The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would have 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, under a bill proposed Wednesday in the U.S. Congress.
“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," Representative Phil Roe, sponsor of HR 6194, said in a statement.
Roe, of Tennessee and the top Republican on the House veterans' affairs committee, said veterans in college were worried their benefits could be affected in the case of closures or if their programs went online only. “The uncertainty facing student veterans in the wake of unexpected school closures and changes in response to COVID-19 is unprecedented,” Jared Lyon, CEO and president of Student Veterans of America, said in a statement.
For example, if a program were to switch midterm from in-person to online, housing benefit payments would remain the same for the remainder of the term. But 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.
While the measure wouldn't direct the VA, it would give the agency the discretion between now and December to continue paying full benefits even if a program goes online.