Big changes to the GI Bill transfer policy, explained

While the Pentagon has placed new, stricter restrictions on GI Bill transfers for most active duty service members, in recent days it’s actually made transferring GI Bill benefits easier than ever before for wounded warriors.

Active-duty troops who have earned a Purple Heart for wounds in combat are now allowed to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their family members whenever they want.

As of Sept. 5, there’s no more six-year waiting period or requirement that they serve in the military for an additional term — changes that have advocates for wounded warriors thanking the Pentagon and Defense Sec. Jim Mattis, a former Marine general.

“This change is consistent with Sec. Mattis’ longtime support of our nation’s combat wounded,” René Bardorf, senior vice president of government and community relations at Wounded Warrior Project, said in an email.

DoD announced the new policies for wounded warriors in the face of blistering criticism of its new GI Bill transfer policy. That policy, announced in July, will end transfer eligibility for service members who have been in the military longer than 16 years, beginning next year. In addition, it immediately barred troops who were unable to sign on for another four years from transferring their benefits. This included service members who could not continue their military service for medical reasons.

DoD’s new wounded warrior policy not only exempts the group from those changes — it also removes a long-standing requirement that they serve at least six years before transferring benefits.

“It’s the right thing to do by our wounded warriors,” American Legion spokesman Joe Plenzler said in an email, adding that the group had discussed its concerns with the Pentagon and is encouraged to see the change.

That’s a notable contrast from the American Legion’s reaction to the initial policy. The group criticized the Pentagon for implementing a major policy change without consulting the Legion or other advocacy groups.

Legion was far from alone in its disapproval.

The July GI Bill transfer restrictions have been hotly contested by lawmakers and veteran advocates. In a letter to Mattis last month, dozens of House representatives from both political parties called the policy “unacceptable” and called on the secretary to “swiftly reverse” the decision.

Upon announcing the exemption for Purple Heart recipients Wednesday, the Pentagon emphasized Mattis' commitment to wounded warriors. Stephanie Miller, director of accessions policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said in a statement, “Sec. Mattis has been clear, we must recognize the sacrifices these service members have made.”

This victory for combat-wounded service members comes a year after President Trump signed into law the Forever GI Bill, which significantly expanded GI Bill benefits for veterans, reservists and surviving military family members. Among many provisions included in the legislation was a portion that granted the full amount of benefits for Purple Heart recipients, regardless of how long they had served in the military.

“On that, our message was simple: If you took an enemy bullet or shrapnel for this country, you have met the service requirement — period,” said Aleks Morosky, national legislative director of Military Order of the Purple Heart, one of the organizations that lobbied for the Forever GI Bill.

He said in an email that while the organization doesn’t support “reducing or removing benefits from any veteran,” he is grateful that the Pentagon’s new GI Bill transfer rules won’t apply to Purple Hearts.

“For those wounded veterans who will become newly eligible for transferability, the impact is huge,” he said. “Quite frankly, it could be the difference in whether or not their spouse or child is able to get their education without incurring a large amount of debt, or even at all. We anticipate that this decision will be extremely popular with MOPH membership and we are grateful to Secretary Mattis for this decision.”