By Rob McIlvaine
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 23, 2009 – The Post-9/11 GI Bill takes effect Aug. 1, but in the meantime, servicemembers may submit a request to transfer benefits to their spouses and children now.
“Transferability of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits has been the most requested initiative we receive from our servicemembers,” said Bill Carr, deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel policy, “and we believe it will assist us in retaining highly qualified military personnel.”
Career servicemembers on active duty or in the selected reserve on Aug. 1 may be entitled to transfer all or a portion of their unused entitlement to one or more family members.
Army 1st Sgt. Steven Colbert, who serves with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd U.S. Infantry, at Fort Myer, Va., is among the first soldiers to take advantage of the new entitlement.
“I will be the first to say that the Army is probably the best thing that has ever happened to me,” Colbert said. “It has given me some of the advantages that I didn’t have as a child growing up. One of the reasons why I stayed in so long is because of Jordan, my son. Now I have the opportunity to give him something I never had.”
Colbert has spent 23 years in the Army with tours throughout Europe and across the United States. During that time, he took advantage of tuition assistance and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in management. His wife, Danielle, is working on a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland. Jordan Colbert already has similar plans.
“I want to go in the Army and play football,” he said with a big smile. “But I want to attend Virginia Tech first.”
“I didn’t put that in his head,” his father said. “He already has picked that out, and with us being here in the D.C. area, the Post 9/11 GI Bill is perfect. [Virginia Tech] is a pricey school, but these benefits are going to help me be able to take care of that.
“It’s just wonderful,” he continued. “I’m just overwhelmed about the opportunity to really be able to take care of him.”
For servicemembers and spouses who might want to continue with their studies, the Post 9/11 GI Bill can be used for all levels of degree programs, including a second degree, a master’s degree or even a doctorate.
Defense officials advise servicemembers to transfer at least a month's worth of GI Bill benefits to every dependent before they leave service to lock in an opportunity to change the number of months transferred at a later time.
Any family member not approved for transferability before a member retires or separates will be denied the opportunity forever, unless the member re-enters service. Likewise, veterans who remarry or have more children after leaving service will not be able to transfer GI Bill benefits to these new family members.
“It’s recommended that soldiers add all family members as potential beneficiaries of their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, said Bob Clark, the Defense Department’s assistant director for accession policy and military personnel policy. Once servicemembers retire or separate, he explained, they can no longer add new family members as potential beneficiaries.
As a first sergeant, Colbert said, he wants to make sure his soldiers know about this benefit.
“Because I’m the first sergeant here at Headquarters Company, with all these assets like the regimental career counselors, I’m in a unique position to pass this knowledge on to my soldiers,” he said.
A program Colbert is particularly proud of is “College 101.” which the Fort Myer military community developed with the Army Education Center. It works to improve soldiers’ transition to college.
“We will have people come in from the education center who will advise soldiers to take advantage of these benefits, because they have to have some type of educational background to be successful,” he said. “A lot of us in the Army don’t realize it but, hey, it’s tough outside that gate -- real tough. You’ve got to have a balance. You’ve got to be more competitive than the next person.”
Tuition is not the only benefit extended to potential college-goers. For students attending school more than half the time, the Post 9/11 GI Bill also pays housing costs, up to a rate equivalent to the basic allowance for housing rate for an E-5 with dependents in the ZIP code where the school is located.
Students also are entitled to a yearly stipend of up to $1,000 to cover the cost of books and supplies, and students from rural areas who are transferring to a school also may be entitled to a one-time payment of $500.
“I get choked up just thinking about the benefits I’m able to give my son,” Colbert said.