Why Aren’t Thousands of Soldiers Getting GI Bill Benefits?

Under a two-year-old code, military reservist put on active duty aren’t getting credit toward education benefits.

By Alain StephensNovember 30, 2016 7:21 am|

Nearly one million military reservists have deployed around the world since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Manpower Data Center. Many of those reservists and Guard members rely on receiving benefits under the GI Bill once they return from abroad.

Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, soldiers can get a monthly housing allowance, school tuition, and other education benefits. The bill is paid out according to the amount of active-duty time a soldier accrues.

But now, some troops are returning home to find they won’t be able to tap into those benefits. Alex Horton, with the independent military newspaper Stars and Stripes, is based in San Antonio. He says a relatively obscure deployment code keeps military reservists from gaining credit for the GI Bill, even if they’re put into active service.

The exception to the GI Bill has been in place since 2014 and has been used nearly 5,000 times.

“The Pentagon has decided, along with Congress, that sending people abroad around the world is expensive,” Horton says. “There are cost measurements to be made – not just for sending people and helicopters and tanks and personnel carriers around the world, but [also] the benefits packages that come with it.”

So the Pentagon came up with a compromise, Horton says. Officials found will find a way to mobilize reservists around the globe but stripped them of GI Bill benefits.

“There is an increasing amount of folks who are deployed for missions who are unaware of this,” Horton says. “A lot of reservists are feeling frustrated by what they feel is a violation of the social contract of the GI Bill and the spirit of the GI Bill. It was created in 1944 by President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt as acknowledgment that troops gave up a lot of their time – they sacrificed their body, their mind, in some cases, and they should have something to show for it as they come home.”

Officials say reservists are informed of the benefits they will receive before they deploy, but Horton says he’s hearing a different story.

“There are a group of 300 reservist marines that were pulled from all across the country to serve on a seven-month deployment to Honduras. Those marines were there for months and one person found out about this exception to the GI Bill and word slowly spread through the ranks,” Horton says. “Everyone was under the impression they would get GI Bill time for it.”

So what are the fixes? Horton says there are a few in play. Congress has both a Senate bill and an Omnibus bill seeking to amend the new deployment code to make it look like other authorizations that include GI Bill benefits for active duty time.

“The only problem with both of those fixes is once they’re passed they’re going to take about a year to implement,” Horton says. “For the marines, I spoke to for the story, it’s not so much that the benefit is not available – that’s frustrating enough. “A lot of the added insult to injury was, they said, [that] their leadership had numerous opportunities to jump in and explain this to them and the Marine Corp did not take it upon themselves to inform them of this.”

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.