U.S. Representative Phil Roe (R-TN), ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced a bill Wednesday to protect GI Bill recipients from being negatively impacted by school closures or other changes as a result of COVID-19. The proposed bill, H.R. 6194, would grant the Department of Veterans Affairs the discretion not to reduce GI Bill benefits for student veterans if their colleges or universities close or go online only during the coronavirus pandemic.
"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. Roe said in a statement.
"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 president of Student Veterans of America.
For example, if a program were to move midterm from in-person to online, housing benefit payments would remain the same for the remainder of the term. However, under VA regulations, they would be reduced—for example, to one-half of the national average of the Defense Department's basic housing allowance for enlisted service members with dependents in the E-5 classification. Or if an academic program has been approved as eligible for GI Bill benefits as an in-person track, it would not be approved by the VA as an online program if it were to become online only. That could mean benefits like tuition and housing allowances would stop, because it would no longer be a VA-approved program, reported Inside Higher Ed.
Although the proposed bill would not direct the VA, it would allow the agency additional flexibility between now and December to continue paying full benefits even if a program goes online, Inside Higher Ed reported.
"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," Lyon said in a statement.
U.S. Representative Phil Roe’s Press Release
Inside Higher Ed