VA Educational Benefits Update

On March 21, 2020, the President signed S.3503 into law, giving the VA the authority to continue GI Bill payments uninterrupted in the event of national emergencies. The new law allows for VA to continue to pay benefits regardless of the fact that the program has changed from resident training to online training. Also, students will continue to receive the same monthly housing allowance payments that they received for resident training until January 1, 2021, or until the school resumes normal operations of resident training. VA is working to immediately implement the new changes to address current and future school terms to ensure students continue to receive their education benefits.

On April 28, 2020, the President signed the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 (H.R. 6322) into law. This new law gives VA additional authorities to continue GI Bill and Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) payments for the period beginning on March 1, 2020 and ending on December 21, 2020. First, it allows for the continuation of payments to students participating in the Work Study Program who are furloughed or have to stop working. It also allows VA to continue to pay benefits for up to 4 weeks to GI Bill and VR&E students whose classes are suspended, even if school is still open. Also, there is a provision for restoration of entitlement for GI Bill and VR&E students who lose credit due to school closure or schools’ suspension of training. Finally, the new law will allow VA to extend the delimiting date for Montgomery GI Bill, Post-9/11 G Bill, and VR&E students if they are unable to attend training due to COVID-19. VA already has the authority to extend delimiting dates for Survivors and Dependent Educational Assistance Program (DEA) beneficiaries.  VA is working to immediately implement the new changes to ensure students continue to receive their education benefits.

In addition, H.R. 6322 allows VR&E students to continue to receive payments if a school permanently closes or a course of study is disapproved for up to 120 days or the end of the term, whichever occurs first.  GI Bill students already have access to this benefit.   It also permits VR&E to extend payments for an additional two months while VR&E participants are seeking employment.  Furthermore, it allows VR&E to extend the 18-month limitation on employment services.

If you have questions about your GI Bill benefits, please contact the VA Education Call Center at 1-888-442-4551 between 8 AM and 7 PM Eastern Time, Monday-Friday. GI Bill students may also learn more from the Student COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions webpage. VR&E students may contact their assigned Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor directly via phone or email with any questions or concerns they may have during this period.

If your VA benefits have been affected due to COVID-19 and have not been addressed by legislation, please reach out to our office, contact VA’s Education Call Center, or contact Student Veterans of America’s National Headquarters at policy@studentveterans.org.

VA Debt Management Center Update

As of April 9, 2020, the VA Debt Management Center (DMC) is suspending all debt repayment actions on veteran debts under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department for 60 days. DMC will evaluate extension of this timeline should the situation with COVID-19 warrant. If the suspension is extended, they will update their website to reflect the change and automatically extend suspensions for affected veterans. The DMC is also suspending collection action or extending repayment terms on preexisting VA debts for veterans, as the veteran prefers. Please contact the DMC at 1-800-827-0648 to request assistance.

VA Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) for Remote vs. Online Courses

With the university’s transition to remote courses for the Spring and Summer 2020 terms, it is important to take note of the impact that online courses have on your VA Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) benefits. Recent VA legislation protects MHA through the end of 2020 for residential (in-person/campus-based) courses that are traditionally delivered on campus but have transitioned to remote delivery; MHA for these courses will be the same rate as if you were attending in person and on campus. MHA for courses that are traditionally delivered online is subject to a reduced housing allowance rate.

As you register for classes, campus-based courses that have transitioned to remote learning will still reflect as campus-based courses in WebSTAC, listing a physical campus location or “TBA” as the location. Online courses subject to the reduced MHA will be listed as “Fully online” in WebSTAC. The GI Bill Comparison Tool for WashU is a useful tool to inform you on the MHA rates and can assist with your course planning and decision-making from a financial perspective. Please reach out to our office if you are unsure about whether your course selection will impact your MHA.