Defense and service officials have settled on final rules that will allow career service members to share Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits with their immediate families beginning Aug. 1, 2009.
In general, service members - officer, warrant officer or enlisted personnel - must be on active duty Aug. 1 and must have completed a minimum of six years of service, with a commitment to serve four more, in order to share their new Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
For most students, the benefits will cover full tuition and fees at any four-year public college or university at in-state tuition rates for undergraduate studies.
Defense officials expect to begin accepting requests to transfer benefits in June. But payments could not begin before Aug. 1, the start date of the new GI bill program.
Special rules have been approved for people who are eligible to retire before Aug. 1, 2012, or who have at least 10 years of service and are prevented by high-year tenure, mandatory retirement or other personnel rules or laws from completing the four years of additional service needed to earn transfer rights.
The special rules are needed so that retirement-eligible service members who suddenly find themselves with a new benefit don't clog up the ranks by delaying retirement, and so that service members do not lose transfer rights because of policies outside their immediate control.
Technically, the rules are not quite final; discussion is ongoing on a procedural matter about how to release the final regulations. But defense and service officials fully agree on details for what is expected to become one of the most popular military recruiting and retention benefits, said Bob Clark, the Defense Department's assistant accession policy director and the chief official working on the new benefits plan.
Clark said being able to share education benefits "is one of the most requested benefits we have heard about from the field and fleet for the last several years."
He predicted that the ability to transfer Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to a spouse or children will have a "very positive impact" on recruiting and retention.
Benefits can be shared with a spouse, one child or several children, as long as those receiving the benefits are enrolled in the military's Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System at the time a member transfers benefits.
Service members can transfer any or all of their unused benefits, up to the maximum of 36 months of benefits. Changes in the sharing arrangement among family members can be made only once a month.
Basic eligibility rules require a member to have at least six years of service and make a new commitment for another four to transfer benefits.
A spouse can begin using transferred benefits before the additional four years are served, but children may not use benefits until a service member has completed at least 10 years of service.
A service member with 10 years of service who is prevented by defense or service policy or law from serving an additional four years could still share benefits under one of the special rules that would apply to officers twice passed over for promotion and enlisted members facing high-year tenure or other standards.
They could transfer benefits if they agree to serve the maximum additional time they are allowed to remain in the service.
Additionally, a more generous temporary rule - good only through 2013 - allows people who already have a set retirement date or who will become retirement-eligible before Aug. 1, 2012, to share benefits without completing four additional years of service.
How they will be treated depends on their retirement eligibility and
* Anyone eligible for retirement on Aug. 1, 2009, will be allowed to transfer benefits without any additional service. Additionally, no further service will be required for anyone who has an approved retirement date after Aug. 1, 2009, but before July 1, 2010.
* Those who become eligible for retirement after Aug. 1, 2009, and before Aug. 1, 2010, must serve one year in the military after transferring benefits to their family.
* Those who become eligible for retirement after Aug. 1, 2010, and before Aug. 1, 2011, must serve two years after transferring benefits.
* Those who become eligible for retirement after Aug. 1, 2011, and before Aug. 1, 2012, must serve three years after transferring benefits.
* Those who become eligible for retirement after Aug. 1, 2012, would have to serve four years after transferring benefits.