By Rob McIlvaine (FMWRC Public Affairs)
Though the road was long and hard, the efforts and advocacy of the Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) have resulted in a major victory for Soldiers and families.
The creation of the Post 9/11 GI Bill was driven by AFAP Issues #497, #385 and #525. It becomes a reality August 1, 2009, and will offer all Soldiers with six years of service the opportunity to transfer unused Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to their dependents.
With this new bill, what started as an enlistment incentive has grown to become a retention tool in our all volunteer Army. The ability to provide for the family by transferring benefits to spouses and children becomes a powerful retention incentive. Benefits must be transferred before separating from the military.
Veterans are not eligible to transfer unused benefits.
Veterans who served after Sept. 11, 2001, could receive full tuition and fees, a new monthly living stipend, and a $1,000-a-year books and supplies stipend. The Bill also gives Reserve and Guard members who have been activated for more than 90 days since 9/11 access to the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, paid on a pro-rated basis, depending on length of qualifying active duty service.
A few select Soldiers were offered the opportunity to transfer Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) benefits as part of a Pilot program which the AFAP committee was instrumental in developing. Participation in the Pilot program was limited to Soldiers with critical skills and required those who participated to accept a reduced reenlistment bonus.
The AFAP General Officer Steering Committee (GOSC) aggressively advocated elimination of rules which prevented all Soldiers from participating in this valuable program.
The legislation creating the Post 9/11 GI Bill, supported by the AFAP GOSC, rectified this limitation by offering all Soldiers, with six years of service the opportunity to transfer unused Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.
This Bill (Chapter 33) boasts the most comprehensive education benefits package since the original GI Bill was signed into law in 1944.
Officially known as the "Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008" by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD), was signed by President Bush on June 30, 2008. It will be published as Army policy by the end of April 2009, and will become effective August 1, 2009.
Generally, to be eligible to transfer benefits, Soldiers must have at least six years in the Army, active and/or Selected Reserve service, and agree to serve four more years on active duty or in the Selected Reserves.
The Department of the Armyis reviewing transferability policy options for Soldiers who have 20 or more years of service on August 1, 2009, and for those with ten or more years of service who are unable to commit to four additional years of service.
If a servicemember is already enrolled in the Montgomery GI Bill and meets the criteria for the Post 9/11 GI Bill, he or she has the option to convert the remaining MGIB benefits to the new program.
AFAP was created in 1980 through focus groups but was fully developed with the first official AFAP Conference held in July 1983. The mission of AFAP is to help Army leaders address the needs and concerns of the total Army family. The program enlists representatives from around the world to identify and prioritize issues that will improve the standard of living in the Army.
This feedback to leaders results in policy changes that become tangible end-products at garrisons across the Army. AFAP beneficiaries include Soldiers (all components), retirees, Department of Army civilian employees and all their family members.
"We recognize what it takes to be an Army family, and that our Soldiers draw great strength from their families," said Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey, Jr. at the 2008 AFAP Conference.
"The welfare of Army Families is increasingly important to all of us," he said, adding that the Army was committed to building a partnership with Families embodied in the Army Family Covenant.
Six hundred and fifty-one issues have been identified through AFAP in the past 25 years. AFAP has driven 110 legislative changes, 155 Army policy and regulatory changes and 177 improved programs and services. It is also notable that 61 percent of all active AFAP issues impact all the services.