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Cost Cutting Brings Painful Change in Army Benefits


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The Army News Service reported this week that beginning in August any soldier who transfers Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefits to a family member will be required to serve an additional four years in the Army, no matter how long the individual already has served.

That means a soldier who is near retirement age could have retirement postponed if he elects to transfer his benefits.

According to the news service, the new rule will primarily affect senior officers and enlisted men and women who are retirement-eligible. Currently, soldiers may transfer benefits with anywhere from zero to three years of additional service.

“The Post-9/11 GI Bill is a benefit. Soldiers are entitled to the benefit for their own use, but to transfer to dependents: that is used as a recruiting and retention tool,” Lt. Col. Mark Viney, chief of the Enlisted Professional Development Branch, Army G-1, told the news service.

“We want Soldiers to be informed of the impact of this change, which is a clause of existing policy that is expiring,” Viney said. “This is going to impact their decisions and their families, and whether or not they are going to have this money available to fund their dependents’ education.”

So a benefit that was used to make enlisting and serving longer more attractive could now incur a penalty if soldiers choose to exercise that option.

That may not go down so well with active-duty personnel who have served multiple tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, or those who have stayed in the Army because the tight economy made the military the safest place to be financially.

Being able to transfer those benefits with little or no penalty probably made it easier for a soldier to make college affordable. While it may be indirect, making things easier for one’s family ultimately becomes a direct benefit to the giver.

Officers make pretty decent pay over time, but enlisted personnel in the Army max out at the rank of Command Sergeant Major. That means the benefits are what makes signing up for active duty attractive. Higher-ranking officers who have institutional memory and are more likely to be able to find work in the private sector will leave.

The broader effect is that the Army, which experienced a brain drain during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, will be left with a smaller operation, run by younger, less experienced soldiers.

In the annual Defense Authorization Act, Congress establishes the maximum number of people who can be on active duty during the year and how many can serve in each commissioned officer rank.

The Army, like most federal agencies, is looking for a way to reduce costs, particularly under the budget sequestration. Some personnel may well be laid off, for lack of a better term, under what the Army calls “force-shaping initiatives.” In other words, downsizing.

By limiting how benefits are used, it is quite likely that the costs savings would be used elsewhere. Soldiers who previously transferred their education benefits will not have to repay the VA. However, if, for some reason a soldier spent additional time in the service in order to transfer benefits and then is unable to serve the time required, that person may have to repay the benefits.

 

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