Congressman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) introduced a bill at the end of last week to improve the quality of life for the U.S. military through increased access to education. 

Smith’s “Expanding Education for Military Families Act of 2003,” H.R. 2764, would give all active-duty personnel the option of transferring their educational assistance under the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) to family members if they agree to serve at least 10 years and would extend the time period for service members to decide whether or not to sign up for MGIB benefits to six months.

“I am absolutely committed to ensuring that our Armed Forces are the most highly skilled, intelligent fighting force in the world.  At a time when recruitment and retention are more important than ever, we must work to make military service an attractive career option,” said Smith. “We have to do a better job of providing better and more competitive educational benefits for all enlisted military members and these bills are a good first step.”

Portability Requirements in the Expanding Education for Military Families Act of 2003

Currently, the MGIB contains a portability provision only for those with “critical military skills.”  These MGIB enrollees, who have served at least six years in the Armed Forces and agree to serve at least four more years, are permitted to transfer of some of their MGIB benefits to a family member.  While this is an improvement from the original bill, the recent modification adversely affected morale among those not included under the provision.  In many cases, this portability option makes the difference in whether or not a servicemember can pay for a child’s college education. Smith’s “Expanding Education for Military Families Act of 2003” would offer this portability option to all members of the Armed Forces with a 10 year service requirement.  Similar legislation has passed the Senate twice in recent years, but has yet to pass the House.  Smith introduced a similar measure last year that gathered strong support and hopes to carry last year’s momentum into the 108th Congress.

Enrollment Timeframe under the Expanding Education for Military Families Act of 2003

Smith’s bill would give active and reserve members more time to make a decision about whether or not to sign-up for MGIB benefits.  Currently, at initial military training enlisted soldiers are given a one-time, irrevocable MGIB enrollment opportunity at a cost of $1,200.  They must agree to have $100 per month deducted from their pay for the first twelve months of their service.  If they do not agree to this, they have lost their only opportunity to enroll in the MGIB.  Smith wants enlisted soldiers to have the time and resources to make an educated decision about whether or not to take advantage of MGIB benefits and is proposing that soldiers be given six months to make this decision.

The Expanding Education for Military Families Act of 2003 has been sent to both the House Veterans' Affairs Committee and the House Armed Services Committee, on which Smith sits.