FAQs: How COVID-19 Affects Military-Connected Students
1. Will my courses moving online impact my Monthly Housing Allowance?
Schools across the country have moved in-person courses to remote or online courses in the interest of public health. For GI Bill users, this change raises questions and concerns about the impact to GI Bill benefits and housing allowances (MHA) administered through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
A legislative fix was signed into law on March 21st that allows VA to continue paying MHA to students whose courses have moved online.
Students will only continue to receive the same, uninterrupted MHA if they are registered for in-resident (in-seat) classes. The new law does not cover regular online courses (courses offered online regardless of coronavirus).
Students should contact their school’s registrar’s office if they have questions about original course format, upcoming terms and course offerings, and academic timelines. Students should contact their School Certifying Official (SCO) with questions and concerns about enrollment changes, certification, course changes, and payment of allowances.
Update: On October 1, 2020, President Trump signed a Continuing Resolution that extends these protections through December 21, 2021.
2. How is my VA Work Study affected by COVID-19?
Student veterans employed in work-study programs depend on this program to meet unfulfilled financial needs.
On April 28, 2020, President Trump signed the Student Veterans Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, which authorizes VA to pay work study participants up to 25 hours a week even if they are unable to complete their contracted duties.
Update: On October 1, 2020, President Trump signed a Continuing Resolution that extends this relief through December 21, 2021.
3. How is VA currently handling Work Study during COVID-19?
- Zero hour Requests – The 30-day period for a zero hour request cannot be expanded but will match any extension of the term during which it was made. In other words, if a term was to end on 5/15/20, and a request was made until 6/15/20 before the term was extended to 6/20/20, the 30-day request window would follow and extend until 7/20/20. (A zero hour request is an extension of time to allow a student veteran to finish working their contracted hours from a previous contract.)
- Unemployment in lieu of Work Study – It is currently unclear whether VA education beneficiaries can receive unemployment. Students should contact their local unemployment office for additional information.
- Continued Payment in Certain Cases – 1) If VA processed a contract and the student requested advance payment and the agreement has been signed the student may still receive advance payment 2) If a school is closing temporarily the student may be able to switch Work-Study locations to allow them to continue working and receiving payments 3) If a school offers a student the ability to conduct work offsite, remotely, that would satisfy the existing contract, a student may continue receiving payments.
- Work-Study Contracts during School Closures – If a work-study contract was approved before a school closed, VA can continue to pay that student during closure for work performed for the length of the contract or 4 weeks, whichever comes first
4. What else does the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 do for military-affiliated students?
In short, it protects student veterans from the negative consequences of school closures beyond their control.
The bill does the following:
- Ensures that student veterans can receive up to four weeks of Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) when schools close due to emergencies,
- Prevents such payments from being charged against entitlement,
- Extends the deadline to use education benefits by the amount of time a student is prevented from using benefits due to emergency situations,
- Restores entitlement benefits to those whose schools close due to emergency situations, and
- Extends Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) subsistence allowances for up to two months.
Update: On October 1, 2020, President Trump signed a Continuing Resolution that extends these protections through December 21, 2021.
5. What relief is included in the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020?
This legislation addresses the following:
- Negative Effects Allow for Continued Benefits – Allows VA to continue paying educational assistance benefits during the COVID–19 emergency if the Secretary determines a student was negatively affected by the emergency. This is a broad, flexible authority aimed at covering any gaps in protection the rest of these education provisions do not.
- Entitlement Protections for Closed Schools – Ensures that if a school closes due to COVID-19 that certain entitlement used by an individual at that school will not be charged against their overall entitlement amount.
- Entitlement Protections for Withdrawals – Requires VA to view a student’s withdrawal from school due to covered reason during the COVID-19 pandemic as mitigating circumstances and not charge the student’s entitlement.
- MGIB Eligibility Protections – Prevents a veteran’s MGIB eligibility from lapsing during the COVID-19 emergency period of 1 March 2020 until 21 December 2021.
- Apprenticeship and OJT protections – Veterans who are enrolled in an OJT program or apprenticeship and unable to fulfill the 120-hour requirement due to COVID-19-related unemployment or inability to attend the program is not negatively impacted. This section would proportionally recognize the number of hours the individual was able to work, to receive payment from the VA.
