If you spent anytime in the military-oriented part of the internet last week, you probably noticed that there was a lot of conversation about one particular proposed change to the Post 9/11 GI Bill. People are furious. I’ve seen headlines including “Is Your Congressman A Coward?” and comments that include words like “disgusting” and “disgrace.” (And those were the nice words that I can print here.)
Me? I’m not mad at all.
There are three reasons I’m not surprised or upset about this possible change to the Post 9/11 GI Bill:
- veterans education benefits change regularly,
- our country can’t afford to provide the benefits promised in the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and
- it doesn’t actually negatively impact people currently serving.
Why would I be mad?
Change is Constant
Educational benefits for veterans are, and always have been, a recruiting and retention tool. These benefits have been subject to regular modification since they were first offered in 1944. There have been so many changes to veterans’ educational benefits that I can’t even try to make a summary or short version of the story. The only thing constant in the veterans’ educational benefit program is change.
In this regard, the Post 9/11 GI Bill is no different from any other veterans educational program. There have been numerous tweaks to the program in its short life, including a major overhaul made within its first year.
The military’s recruiting and retention needs have changed dramatically since 2009, and it is appropriate that a recruiting and retention tool would adjust to reflect the military’s needs. It is just like changing bonus structures, educational assignments, or incentive pays. All these things were designed to be flexible so that the country can shape the tools to fit the needs.
Military benefits experts have been reminding military families that these changes would happen eventually, since the program began. Even if you’re not a military benefits geek, you would have caught the recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission: that the housing allowance be eliminated for all those using transferred benefits, including both children and spouses.
We Can’t Afford It
The transferability option of the Post 9/11 GI Bill has been a worrisome bonus since it was first announced in 2009 (just six and a half years ago.) And a bonus it was – there is absolutely no precedent for anything like it, and it seemed to come out of the blue. I don’t know a single person who was expecting it. From the start, experts voiced concerns about the cost and our country’s ability to pay for this new promised benefit.
Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits are paid out of the budget of the Department of Veterans Affairs, an agency that has a huge, important mission without unlimited funds. Maybe I’m odd, but I would much rather the VA use its money to do the job it is actually tasked with doing, which is taking care of veterans and the survivors of those who died as the result of service their families. Providing benefits to spouses and children of all veterans is beyond the scope of the VA’s mission.
It’s A Smaller Change and It Affects Few People
The housing allowance change in this bill is pretty minimal in the greater scheme of things: it applies only to children using transferred benefits, and it does not eliminate the payments, but rather reduces them by half.
While there are some people who may have made choices based upon benefits that are now being changed, that group is very limited. Let’s start shaving off the people this change does not impact:
- the veterans are not impacted,
- the veterans’ spouses are not impacted,
- any child who already has transferred benefits is not impacted,
- any child who has benefits transferred to him or her before the effective date (180 days after the signing of the bill) are not impacted.
So, who is impacted? The dependent children of troops who have less than 5 1/2 years of service at the time the change is signed into law, and were planning on staying the additional service obligation to transfer benefits to their children. While each individual matters, this group represents a tiny sliver of the group for whom changes could occur. I can’t find numbers to show how many people we’re talking, but keep in mind that:
- The average length of service for enlisted personnel is just 6.7 years (meaning that these folks won’t be transferring benefits to anyone.)
- 39.6% of the entire military force is aged 25 or younger, and the average age of the birth of the first child for active duty military member is 25.7.
- Only 42.2% of ALL military members have children. This number is obviously significantly skewed towards older service members, meaning people who are already eligible to transfer benefits.
When you put these facts together, it is clear that we’re not talking about a large group. Also keep in mind that, given their demographics, this isn’t a group that likely joined the military because of the transferability option of the GI Bill. While there are individuals who will feel the results of possible changes, the numbers are small. Most of the people who are impacted aren’t even born yet.
Changes to the Post 9/11 GI Bill are inevitable, and they have been since the program was created. In particularly, the transferability option is absolutely unsustainable in its current form. This particular proposal is both fair and appropriate, and may well forestall larger cuts to the program.