In Reversal, DoD Will Let Wounded Warriors Transfer GI Bill Benefits

Wounded warrior amputees take a group photo before participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 25, 2018. (U.S. Army/Ken Scar)
Wounded warrior amputees take a group photo before participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., March 25, 2018. (U.S. Army/Ken Scar)

Purple Heart recipients on active duty will soon be exempt from a new policy barring troops from transferring their post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits to their dependents if they cannot commit to an additional four years of service.

The policy update, announced in July, immediately excluded those who could not extend their service by four years, including wounded troops in the medical retirement process, from the ability to transfer. A change that takes effect in July 2019 will also block those with 16 years of service from making the switch.

Prior to the policy change, troops who served a minimum of six years and committed to serving an additional four years were eligible to transfer the education benefit to their dependents. Those who could not commit to additional service because their circumstances prevented them from doing so were allowed to make the transfer anyway.

But on Wednesday evening, the Defense Department changed gears, announcing the strict no-extension, no-transfer policy will not apply to currently serving Purple Heart recipients starting Aug. 31.

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"The Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, signed a policy that allows wounded warriors who have received a Purple Heart to transfer unused Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits to their dependents, regardless of the number of years they have served," the announcement says. "Effective August 31, Wounded Warrior Purple Heart recipients are eligible to transfer those benefits regardless of their years of total service or ability to complete an additional period of obligated service."

The changes to the transferability rules are designed to preserve the GI Bill as a retention tool, rather than a benefit of service.

"After a thorough review of the policy, we saw a need to focus on retention in a time of increased growth of the armed forces," Stephanie Miller, director of accessions policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, said in a statement at the time. "This change continues to allow career service members that earned this benefit to share it with their family members while they continue to serve."

The new rule, however, backtracks on that focus.

"Secretary Mattis has been clear, we must recognize the sacrifices these service members have made," Miller said in a statement included in today's announcement. "This policy reflects our continuing commitment to wounded warriors and their families."

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at Amy.bushatz@military.com.

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