Emergency Bill Filed to Protect GI Bill Benefits Amid School Closures Due to Coronavirus

March 12, 2020 Updated: March 12, 2020
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A bill introduced Wednesday to the House of Representatives would give the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) the flexibility to not reduce GI Bill benefits for student veterans, if their colleges or universities close or move entirely online due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“No student veteran, dependent or spouse should be worried about their GI Bill benefits being reduced or cut off because of actions their school is taking in response to COVID-19,” Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), sponsor of the emergency legislation, said in a statement.

According to Roe, a ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, GI Bill beneficiaries at schools that are closing or going online-only might risk receiving lower monthly housing payments or, in a worst-case scenario, having their degree program disapproved by the VA.

Under current Post-9/11 GI Bill regulations, student veterans who physically attend the majority of classes generally receive the same as the Defense Department’s Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for service members with dependents in the E-5 classification. Those who who take exclusively online classes, however, receive only one-half of the national average of the BAH each month.

Moreover, an in-person training program that has been approved by the VA as eligible for GI Bill benefits might lose its eligibility if it were moved online. That means veteran students could have their tuition and housing allowances stripped, because the academic program they take is no longer VA-approved.

Roe’s bill, introduced as H.R. 6194, aims to make sure the GI Bill benefits for student veterans remain unchanged if the beneficiaries switch to online courses in a time of public emergency. The current version of the bill only covers students through December 2020. It means the measures would need to be re-enacted if the COVID-19 pandemic continued into 2021, or if schools shut down because of other national emergencies.

“The uncertainty facing student veterans in the wake of unexpected school closures and changes in response to COVID-19 is unprecedented,” said Jared Lyon, CEO and national president of Student Veterans of America, an advocacy group for student veterans. “This critical, time-sensitive legislation explicitly ensures student veterans will be able to continue to attend school and experience no changes to monthly housing allowances as more schools take COVID-19 prevention measures.”

“We appreciate the swift attention brought to this issue by the sponsors and urge them to move this legislation forward to the President’s desk to be signed into law as soon as possible,” Lyon said.