The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on Friday circulated information to institutions that enroll students who use GI Bill educational benefits, directing them on how to respond to questions regarding the impact on recipients if instruction moves online or stops due to temporary closure amid the spread of the novel coronavirus.
In an email to VA certifying officials, VA said that as institutions across the country either close or move instruction online, the change "raises questions and concerns about the impact to [students'] GI Bill benefits and importantly, housing allowances." The exact effect on recipients, however, will depend on what actions institutions take.
If a college or university temporarily closes "due to an established policy based on an Executive order of the President or due to an emergency situation," for example, VA may continue benefit payments for up to four weeks during a 12-month period, the email said. VA does not have the statutory authority to continue payments beyond four weeks for temporary school closures.
However, if the school moves instruction online, the answer depends on whether the online program has been approved by a state approval agency.
If the online program has been approved, benefits would remain unchanged for the duration of the term. For any future terms, GI Bill recipients' Monthly Housing Allowance would be changed to half of the national average of the Department of Defense's basic housing allowance rates for those with an E-5 pay grade with dependents.
But if the online program has not been approved by the state agency, the recipient's benefit payments, including the housing allowance, would stop immediately.
VA said in its email that if institutions' GI Bill students have questions about their specific circumstance, they may contact the Education Call Center at: 1-888-442-4551 between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. ET on weekdays.
Later on Friday, VA certifying officials were sent a second email informing them that Congress has introduced legislation that, if enacted, will alleviate the possible loss of GI Bill benefits when a program is converted to an online format. In order to avoid confusion and the need to make multiple changes to enrollments, VA is asking all schools to temporarily refrain from making any adjustments to enrollment certifications if training has changed due to COVID-19. VA will provide further guidance by Wednesday, March 18.
For more information and resources on how the spread of the novel coronavirus is impacting student financial aid, please refer to NASFAA's COVID-19 Web Center.
Publication Date: 3/13/2020