On October 28, 2020, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) sent emails to those of us who have used, are using, or are eligible to use the GI Bill, notifying us of big changes to the “48-Month Rule” that has applied to some veteran students and beneficiaries.
Carr vs. Wilkie
On June 11, 2020, a Federal Circuit Court overturned VA rules regarding end-of-term benefit extensions previously laid out in the court case Carr vs Wilkie.
As a result of the court’s decision, the VA will begin paying more benefits by extending the end-of-term benefits beyond 48 months. This ruling only applies to cases which have not been finally decided by the VA, so it will only apply to cases currently on appeal with the Board of Veterans Appeals, or those cases which are still appealable to the VA. If your case was decided within one year of the date of decision, June 11, 2020, then your case is still appealable.
The VA has already started reaching out to schools to make sure they understand the issue and to ensure that the schools will be able to assist you through the process in a timely fashion. The VA recommends the following tips for successfully engaging with this issue:
Plan ahead and ask questions
Understand the impact this court decision has on you
Ensure you understand your school’s procedures regarding this issue
Stay in contact with your School Certifying Officials
Why is this important?
Before the Carr decision in June, the VA viewed the 48-month rule as a “hard stop” and would never extend end-of-term benefits beyond 48 months. The court ruled that VA’s interpretation of the rule was incorrect, and that the VA should “apply the 48-month rule to limit the initial award which will determine when benefits are exhausted.” Once that point of exhaustion arrives, then the VA should apply an end-of-term extension.
What does that even mean??
For example, suppose a student has used 26 months of benefit under Chapter 1606, MGIB Selected Reserve. Then the student applies for benefits under Chapter 33, the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The entitlement to Chapter 33 is generally limited to 36 months. However, application of the 48-month rule limits the award to 22 months of Chapter 33 benefits:
26 months Ch. 1606 benefits used
36 months of Ch. 33 benefits entitled
48 (month rule) – 26 (months used) = 22 months of Ch. 33 available
In this case, if the student then uses 21 (of 22) months of Chapter 33 benefit, leaving one month of entitlement remaining, and then starts a 4-month standard semester program, the VA will now pay benefits for the entire 4 month semester. This results in an extension of benefits by three months beyond the actual entitlements awarded.
This is important because many students were facing the challenges of having their benefits only covering part of a college semester. I’ve been there, and it’s a troubling time. The new policy means that the VA will extend benefits to the end of the term for quarter or semester based programs.
If a student has at least one day of benefits to start the academic term but does not have enough days of benefits to pay for the entire term, the VA will pay for the entire term!
For non-quarter or semester based programs, the benefits can also be extended; but the rules for calculating the length of the extension are a little different. For these non-standard term programs, the benefits can only be extended to the end of the term if the student has enough benefit remaining to make it to at least the halfway point of the term. In these cases, end-of-term benefits can only be extended for a maximum of 12 weeks.
Readjudication & Retroactive Payments
The VA will conduct a review to determine if there were previous times when they may have underpaid tuition and fees to a school and housing benefits to a student. The VA will issue any retroactive payments due for housing or tuition and fees, which will be explained in a letter to the student.
Contact the VA
If you have any questions, or you are experiencing a financial hardship due to this issue, please contact the Education Call Center at 1-888-442-4551, Monday – Friday from 7:00am to 6:00pm Central Time. You can also interact with the Veterans Benefits Administration on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where they will monitor for all students requiring assistance.
For more information on VA education benefits, you may visit the VA site.
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.