The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act, more commonly known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill 2.0 or “Fix Bill,” was passed in December 2010 to make needed adjustments to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. While those adjustments have been overwhelmingly positive, simplifying many provisions and extending coverage to a greater number of service members, these improvements have come at the expense of several cost-saving measures that have, in some cases, reduced benefits for service members.
In particular, these adjustments have had several consequences for the law’s monthly housing (living) stipend, all of which will be implemented in August of 2011:
- Eligibility extended to distance learners: One of the biggest knocks on the original Post-9/11 GI Bill was that it excluded any living assistance to students who were taking a full course load on-line, from accredited institutions such as the University of Phoenix, Capella University, and American Military University. The Improvements Act allows these students a modified living allowance, equal to half the national average of the housing stipend which for 2011, is $1,347. Bob Norton (USA-Ret.), deputy director of Government Relations for the Military Officers Association of America, thinks this allowance for distance learners – a growing segment of veteran students – is one of the most significant provisions of the Improvements Act. “If you are cranking out online courses in your basement and you don’t go to a physical campus, you can still get $673.50 to help you make ends meet, for whatever you need to do to continue your program,” he said. “This is a great provision for folks who had been excluded before.”
- The option to choose the GI Bill housing stipend over the subsistence allowance of the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program: Under the VA’s disability rating system, wounded warriors are assigned a subsistence rate that often, Norton explained, is lower than the housing stipend for which they might be eligible under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. “If you are a disabled veteran coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan and you are rated by the VA at 20 percent or greater – in other words you have a disability that came as a result of your military service since 9/11 – you can get counseling services, testing, job placement, and use your GI Bill underneath that Voc-Rehab umbrella,” he said. “But your cost of living stipend was way less than the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s. So now those folks who want to go to college and use the VR&E can choose, if they wish, to take the full national average for housing, which in many cases more than doubles what they were getting under VR&E.”
- An end to “break pay”: The bill’s previous version often paid housing benefits to full-time students whether school was in session or not. The Improvements Act has scrapped this provision: The housing stipend will not apply during mandatory school breaks. When school is not in session, such as during the extended winter break, students are responsible for earning their rent.
- Prorated payments: The monthly housing stipend will now be prorated based on a student’s “rate of pursuit.” This provision, Norton explained, was added to eliminate a deal that was considered a bit too sweet for students who were previously considered “full-time” simply because they took a shade over half of what the VA had designated as a full course load: 12 credits.
“It used to be that if you were enrolled for seven credits at a college, you would get the full monthly housing allowance,” Norton said. “So you’d get about $2,400 a month, for example, to take seven credits at San Francisco State – a pretty darn good deal. The government has said: ‘Not really what we intended, not really fair.’” Under the new law, the student in Norton’s example would receive about 58 percent of the basic housing allowance.
Prorated payments are probably the biggest money-saver in the Improvements Act – which means a significant number of students will see their housing allowances reduced under the new law, which, while simplifying the formula for tuition payments, makes the calculation of housing/living allowances a bit more complicated for the VA. Three factors – rate of pursuit, locality, and the student’s eligibility tier (the amount of creditable active-duty service) – will now be used to calculate each student’s housing payment.