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Some Army, Air Force retirees can still get GI Bill transfers

Sep. 14, 2011 - 09:51AM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 14, 2011 - 09:51AM  |  
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Records correction boards

Contact information for the military departments’ records correction boards:

ARMY
Army Review Boards Agency (ARBA)
1901 South Bell Street, 2nd Floor
Arlington, VA 22202-4508
Phone: 703-607-1600

NAVY/MARINE CORPS

Board for Correction of Naval Records
2 Navy Annex, Room 2432
Washington, DC 20370-5100
Phone: 703-614-1402 or 703-614-2133

AIR FORCE

Board for Correction of Air Force Records
SAF/MRBR
550-C Street West, Suite #40
Randolph AFB, TX 78150-4742
Phone: 800-524-0102

Some Army and Air Force retirees have gotten a second chance to share GI Bill benefits with family members after convincing an administrative board that they were not adequately notified of the opportunity before it was too late to apply.

The Army Board for Correction of Military Records has ruled that soldiers who retired from Aug. 1 to Nov. 1, 2009, may not have known that the Post-9/11 GI Bill that took effect Aug. 1 of that year included the right to transfer benefits to a spouse or child, or that the transfer had to be approved before retiring.

"Confusion existed at Army Education Centers on the proper procedures to implement the program," said Lt. Col. Timothy Beninato, an Army spokesman. "Soldiers were not informed or properly informed."

The Board for Correction of Air Force Records has received 227 petitions related to transferring GI Bill benefits to family members and has approved 76, said Air Force spokesman Todd Spitler.

Some of the approvals — Spitler could not say how many — were from people who retired after Aug. 1, 2009, and were asking for another opportunity to transfer benefits, he said. Most of those claims were decided in favor of the retiree, he said.

Unlike the Army, which is ruling only on claims of people who retired before Nov. 1, 2009, the Air Force board is not using a fixed date by which a retiree should have been informed of the transfer option, Spitler said.

The Board for Correction of Naval Records, which handles requests from Navy and Marine Corps personnel to fix errors or omissions in personnel files, has denied petitions for relief from any sailors who retired after the Post-9/11 GI Bill took effect, said Lt. Cmdr. Alana Garas, a Navy spokeswoman.

At press time, the Marine Corps had not responded to questions about corrections board decisions affecting GI Bill transfer rights for their retirees.

Such decisions are made on an individual, case-by-case basis, defense and service officials said.

"The boards … have the ability to fix a lot of things, including changing history," said a defense official who is monitoring how GI Bill transfer rights are being handled. "To have a chance in this instance, you have to argue you were treated unfairly."

About 16,000 people retired from the military in the first few months following the Aug. 1, 2009, launch date of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The program includes an option for career service members to share all or part of their education benefits with a spouse or children.

Defense officials said it is clear that many people took advantage of that option as soon as it became available.

Some retirees have argued they were on terminal leave when the new GI Bill launched and were not told about it. Others said they were aware of transfer rights but were led to believe they could choose the option at any time.

The program requires troops to make a transfer election and get it approved before they separate or retire.

Retirees who felt unfairly excluded from transfer rights had appealed to Congress for help, but legislation introduced in the House that would have provided a second chance to share GI Bill benefits died in the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

The main obstacle was a House rule that sponsors had to find a way to cover the costs of GI Bill benefits for anyone who received them as a result of a second enrollment opportunity.

The corrections board process avoids that hurdle.

The Army board has received 21 claims related to GI Bill transfer benefits. It has granted relief on seven claims, denied 12 and closed two with no decision, Beninato said.

Although relief is granted only on a case-by-case basis, the board would be expected to follow precedent if similar requests are received, Beninato said.

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