1, 2011, and July 31, 2012, will qualify with three additional years of service after approval to transfer.