Ask Congress to Address the Housing Allowance for Online Veterans in New GI Bill
Published by: Russ Poulin | 7/17/2017
Veterans taking all their college courses online are getting short-changed. As Congress moves to rework the GI Bill, let’s get them to fix this problem.
We need your help. Read the background and see how to respond at the end.
The GI Bill Reduces the Housing Allowance for Fully Online Students
Veterans of the U.S. armed services are eligible for funding to pay for tuition, fees, books and supplies, and a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) while pursuing postsecondary education. However, if the veteran takes of his or her courses at a distance, the BAH is greatly reduced:
“The GI Bill is available for independent, distance, or Internet training. This type of training is usually offered by institutions of higher learning and similar rules and rates apply. (Note: If you are utilizing your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits while taking ONLY distance-learning courses you will be paid a housing allowance based on 50 percent of the national average payable in the United States.)”
Yes, they receive HALF the amount they would if they attended on-campus courses.
Examining the GI Bill payment rate for the academic year beginning August 1, 2017, that is a reduction of $804.50 per month. That’s a significant amount of money.
I’ve heard stories of veterans taking one class face-to-face (perhaps even a one-hour physical education course) to remain eligible for the full amount. As Pat James of California Community Colleges’ Online Education Initiative commented to me about this practice, “they burn their benefits on useless courses.”
So Why Care Now? Congress is Updating the GI Bill’s Educational Benefits
In a headline story from last Friday, Politico reported:
“Congressional Republicans and Democrats are moving ahead on a plan to expand educational benefits for veterans under the Post 9/11 GI Bill. The bipartisan legislation unveiled on Thursday is expected to move quickly, at least through the House, over the next several weeks.”
While we appreciate the several advances being proposed (Military Times calls them “beefed up” benefits), the current version of HR 3218 does not fix this problem with the BAH reduction. In fact, it doubles down on it by including a similar provision (on page 31) in a section defining a new “Department of Veterans Affairs High Technology Pilot Program.” A similar reduction of 50% of the “Housing Stipend” is proposed for distance learning programs participating in that pilot program.
Let’s Hear from a Veteran Who Experienced the Problem
We put out a call for veterans to share their experiences with this rule. We are seeking more stories and will continue to share them. Let’s start with just one veteran, Danny Stuckey, who served seven years in the Marine Reserves, four years of active duty in the Army, and three years in the California National Guard. After a break from service, he has served in the Army Reserves since 2013.
What impact has the BAH rule had on you?
“When I first tried to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill I had to stop pursuing my degree at Liberty University with the GI Bill and tried for an education degree through Grossmont College. I was later able to switch to Point Loma Nazarene University where I changed my major but used other funds to complete my BS in religion at Liberty University.”
“With a busy work schedule I was looking to finish my BS degree online using the Post-9/11 GI bill. I live in San Diego, California yet I was taking classes online at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. I had to pay for my education in other ways. I felt this was an unnecessary burden put on veterans to qualify for the full amount of benefits.”
Have you made changes in your plans, such as enrolling in extra courses, because of this rule?
“Yes, I wanted to take all online classes so that I could do my school work early in the morning when I had the time and was mentally alert to work on it (I am a morning person). I then had to take night classes to fit with my full time work schedule which made it difficult to focus on school work.”
“Before I completed my degree I switch to a school in San Diego so that I could qualify for the full amount of the GI Bill. I was attending Grossmont College and had to take a night class that meet twice a week in order to qualify for the full amount. This was a difficult balance as I was working full time, had a full time load of classes, was married with four children, I ran an addiction recovery group one night a week, and I was a home fellowship Pastor another night a week.”
What’s your recommendation for ensuring this rule works for our Veterans?
“I would suggest having the same rule for resident courses as online courses as long as the online courses are accredited the same as resident courses.”
What else would you like to say about how this rule has impacted you and your family?
“Looking back I would have waited to use the GI Bill at a more opportune time as going to night school and fulfilling all of my other life obligations put a lot of strain on my marriage, my family, and my children. It was not worth the BAH.”
If you have additional stories, send them to Lindsey Downs of WCET and she can send you a list of questions that we are asking. We plan to use them to demonstrate the problems encountered by student/veterans. If you would like to share your story, but keep your anonymity, we will honor your request.
How Can You Help? Contact Your Representative and Senator
If you would like to see this rule changed, contact your local member of the House of Representative and U.S. Senators. Although if you are going to do only one, start with your House member, especially if he or she is a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee They are probably tired of hearing about health care anyway.
It would be helpful if you could get leadership from your institution to issue an official letter. Please do not respond on behalf of your institution or organization unless you have the proper local approval. Alternatively, you can respond as a private citizen. You can mention your job title, that you are a student, or that you were a student. Just be clear that you are providing your own opinion and not that of an institution or organization.
In addressing your letter, you might find this guide to address and salutations very handy. Here is a sample letter, but be sure to tell your own story or the stories of your student/veterans:
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The Honorable (Name)
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Dear Representative (Name):
Veterans play a tremendous role in making the country what it is today. I am pleased to see that, beginning with HR 3218, both the House and the Senate are implementing needed improvements and expansions to the educational benefits that veterans enjoy through the Post-911 GI Bill.
More can be done to improve benefits for veterans who chose to pursue their degrees or certificates through distance education. According to the Digital Learning Compass (www.digitallearningcompass.org) analysis of U.S. Department of Education data, about one-in-seven students now pursues their degrees fully online and that number has grown for several years in a row.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ rules have not kept pace. According to their website (http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/independent_distance_learning.asp) describing housing Basic Allowance for Housing benefits for “Independent and Distance Learning Training”:
“Note: If you are utilizing your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits while taking ONLY distance-learning courses you will be paid a housing allowance based on 50 percent of the national average payable in the United States.”
I strongly object to this reduction in benefits for no apparent reason. A veteran may attend classes on-campus one semester and receive full benefits. If she takes all her classes from her house from the same institution the next semester, her benefits are halved. Some veterans have circumvented this rule by taking one one-credit course on campus so that they can qualify for the benefit. <<>>
As long as the institution meets all other eligibility criteria, how the student studies should not have an impact on veterans’ housing allowance benefits. With the possible exception of a small bit of commuting, all of their other costs remain the same. As you are reconsidering the GI Bill;s educational benefits for veteran’s, let’s bring them into the 21st century.
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House of Representative members by state: http://www.house.gov/representatives/
Russ & Lindsey