- Training Location Expansion –Allows students to attend “training establishments” in addition to “educational schools” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Training establishment’ is defined as an establishment providing apprenticeship or on-the-job training, among other things. (38 U.S.C. 3452(e))
- Entitlement Charge Prohibition – Amends the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 to ensure that a student’s entitlement and payment allowances are not charged in the event they are unable to continue their program.
- Time Limit on VR&E Benefits – Eliminates the 12-year time limit governing when disabled veterans must receive counseling, training, and VR&E benefits for those who separate from military service after January 1, 2013. This would align VR&E benefits with Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, for which Congress previously eliminated a similar time limit.
- VR&E Eligibility Protections – Prevents a veteran’s VR&E eligibility from lapsing during the COVID-19 emergency period of 1 March 2020 until 21 December 2021.
- VR&E Restoration – Allows VR&E benefits to be restored if a veteran’s school closed.
- COVID-19 Benefits Qualifying Period Defined – Defines ‘qualifying period’ for COVID-19 related benefits as either active duty or training duty under title 10/full-time National Guard duty issued on or after 13 March 2020 performed during a national emergency and within 3 years of the bill passing.
- Service-Connected Disability and COVID-19 – Outlines the presumptions of service-connection disability for COVID-19 during a qualifying period of duty.
- Homeless Assistance – Authorizes per diem payments during COVID-19 to ensure safety and survival for homeless veterans and formerly homeless veterans living in a facility that receives per diem grants, eliminates the matching funds requirement for VA capital grants for facilities providing transitional housing for homeless veterans during a public health emergency, and makes telehealth available during a covered public health emergency for VA case managers.
6. What relief is available to help with federal student loans?
In March, President Trump signed into law, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which suspended repayment of federal student loans, put a pause on interest accrual, and froze involuntary collections. On August 8, 2020, the President signed a Presidential Memorandum that extended this relief through December 31, 2020. On December 4, 2020, the Department of Education further extended this relief through January 31, 2021.
On January 21, 2021, at the direction of President Biden, the Department of Education extended this federal student loan relief through at least September 30, 2021.
7. What is the CARES Act and what does it do for students?
Please see our summary here.
8. What was included in the latest round of federal COVID-19 relief legislation?
On December 27, 2020, the President signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021, which included the following pandemic-related relief:
$23 Billion in Relief Aid for Students and Schools – Schools will receive $23 billion in relief funds to help them meet the challenges of COVID-19. Of the amount they eventually receive, colleges will be required to use roughly the same amount of funding as they did under the CARES Act to provide additional emergency aid grants to students.
Temporary Expansion of SNAP for College Students – College students may temporarily qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) if they are eligible to participate in a federal or state work study program or have an expected family contribution of 0.
$600 Direct Payments – Non-dependent students will receive up to $600 in direct payments from the federal government if they make up to $75,000 per year. Married couples making up to 150,000 will receive checks for up to $1,200. $600 will also be paid to parents for each dependent child. Payments decrease by $5 for every $100 an individual or couple exceeds the $75,000 and $150,000 thresholds respectively. Individuals making over $87,000 and couples making more than $174,000 are not eligible for these direct payments.
Childcare Assistance – Provides roughly $10 billion in emergency assistance for childcare providers to help them remain open or reopen through the pandemic.
Unemployment Assistance – Extends certain unemployment relief from the CARES Act, including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). Provides individuals $300 per week through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program on top of existing federal and state unemployment benefits. You can find additional information on pandemic-related unemployment insurance here.
Emergency Broadband Assistance – Provides $3.2 billion to help low-income families access broadband internet through an FCC program. Funds and establishes several grants and programs to reduce barriers to broadband access. Establishes an office of Minority Broadband Initiatives to expand broadband access in certain minority communities near historically black colleges or universities, tribal colleges or universities, and minority-serving institutions.
Rental Assistance – Extends the CDC rental eviction moratorium through January 31, 2021. Establishes a new program to help low-income Americans pay rent, past due rent, energy, and utility costs during the pandemic.
9. What do I need to know if I am a military-affiliated student with a pending VA debt, claim, or appeal?
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced, on April 3, several actions to provide Veterans with financial, benefits, and claims help amid VA’s COVID-19 response. The financial relief actions included the following:
- If you are financially unable to pay your existing VA debt due to the COVID-19 crisis, you can request a temporary collection suspension, hardship refund of offsets, or an extended repayment plan. Call 1-800-827-0648 to receive information on these relief options and to let the VA Debt Management Center (DMC) know which option you prefer.
