Support for Veterans Shown by Congress’ Quick Response to Preserve GI Benefits during COVID-19
Published by: WCET | 3/23/2020
The dynamic conversion of face-to-face courses to online format at post-secondary institutions nationwide due to the closing of campuses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic became a concern for our nation’s veterans who rely on GI Bill benefits. As we previously reported, institutions that provide GI Bill benefits to veterans for programs must follow a designated process of institution approval by the Veterans Education and Training, the State Approving Agency (SAA) (which specifically oversees institutions serving veterans) in the institution’s state, and approval for changes in modality for the courses.
Generally speaking, veterans who take all of their courses in a term at a distance, receive only half of the Basic Allowance for Housing that veterans who enroll completely on-campus or in a mix of face-to-face and online courses. Concerns were raised that the veterans who participated in face-to-face courses that were converted to online courses would find their GI Bill benefits cut in half. The Veterans Administration indicated in March 13 guidance that was withdrawn, that current Federal laws offered no discretion.
Congress acted swiftly to pass legislation that has been signed into law by President Trump. The new law authorizes the Department of Veterans Affairs to continue educational assistance through December 21, 2020 for programs that have been converted to online due to an emergency or health-related situation. The types of assistance include monthly housing stipends and housing allowances.
The Senate introduced and passed S.3503 on March 16, 2020. A coalition of more than forty veterans’ groups and institutions sent a March 17 letter to leaders of the House and the Senate Veterans Affairs committees urging them to act quickly. The group explained that while all students are affected by this change to their education, many military related students face a unique impact regarding their receipt of GI Bill benefits due the statutorily directed required processes for program approval. The House passed the bill on March 19, 2020 and it was sent to President Trump who signed the bill to law on March 21, 2020.
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs may continue to provide educational assistance under the laws administered by the Secretary when a conversion of programs offered on-site at an educational institution to be offered by distance education due to an emergency or health-related situation.
GI Bill recipients will continue to receive the same monthly housing allowance payments that they received for resident training through December 21, 2020. Student receiving GI Bill Benefits do not need to take any action. Benefits to students will automatically continue. The VA indicated that that they will provide updates to students by direct email and social media to share how they are implementing the new changes.
To ensure that enrollments are accurately certified and processed in a timely manner, the VA has indicated that it will work closely with schools. Additionally, the VA has scheduled training sessions with all VA approved schools and training facilities to provide additional guidance.
We are pleased that Congress acted quickly to enact new legislation to support our veterans. The legislation addresses this national emergency situation, but we do hope that ultimately after the emergency situation has subsided that there will be a review of the legislation of our continued concern that makes the distinction between fully online students and those that are resident or partially resident students for purposes of receiving the full Basic Allowance for Housing.
This is a highly dynamic situation and WCET will continue to update this post as needed. As always, we recommend that you directly contact your accreditor for specific guidance. WCET will continue to provide resources and updates related to COVID-19. Please see the WCET COVID-19 webpage which lists a number of curated resources for instruction, assessment, student services, regulatory policy, technology/infrastructure, and institutional emergency response planning.