Congress this week approved a second legislative fix that protects GI Bill benefits for student veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 will keep funding flowing to work-study programs overlooked in the first fix passed in March. The bill this week also allows student veterans to receive additional housing allowance payments if their school closes due to COVID-19 and restores or extends education benefits if campuses are closed or veterans are forced to withdraw due to COVID-19.
The Senate passed the bill Tuesday after the House passed a version March 31. The House version was sponsored by Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Mark Takano (D-Calif.), the committee’s chairman.
“I am proud that, once again, Congress has taken quick, decisive action to safeguard student veterans’ earned benefits during this crisis. With so much uncertainty about what lies ahead, we owe it to our veterans to ensure that the benefits they rely on will continue to be there for them, even in the most extraordinary times. Chairman Takano’s and my bill will do just that. I am grateful to my friends on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate for working hard to deliver this bill to President Trump’s desk.” – Phil Roe (R-Tenn.)
The Senate’s bill was identical to the House version.
“This legislative fix builds on previous legislation passed and signed into law to make certain our student veterans can continue to receive payments that they normally would from their education and training programs during this pandemic without having to worry about losing the benefits that they have earned. The House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees acted quickly to pass this legislative fix, and I am pleased that we are able to provide our veterans with some certainty during this difficult time.” – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kan.)
The first bill signed by President Trump on March 21 gave the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) the authority to keep paying tuition and housing allowance during a national emergency as most schools moved instruction entirely online.
“We felt it when schools started shifting to online education, because as you know when that happens then the Monthly Housing Allowance changes. So in some ways the education team was the first to see what the pandemic was going to change in VBA, and they reminded us of that. Very quickly then Congress realized what was going on and the president signed the law March 21 to keep you in your in-resident housing allowance.” – Paul Lawrence, Under Secretary for Benefits at the VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), which administers the GI Bill
The VBA is working overtime to connect with student veterans as the pandemic unfolds.
“We have been really good about putting a lot of communication out there through va.gov, but they can always call the 1-888-GIBILL-1 number to learn about it,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence also has been hosting LinkedIn Live sessions every Friday at noon (ET), as well as Tele-Town Halls that allow veterans and their families to call in and ask questions.
“So far I’ve done seven of these, and I’ve hit almost 225,000 folks on the phone, so it’s kind of a big deal in terms of getting the word out,” he said.