When schools across the country were closed to slow the spread of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), many classes were cancelled as well, leaving students at home with lighter schedules and fewer credits to apply toward graduation.
Some students have received refunds or transitioned to online channels to completer their classes from home, but veterans have a few extra hurdles to jump, hurdles their GI Bill benefits are tied to.
President Trump signed S. 3503 into law on March 21, as the pandemic continued to claim lives in the United States, directing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to continue to pay out GI Bill benefits to th thousands of students now taking courses online. According to the VA, “The law gives VA temporary authority to continue GI Bill payments uninterrupted in the event of national emergencies, allowing for continued payment of benefits even if the program has changed from resident training to online training.”
S. 3503 also restored the Monthly Housing Allowance for the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the subsistence allowance for Vocational Rehabilitation & Education (VR&E), Military.com reports. Had the law not been signed before the semester’s end, student veterans could have seen their housing allowances terminated immediately.
This law is a welcome stop gap to veterans’ benefits, but it does not take into account the extra months of schooling some will require due to some classes being canceled, during which they may be otherwise ineligible for GI Bill benefits. The payments are doled out for 36 months. Any schooling or housing costs after that must be shouldered by the veteran’s own income.
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The proposed Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 would augment S. 3503 and extend education benefits for student veterans and their dependents in order to cover extended or rescheduled classes as prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. According to Military.com, the passage of this bill would drop the blanket “use them or lose them” catch from GI Bill benefits guidelines, and extend the 36-month period of scheduled payouts by the length of time a student veteran’s school or classes are closed.
“As we respond to the coronavirus pandemic, we cannot forget about our student veterans,” House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano, D-California, wrote. “Under this bipartisan legislation, we can ensure no students have their housing cut off, lose their work study payment, exhaust their disaster housing stipend continuation payments, or lose their benefits due to a school closure from COVID-19.”
Takano, joined by Representative Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, insist that no student veteran should worry about being ineligible for the benefits they’ve earned because of unforeseen circumstances.
“Over the last two weeks, we worked hard to assure student veterans that the support they count on from the GI Bill to cover tuition and housing costs won’t be taken away during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Roe said. “Our bill would preserve work study, vocational rehabilitation and employment, and GI Bill benefits for students during emergency situations like the one we are currently experiencing.”
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.