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AF: Don't wait too long to transfer GI Bill benefits

Sep. 15, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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The days of being able to wait until you were close to retirement to transfer your GI Bill benefits are over, and Air Force officials want you to plan ahead so you and your family don’t lose out.

That’s the message from personnel officials who sent a reminder Sept. 12 that transferring your post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to a dependent now requires a four-year service commitment.

“The old reduced service commitment periods expired July 31, and now everyone who applies for transfer of benefits will incur a four-year active duty service commitment,” said Bruce Houseman, education services and benefits chief at the Air Force Personnel Center, in a release.

The post-9/11 GI Bill pays up to 36 months of college tuition, housing and other fees. Eligible airmen can transfer all or part of the benefit, in monthly increments, to one or more family members.

Here’s what you need to know:

The change

As of Aug. 1, airmen must have served at least six years and agree to serve four more years when they transfer their benefits. Before that, the Defense Department granted waivers to some retirement-eligible airmen that allowed them to transfer the benefit without the four-year commitment. The waivers were part of the startup of the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2009 and applied to people retiring from the military between Aug. 1, 2009, and Aug. 1 of this year.

The four-year service obligations will begin on the date of the benefits transfer request. If dependents use the GI Bill but the additional service isn’t completed, the service member could be forced to repay the government for any benefits that were used.

There are exceptions

Airmen who fail to complete the four years of additional service do not have to repay benefits used by dependents if they are released from the military for hardship, or for physical or mental conditions that did not result from willful misconduct, under Defense Department rules for the program. Those involuntarily separated by law or policy can have the four-year service requirement waived, provided they have at least 10 years of service on the date they transfer benefits and they agree to serve the maximum amount of time possible.

The rules

Transfers may be made to a spouse, child or a combination of spouse and children, but every family member who receives benefits must be enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System.

A spouse may start to use transferred benefits if the airman has completed at least six years of service, but a child must wait until the member has completed 10 years of service. A child’s marital status does not affect the receipt of benefits.

Make sure benefit gets used

Airmen may modify or revoke the transfer at any time under DoD policy. The key is to transfer at least some of the benefit as soon as possible to lock in the transfer and start the clock on the four-year commitment.

“We suggest you transfer at least one month to each dependent,” Houseman said.“If you transfer all your benefits to one child and that child chooses to not use them — for whatever reason — you won’t be able to transfer them to anyone else once you separate or retire from the Air Force. Your only option will be to retrieve your benefits and use them yourself, which you can always do later anyway.”

Airmen have up to 15 years after retirement or separation to use the benefit to pay for their education.

Find out if you're eligible

In most cases, airmen can log in to the virtual military personnel flight to complete a statement of understanding at www.afpc.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-130912-017.pdf. Some enlisted members may be required to extend or re-enlist before they can sign the statement. Enlisted airmen do not have to wait until they are within 90 days of their date of separation to extend or re-enlist.

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