VA FAQ’s: Covid and Education Benefits
For many of you, the fall semester has started and you may have some questions regarding conflicts between your school’s response to COVID-19 and your VA education benefits.
This is a summary of all the FAQs the VA has answered and posted online. On March 21, 2020, President Trump signed S.3503 into law which gave the VA temporary and emergency authority to continue your GI Bill payments.
In essence, the new law allows the VA to continue providing your hard-earned benefits, even if a program transitioned from residential to an online format, even if the online training has not yet been approved.
GI Bill students will continue receiving housing allowance payments at the resident training rate until December, 21, 2020, or until a school resumes normal, residential training. The following questions relate to this information.
My school changed my program from residential to online classes. Can I still get GI Bill benefits for this?
Based on S.3503, if you were in a previously approved residential program that was transitioned to an online format in response to COVID-19, you will not see a reduction in monthly housing payments.
Other types of changes may affect your payments. For example, a change in enrollment, such as dropping a class, will likely reduce your monthly payments.
What happens to my housing allowance if my school changes from residential to online classes due to COVID-19?
Post-9/11 GI Bill students whose schools converted previously approved residential courses to an online course format will not see a reduction in payment amounts. Current and new beneficiaries will receive the resident housing rate when in school from March 1, 2020, to December 21, 2020.
If I am unable to attend school due to COVID-19, but my school is in session, will I still receive my education benefits?
The VA can and will pay you through the last date of attendance, but not through the end of the term. This may result in a prorated “tuition and fees” debt and a housing overpayment for you.
If you do acquire a debt for this situation, you may request a waiver once you are notified of the debt to the VA. Here’s the link for the Waiver Request.
What happens if my school is temporarily closed?
If your school is temporarily closed, the VA will continue to pay your benefits through the end of the term, or for 28 days, whichever is sooner.
What happens when my school’s resident lab portion of a course is canceled or marked incomplete due to COVID-19 and the school does not allow me to move to the next class in the degree program?
The VA has no authority to intervene in these situations, even in response to COVID-19. Schools will still follow their “Incomplete” grading policy and apply it where a course’s lab is deemed incomplete. Once a school is willing and able to resume lab classes, you will be allowed to complete the lab portion of your program without further needing to report to the VA. However, if the course that is on hold due to a lab requirement is a prerequisite for a future course, you will not be permitted to enroll in that course until the prerequisite is complete.
Not all schools have an “Incomplete” policy, and in this case your school should withdraw you from the course based on the date of your last attendance. In some cases, a withdrawal of this nature will affect your monthly housing allowance.
Will the VA pay for my benefits if my school changes from a standard grade scale (A, B, C…) to a Pass/Fail or other grading system in response to COVID-19?
This depends on the grading policy your school has implemented. Since the VA’s rules concerning failing grades have not changed, you should check with your school’s certify official (SCO) for clarification.
What happens if my OJT or Apprenticeship establishment changes to online instruction?
If your training facility can change to an online format, you will continue to receive your regular monthly housing payment.
What if I can’t work for my Apprenticeship because I was furloughed?
If your training facility remains open but you must stop training (due to furlough, illness), the VA can only pay education benefits through the last day of your training.
What happens if my establishment ceases trainee program training due to COVID-19?
If the facility that employs you temporarily ceases operations, the VA can continue paying trainees their monthly housing through the end of the program or 28 days, whichever comes first.
I’m experiencing a financial hardship due to COVID-19 and owe a debt to the VA. Is there any relief for me?
The VA’s Debt Management Center (DMC) is currently offering the following options:
- They can completely suspend debt collection until a later date. (Their website says May 2020, which is inaccurate since that date has passed)
- They can establish an extended repayment plan without the submission of additional financial documentation.
The DMC encourages anyone affected by COVID-19 who has a benefit debt with the VA to contact the Debt Management Center at 1-800-827-0648 to request assistance.
If you have questions about your specific circumstances, please contact the Education Call Center at 1-888-442-4551, Monday through Friday between 8 AM and 7 PM Eastern Time. You can also submit your question electronically.
(Image courtesy of kzenon via 123rf.com)
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About the author
Robert Haynes is a retired Army infantryman who has a squad of kids and is married to an active duty Soldier. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, who spent his last few years in the Army as a Drill Sergeant. He is now a full-time dad, freelance writer, and out-of-work comedian.