Local veterans and lawmakers are criticizing a U.S. Department of Defense change that will bar military members with more than 16 years of service from transferring their Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits to eligible family members.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides funds to pay for school or job training for those who have served on active duty after Sept. 10, 2001.
The Defense Department announced the change July 12, and it takes effect within one year.
Eligibility to transfer those benefits will be limited to service members with less than 16 years of total active-duty or selected reserve service.
Previously, there were no restrictions on when a service member could transfer educational benefits to their family members. A provision that requires a service member to have at least six years of service to apply to transfer benefits remains unchanged in the policy.
“After a thorough review of the policy, we saw a need to focus on retention in a time of increased growth of the armed forces," Stephanie Miller, director of accessions policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said. “This change continues to allow career service members that earned this benefit to share it with their family members while they continue to serve.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat who represents eastern Connecticut’s 2nd District, joined 83 of his House colleagues in sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis to oppose the change in the GI Bill.
“This order undermines the spirit of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and is a slap in the face to those who have dedicated years to serving our country,” Courtney said.
“Forcing our military to choose to use or not to use their family benefits in a timed countdown fashion is unjust and it should be their right to use those benefits however and whenever they see fit,” Courtney said.
In Rhode Island, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed’s office issued a statement.
“Senator Reed believes we must keep our commitments to our troops and their families,” it said. “He expects DOD to communicate clearly about any changes so that service members can make informed decisions about what is best for them and their families, and so that no one who wants to transfer his or her Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits will be precluded from doing so.”
Rhode Island U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, D-2nd District, said it’s important to maintain benefits for service members and their families.
“Our service members make great sacrifices on behalf of the nation, and it is our duty to provide for them and their families,” Langevin, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said. “The GI Bill has provided vital benefits to returning troops, and any changes to those benefits must be weighed carefully against the burden placed on those who have served.”
Locally, veteran Dan Lapointe, who chairs the Westerly-Pawcatuck Veterans Board of Control, panned the change, which would affect current troops most, he said.
“Those are people that are still in the service or are getting ready to retire,” he said.
Lapointe, who hosts a Tuesday morning veterans show on WBLQ, said it’s part of a continual erosion of benefits that veterans who’ve served the country have had to endure.
“I think we’re being robbed,” Lapointe, a Vietnam veteran, said. “We’re fighting for benefits we should have and they’re taking it away. It’s crazy.”
All approvals for transferability of Post-9/11 GI Bill continue to require a four-year commitment in the armed forces, and the member must be eligible to be retained for four years from the date of election, officials said.
The policy affects service members in the uniformed services, which includes the U.S. Coast Guard as well as the commissioned members of the U.S. Public Health Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.