- If you have already made payment arrangements for your debt, and you would like those arrangements to remain in place, you do not need to contact DMC – your payment arrangement will continue.
- If you have a new VA debt, VA will temporarily stop debt collections. You don’t have to act.
- DMC will not refer delinquent debts to credit reporting agencies during the crisis.
- DMC suspended all collection action on Veteran debts under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Treasury during the crisis.
The benefits and claims relief actions included giving Veterans the option to submit their paperwork late for the following actions:
- Perfecting claims,
- Challenging adverse decisions,
- Submitting Notices of Disagreement,
- Submitting Substantive Appeals, and
- Responding to Supplemental Statements of the Case
Veterans requesting claim extensions can simply submit them with any late-filed paperwork and Veterans do not have to proactively request an extension in advance. For added convenience, VA will also accept typed/digital signatures instead of wet signatures on its forms. Those with questions can call 1-800-827-1000.
For Veterans who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and need immediate action on their appeals, as opposed to a filing extension, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals will advance their appeal on Docket (AOD). Click here to find out how to file for AOD and what documentation is required.
For questions about your VA Benefits or the status of a claim, please call 1-888-442-4551. For benefit debts, contact the VA Debt Management Center at 1-800-827-0648 to make arrangements. For health care debts, Veterans can contact the Health Resource Center at 1-888-827-4817.
Additional information, including any future updates can be found at: https://www.va.gov/debtman/.
VA has deployed a new landing page to help veterans more easily review and interact with their debt. You can find this new tool here: Manage your VA Debt.
Update: VA resumed debt collection as of January 1, 2021, but President Biden signed an executive order on January 22, 2021 that asked the VA “to consider pausing federal collections on overpayments and debts.” This section will be updated as additional details come to light.
- No debts should have been collected on January 1, 2021; This date simply marked the beginning of every veteran’s due process.
- To request relief, submit a request at: https://iris.custhelp.va.gov/app/ask/.
10. What can I do if I need emergency financial assistance?
COVID-19 is putting financial strain on many Americans. If you are a military-affiliated student struggling with financial insecurity due to the coronavirus, please consider the following resources:
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) provides the following:
“IAVA’s Quick Reaction Force (QRF), a Rapid Response Referral Program, provides confidential 24/7 peer to peer support, comprehensive care management and resource connections. To get connected to a Veteran Care Manager for immediate help anytime, day or night, please call 1-855-91-RAPID.”
Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) provides the following:
“The VFW offers a wide range of assistance programs aimed at helping veterans of every generation. Whether that means providing free, professional help filing or appealing a VA claim, offering scholarships for post-secondary education or providing emergency financial relief when times get tough, the VFW is there for America’s veterans.”
Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) provides the following:
“Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) is committing $10 million to help meet the immediate needs of warriors who are in urgent and significant financial crisis due to the loss of household income caused by the coronavirus pandemic. We are asking able companies and foundations to join the effort to support our nation’s heroes by matching the $10 million commitment.
WWP Warriors registered on or before April 8, 2020 are being asked to only apply for assistance if they absolutely need it because of financial hardships from COVID-19. It’s important to note that not all warriors will qualify for this assistance, and others who do qualify, will not receive funds once funding is exhausted.”
Institutional Emergency Aid:
Many colleges and universities are receiving funds from the federal government to provide emergency cash grants to their students during the pandemic. Each institution has their own guidelines and process for how these funds will be distributed. We encourage students to contact their school’s financial aid office, student affairs office, or academic advisor for information on if and how you can apply for this emergency aid.
11. What can I do if I’m struggling with food insecurity?
Food insecurity is a lack of access to enough food for a healthy lifestyle. Pease visit this page for more information and support.
12. Who can I talk to?
Students’ primary point of contact should be their School Certifying Official (SCO), particularly with questions and concerns about enrollment changes, certification, course changes, and payment of allowances.
Students should contact their school’s registrar’s office if they have questions about how COVID-19 is impacting upcoming terms and course offerings, class formats, and academic timelines.
For questions about emergency financial aid, students should contact their school’s financial aid office, student affairs office, or their academic advisor.
You can also contact VA’s Education Call Center to speak with a VA representative at 1-888-442-4551 or contact Student Veterans of America’s National Headquarters at [email protected].
13. What can school certifying officials do?