JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas (AFNS) — More than 86,000 active duty Air Force members have transferred Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefits to dependent family members since the benefit transfer program was implemented in August 2009.
However, many who did so were unfamiliar with the process and ended up in a difficult situation, while others want to transfer benefits but hesitate to do so because of commitments that come with the program.
Understanding how the transfer of education benefits program works starts with understanding whom is eligible for Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, said Master Sgt. Joseph Cummings, AFPC education services advisor.
Anyone on active duty for at least 90 days from Sept. 9, 2011, through today (with honorable service disposition) is eligible for Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. Benefit amounts vary depending on how long a member served after 9/11, and what kind of education they seek (e.g., undergraduate degree, graduate degree or certification program). Members have 15 years after retirement to use their benefits.
Being eligible for Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, however, does not mean an Airman is eligible to transfer those benefits.
The Air Force program is tied to retention, so only those on active duty after Aug. 1, 2009, are eligible for transfer of education benefits. In addition, Airmen must have at least six years of service (active duty and/or selected Reserve) as of the date of election, and they must agree to an additional four-year active duty service commitment, said Cummings.
“We frequently get applications from members who are about to retire, but that could be too late unless you are willing and able to commit to another four years,” said Cummings. “Eligibility is an issue because if you’re approaching your high year of tenure, you may not be able to commit to four more years. Advance planning is critical.”
Eligible members who want to transfer their benefits must also understand the application process and ensure they accomplish required tasks on time.
“Some people thought they applied, but they didn’t sign the statement of understanding, so their application didn’t go through,” Cummings said. “Others didn’t follow through on Total Force Service Center instructions within the 14 day window and their application expired. Some applicants never received their instructions from the TFSC because their email address was wrong.
“When you apply, it’s important that you double check all the information to ensure its accurate and follow the instructions you receive from the TFSC,” Cummings said. “If you don’t get approval confirmation from the TFSC, you may have missed something in the instructions.”
Another common problem occurs for applicants who transfer all of their benefits to a single dependent.
Benefits are transferred in month increments, so an Airman with 36 months of education benefits can transfer all 36 months to a single dependent, equally among all dependents, or only a month to each, as they choose. Then, if something in their life changes, they can adjust the number of months each dependent receives.
“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,” Cummings said. “Your only option will be to retrieve your benefits and use them yourself, which you can always do later anyway. If you want to make sure one of your dependents can later use the benefit, you probably need to make sure when you apply for the program that you transfer at least one month to each dependent.”
Many Airmen who intend to use the benefit themselves after they retire or separate don’t apply for transfer of education benefits. In some cases, Cummings said, that has sad consequences.
“We get calls from Mortuary Affairs at Dover (Air Force Base, Del.) sometimes. It’s already a sad situation if Dover’s calling, but it’s really heartbreaking if a member who died didn’t transfer any benefits to a dependent,” he said. “You know, you can always retrieve the benefits for yourself later, but if you aren’t here later, it’s too late to for your dependents to be able to use your benefits.”
Members who transfer benefits and voluntarily separate before completing the four year commitment may have to repay the government for any benefits already used by their dependents, and dependents would not be able to use the remainder of the benefits, so members who plan to separate or retire should carefully consider the implications before applying for transfer of educational benefits. However, transfer of educational benefits is a perfect opportunity for members who plan to reenlist or make the Air Force a career, said Cummings.
“If you’re planning to stay in for the next four years or more anyway, then the active duty service commitment isn’t really a factor,” he said. “Plus, if something happens that prevents you from fulfilling that commitment, like a medical discharge, your dependents will likely still be able to use the transferred benefits and you won’t have to repay the government for benefits they already used.”
Eligible Airmen can apply for transfer of educational benefits through the MilConnect website at www.dmdc.osd.mil/milconnect, or through the virtual MPF self-service actions section, accessible via the myPers website or the Air Force Portal.
“If you decide to apply, remember that all actions including submitting the signed statement of understanding must be accomplished within 14 days of applying. If you don’t complete all actions, your application will be rejected and you will have to start over later,” Cummings said. “And, ADSC dates are not retroactive to the first application attempt, so if you decide to reapply a year later, that’s when your service commitment will begin.”
For more information about the Post 9/11 GI Bill and transferring education benefits, go to myPers at https://mypers.af.mil and enter “Post 9/11 GI Bill” or “9083” in the search window. Information is also available at the MilConnect website under the frequently asked questions tab. Potential applicants can also send questions to Cummings and the AFPC education services team at firstname.lastname@example.org.