Veterans Affairs officials expect to have 27 congressionally mandated reforms to GI Bill benefits in place by Aug. 1, but many of those changes may not be immediately visible to all students.
That’s because the bulk of the changes, included in the Johnny Isakson and Phil Roe Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020, deal with specific programs and eligibility requirements that individually don’t affect a large number of veterans.
When combined, however, these small changes amount to significant updates across the breadth of the benefit.
“These provisions greatly assist VA in providing benefits more efficiently and effectively … [including] improved oversight and accountability and expanded opportunities for service members, veterans and eligible family members,” said Charmain Bogue, executive director of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Education Service.
Bogue faced questioning Tuesday from House Veterans’ Affairs Committee members regarding the progress of the changes.
Several provisions have been in place since the start of the summer, including the extension of protections for beneficiaries attending colleges whose schedules were upended by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Students forced out of classes due to changes to class meetings or availability can retain their GI Bill eligibility under the measure, on-campus jobs and apprenticeship stipends were extended through the end of the pandemic, and payouts for hybrid classes will be adjusted under language approved last fall.
The bill also expanded the popular Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses earlier this year and expanded VA’s Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship program.
It also, for the first time, made foster children of servicemembers eligible for GI Bill benefits transfer, in alignment with Defense Department rules regarding dependents.
Upcoming changes include expansion of the Fry Scholarship to include spouses and children of service members — including reservists — who died in non-combat events, and new requirements for schools to provide cost estimates to potential students ahead of enrollment.
Another change will require students to “electronically verify” their enrollment status with VA monthly. Bogue said officials are testing the technology for that now, with a plan to require the check-ins to launch next month for students enrolled in non-college degree programs and for other students at the end of the year.
“We want to make sure that we have the latest and greatest mobile information for our students, and that they understand the process and how it’s important for them to reach out to VA to notify us of any issues,” she said.
Lawmakers promised continued oversight on the reforms in the months to come.
“The devil is in the details and Congress’ work doesn’t end with just a final stroke of the president’s pen,” said Rep. Barry Moore, R-Ala.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.