The Post 9/11 GI Bill is a fantastic resource for veterans and active servicemembers, and provides a great deal of assistance to those seeking higher education. One of the best things about the GI Bill, however, is that it is transferrable. In other words, you can transfer your GI Bill benefits to your spouse, as long as your spouse is qualified. There are some indications that Congress will act to bring the benefits of the Post 9/11 GI Bill down to save taxpayer dollars, so it may be wise to be very strategic in determining how and when you want to use your GI Bill benefits – and for whom.
Since the Post 9/11 GI Bill went into effect, many military families have found that the biggest advantage to the program actually comes from being able to use the GI Bill for the non-military spouse’s education. The GI Bill may enable the spouse to get certified or get a degree that will allow the spouse to get better jobs than they can currently qualify for. Now, it’s important to remember that spouses who are utilizing the GI Bill benefit in place of the veteran are not eligible for the housing portion of the benefit (the Post 9/11 GI bill normally has a monthly allowance to cover housing for the veteran as he or she attends school). Usually, however, the lack of monthly allowance can be shrugged off in favor of having the spouse be able to finish his or her education before the servicemember is discharged from active duty.
There are some important things to know about transferring your GI Bill benefits to your spouse. We’ll talk about them here. First, you need to know that your spouse has to be enrolled in DEERS (Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System) before the benefits can be transferred. The spouse also has to show in that system as being eligible to receive transferred benefits before the transfer can take place. There is additional criteria for the servicemember in order for the benefits to be transferred, including that they obviously have to be eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill themselves, but they also have to meet one of the following criteria:
● Has at least six years of service in the armed forces (active duty and/or Selected Reserve) on the date of approval and agrees to serve four additional years in the armed forces from the date of election.
● Has at least 10 years of service in the armed forces (active duty and/or Selected Reserve) on the date of approval, is precluded by either standard policy (by Service Branch or DoD) or statute from committing to four additional years, and agrees to serve for the maximum amount of time allowed by such policy or statute.
There are also rules that guide the transfer after the transfer occurs, and are important to remember throughout the entire process. First, the spouse is able to begin using the benefit as soon as the transfer has been made. The lack of a waiting period is a nice benefit for families who are hoping to have the spouse graduate as soon as possible. In addition, the spouse can use the benefit while the servicemember is still in active duty, or they can elect to wait until the servicemember has left active duty to begin their education, if desired. Remember that spouses are not eligible for the housing allowance – but only while the servicemember is still on active duty. This is an incentive for some families to wait for the spouse to use the benefits until the servicemember is discharged, because then they are eligible for the housing allowance and the servicemember can continue to work elsewhere.
Remember that spouses may use the benefit for up to 15 years after the servicemember is discharged. While most military families use up the benefits well within that time frame, it’s good to remember that you only have so much time to wait before the benefit will be gone. In the case of a divorce after the benefits have been transferred, the benefits do not instantly become void for the spouse. On the contrary, as long as the active servicemember allows it, the spouse can continue to use the benefit through to depletion. However, the servicemember has the right to revoke the transfer at any time and for any reason.