As the new school year begins and veterans head back to class, many are asking questions about using the Post 9/11 GI Bill. In 2020, many wonder how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect their GI Bill benefits …if at all. In regard to that concern, the VA has been authorized to make several changes for the upcoming school year due to approved legislation S.3503.
Monthly housing allowance for Veterans
The first issue to consider is the housing allowance. How will it change if a school moves a VA-approved resident training course to an online-only course? Normally, students who take all of their classes online receive only about half as much Post 9/11 GI Bill monthly housing allowance as students who take classes on campus.
Students whose resident classes change to an online-only venue will continue to receive the resident training monthly housing allowance rate. As a result of the legislation, the VA was given special authority to change this rule starting March 1, 2020 and ending on December 21, 2020 or until the school resumes normal training operations – whichever occurs first. Students whose classes have always been online-only will continue to get the online-only monthly housing allowance rate.
Students contracting COVID-19
Another concern is if a student contracts COVID-19 and cannot attend class, will their benefits be reduced? In this regard, nothing really changed. According to the rules currently in place, the VA would pay students through the last date of attendance, but not to the end of the term. This of course could create a debt against the student in the form of an overpayment of their monthly housing allowance. If an overpayment debt is incurred as a result of COVID-19, a student may submit a debt waiver. The VA has also made changes to their debt collection process if the waiver request is not approved.
COVID-19 newly incurred VA debts or financial hardship of existing VA debt
This is broken down into two parts. For new debts created due to COVID-19, debt collections are temporarily stopped without any additional documentation required. For existing debts, students financially affected by COVID-19 can request temporary debt collection suspension or request an extended repayment plan by contacting the VA’s Debt Collection Center at 1-800-827-0648.
While not frequently occurring, what happens if a school temporarily closes due to COVID-19? The VA is authorized to continue to pay benefit to your school on your behalf (tuition and fees) and to you (monthly housing allowance and book stipend) through the end of the term or for 28 days, whichever occurs first.
Interrupted classes or cancelled prerequisite courses
With some degree programs, students must complete a pre-requisite course before they can enroll in follow-on course. The issue at hand is what happens if a pre-req course, or portion of it such as labs held on campus, is cancelled due to COVID-19. This one is tricky.
The VA does not have any additional authority on handling this situation but has instructed schools to follow their normal “incomplete” grade policy. However from a VA reporting standpoint, no additional reporting is required once classes resume and the affected students will be allowed to complete that portion of class missed and move onto the follow-on class. However, if the class is discontinued for that term, the student must complete the course at a later time before moving onto the follow-on class.
VA Resources Available
When in doubt, check with your school’s VA Certifying Officer. They have the most current information related to VA benefits and how they are affected in this extremely fluid time.