By Joan Berkes, Policy & Federal Relations Staff
A bill that would amend the law pertaining to veterans' educational benefits overwhelmingly passed through the House last week, and appears destined to move through the senate as well. This article highlights some of the bill's provisions.
- Chapter 33 (Post 9-11) educational assistance benefits will no longer expire after 15 years for individuals who first become entitled to them on or after Jan. 1, 2013. Lifetime access also applies to children of deceased military members along the same timeline.
- Full GI Bill benefits will accrue to Purple Heart recipients regardless of length of service, effective Aug. 1, 2018.
- The structure of eligibility depending on length of service is changed to consolidate two current categories, such that eligible individuals who served at least six months but less than 12 months will receive the same percentage of benefit as those who served at least 12 months but less than 18 months.
- Effective Oct. 1, 2018, the monthly amount of educational assistance for survivors and dependents of disabled veterans will increase from $788 to $1,224 for full-time enrollment, with increases for three-quarter-time and half-time statuses as well.
- Effective Aug. 1, 2018, educational benefits may be used to pay for national tests that evaluate prior learning and knowledge if they provide an opportunity for course credit. The basis for charging payments for licensure and certification tests and tests for admission or credit against the recipient's benefit entitlement is also modified to allow charging a portion of a monthly amount rather than requiring rounding up to a full month's entitlement.
- Currently, educational benefits can be used for independent study programs (including open circuit television) only if they are accredited and lead to a standard college degree or a certificate that reflects educational attainment offered by an institution of higher learning. The bill expands eligibility to also include nationally accredited programs that lead to a certificate offered by:
- an area career and technical education school (as defined in the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006) that provides education at the postsecondary level; or
- a postsecondary vocational institution (as defined in the Higher Education Act).
- Additional transfer of benefit options are provided in cases of a veteran's death or the death of a designated dependent transferee. This provision would be effective Aug. 1, 2018, for deaths retroactive to 8/1/2009.
- Any used veterans educational benefits will be restored to students who were forced to discontinue pursuit of their educational programs, thereby losing credit or training time, because:
- the school permanently closed, or
- the program or a necessary course in the program was disapproved after enrollment due to changes in law, regulation, or policy (although exceptions to the disapproval may be allowed on a case-by-case basis when in the best interest of the student).
- This provision would be effective for closures or disapprovals occurring after Jan. 1, 2015. The retroactive period prior to enactment applies unless credits were able to be transferred.
- Effective Aug. 1, 2018, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) could continue to pay monthly housing stipends for a limited period under certain circumstances when a school closes temporarily or permanently or when a program is disapproved.
- The bill increases the amount of the per-student fee payable to schools to support reporting requirements for enrolled veterans, and changes the structure so that the same fee is payable for all covered students.
- The bill establishes a new scholarship program effective Aug. 1, 2019, that will provide additional benefits to selected students who have exhausted their post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and are pursuing STEM programs that require more than 128 semester (192 quarter) credit hours, or pursuing teacher certification following completion of a STEM program.
- The bill authorizes a five-year pilot program under which VA would contract with providers of high technology programs to provide courses in computer programming, computer software, media application, data processing, or information sciences to eligible veterans. The coursework would be offered by an entity other than an institution of higher learning and would not lead to a degree. The contractor would be paid 25 percent of tuition and fees upon a veteran's enrollment, 25 percent upon the veteran's completion of the program, and 50 percent upon the veteran's employment in the program field of study. VA would give priority to providers who offer tuition reimbursement for students who do not find “full-time meaningful employment” in the field of study within 180 days of program completion. The pilot program would include housing stipends, but only at 50 percent if the student is enrolled via distance education.
Publication Date: 7/31/2017