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

Congressman Smith’s “Expanding Education for Military Families Act” would allow for full portability of Montgomery G.I. Bill (MGIB) benefits to the family members of enrollees in the MGIB program.  His second bill, the “Military Education Extension Act,” would extend the time limit for use of MGIB benefits to 15 years for both active duty servicemembers and reservists.   

“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.”

The Expanding Education for Military Families Act

Currently, the MGIB contains a portability provision for those with “critical military skills.”  In exchange for the transfer of some of their MGIB benefits to a spouse, a child or some combination of the two, MGIB enrollees, who have served at least six years in the Armed Forces, agree to serve an additional four years.  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. Congressman Smith’s “Expanding Education for Military Families Act” would offer this portability option to all members of the Armed Forces.

The Military Education Extension Act 

Under current law, when MGIB active duty enrollees separate from the service or retire, they have ten years to use their benefits – after that time, any unused portions are lost.  For reservists, the ten-year clock starts ticking down from the date of their enrollment in the program, which is usually when they are processed at their first duty station.  With the “Military Education Extension Act,” Congressman Smith proposes lengthening the clock to 15 years for both active duty enlistees and reservists.  

Before introducing his legislation, Smith met with the Puget Sound Chapter of the Air Force Sergeants Association (AFSA) to unveil his plan and solicit feedback.  With over 3,100 members, the Puget Sound group is AFSA’s largest chapter.  The active duty servicemembers, reservists, veterans and spouses at the meeting were very interested in Smith’s efforts and engaged the Congressman in a robust debate over the future of the Montgomery G.I. Bill and some of their other concerns such as concurrent receipt, the military pay raise and the modernization and transformation of the military.

AFSA has endorsed both bills wholeheartedly, and in a meeting with Smith, AFSA Executive Director James D. Staton had this to say: “Educational benefits are critical to enlisted members.  Montgomery G.I. Bill benefits improve the futures of the men and women who put their lives on the line for this nation,” said AFSA Executive Director James D. Staton.  “Whether they are active duty or reserve component members, our servicemembers deserve a world-class education program.  These bills are a big part of moving us closer to that final goal.” 

Both H.R.4213, the “Expanding Education for Military Families Act,” and H.R.4214, the “Military Education Extension Act,” have been referred to the House Veterans’ Affairs and Armed Services Committees.