Special COVID-19 rules extended to December 21, 2021.
From the beginning of COVID-19, we have been working with Congress to preserve GI Bill® benefits for those of you impacted by COVID-19. Since the Spring of 2020, a series of laws were enacted giving VA certain authorities to continue payment of education benefits and Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) to GI Bill students during the COVID-19 emergency. These laws enhance and expand benefits for GI Bill beneficiaries who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19.
What does this mean? In summary, these special COVID-19 laws mean 1) VA will continue to pay your education benefits (including MHA) at the resident rate in situations where your in-resident training was converted to online training because of COVID-19 and 2) You may be eligible to receive continuation of certain education benefits through December 21, 2021, if you or your school were negatively affected by COVID-19.
Q1) My school changed my program from resident classes to online classes. Will VA still pay my GI Bill benefits and MHA?
If your school converts your approved resident (physically in-person) training course to online training (distance learning) due to COVID-19, your benefits will not change.
This applies to students currently enrolled in approved courses and students who are planning to enroll in courses. In order to receive your MHA at the resident rate, you must be enrolled in “converted courses” at a rate of pursuit greater than 50%. Keep in mind, the law only authorizes VA to pay GI Bill MHA payments for converted courses at the resident rate from March 1, 2020, to December 21, 2021.
Note: “Resident” classes refer to classes taken physically in person. Classes using video conferencing technology, for example, are still considered “online learning/training.” A “converted course” is a course which your school previously offered as resident training prior to COVID-19, but now is an approved course that is offered online due to COVID-19.
For example: If you are a Post-9/11 GI Bill student currently enrolled in an approved resident class, but your school converts your program to online or distance learning because of COVID-19, you will not see reduced MHA payments and will continue to receive the resident housing rate while you are enrolled.
Q2) I’m currently enrolled in programs that have always been online, even before COVID-19. Does that mean I will also be able to receive GI Bill benefits at the resident rate?
No, only enrolling in classes that were previously approved resident (physically in-person) classes that transitioned to online learning, due to COVID-19 restrictions, allows you to receive the resident rate. Online classes need to be officially approved by the State Approving Agency (SAA) to be considered a “converted course.” Check with your School Certifying Official (SCO) or school to see if they have an updated list of approved classes.
Q3) What if I am new student? Can I still receive MHA if I am taking classes that were converted to online due to COVID-19?
VA will pay your MHA benefits at the resident rate if you are a new student taking approved courses that were officially converted to online due to COVID-19. While there is no requirement that you have a history of taking resident courses at your school, you must be enrolled, at a rate of pursuit of greater than 50% in a converted course, to receive your MHA at the resident rate.
Note: A “converted course” is a course which your school previously offered as resident training prior to COVID-19, but now is an approved course that is offered online due to COVID-19.
Q4) My school temporarily closed because of COVID-19. What does that mean for my education benefits?
If your school closed (temporarily or permanently) due COVID-19 on or after March 1, 2020 or took any of the actions listed below, you may be eligible to receive your MHA (and eligible Kicker payments) at your original rate prior to the closure or enrollment change for up to a total of four weeks. This only applies during the period beginning on March 1, 2020 and ending on December 21, 2021. School actions include:
● closed (temporarily or permanently)
● reduced the number of credit hours you could attend
● shortened semesters periods
● was delayed
● converted to online training
● disapproved or canceled a program
● modified or made a program unavailable due to COVID-19 after March 1, 2020
If your school took any of the actions mentioned above and you were not previously paid at your original rate for up to four weeks, you will receive a letter from VA updating you of any changes related to your benefits. Additionally, it is important to note that your entitlement will only be charged against your actual rate of pursuit.
For example: In April 2020, you were enrolled in university full-time, taking 12 credits, and receiving your MHA at a 100% rate of pursuit. You were taking a 3-credit lab course as required by your degree, but because of COVID-19 restrictions, your school cancelled all in-person classes. As a result, your lab was cancelled, dropping your credit hours to 9 and rate of pursuit to 75%. Because of this new law, you are eligible to receive up to a total of 4 additional weeks of MHA at the 100% original rate of pursuit.
Q5) If I am unable to attend school due to COVID-19, but my school is in session, will I still receive my education benefits?
This situation may create a prorated tuition and fees debt and a housing overpayment for you. If you do receive an overpayment and incur a debt, you can submit a waiver request when you are notified of that debt. VA does also provide additional support to students who owe debts (see Question 8 for additional information).
Q6) As I prepare for classes in the 2021 calendar year, what do I need to know?
Special COVID-19 legislation protects and expands some of your GI Bill education benefits during the period beginning on March 1, 2020, and ending on December 21, 2021. Here are some things to know:
Q7) My school has changed its term length due to COVID-19 and my classes are ending earlier than originally planned. How does that impact my MHA?
If your school’s term length is shortened due to COVID-19, your MHA is prorated based on the number of days in the month that you are attending classes. However, if your school closes earlier than expected due to COVID-19, you may be eligible to receive your MHA at the original rate (rate before the closure) for up to an additional four weeks.
For example: Your courses’ end of term date was originally set for December 15 but are now set to end November 30 due to COVID-19. If the next term doesn’t start until January, this would mean you could receive MHA payments through December 15, the original end of the term.
Q8) What if I’m experiencing a financial hardship due to COVID-19 and owe a debt to VA, is there any relief for me?
VA’s Debt Management Center (DMC) suspended sending debt notification letters until September 30, 2021. You can request temporary collection suspension of preexisting debt or arrange for extended repayment plans.
DMC encourages Veterans and family members affected by COVID-19 who have a VBA benefit and need temporary financial relief to contact the DMC at 1-800-827-0648 to request assistance. You may be able to establish an extended repayment plan without the submission of additional financial documentation. This debt relief flyer has additional information.
If you have questions about your specific circumstance, please contact the Education Call Center at: 1-888-442-4551 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday-Friday, or submit your question electronically. Students and School Certifying Officials calling from outside the United States can call 001-918-781-5678 during business hours, 8 a.m. - 7 p.m. EST Monday - Friday. This is not a toll-free number, but the caller will be routed to the next available customer service representative.
Q9) What happens when my school’s resident lab portion of a course is canceled or marked as incomplete due to COVID-19 and the school does not allow me to move to the next class in the degree program (i.e., I need to complete Organic Chemistry 1 lab before I can enroll in Organic Chemistry 2 next semester)?
VA lacks authority to handle these situations in any special way due to COVID-19. VA has instructed schools to follow their “Incomplete Grade” policy and apply that procedure, if applicable. When the school is eventually able to continue training, you will be allowed to complete the lab portion without any further reporting requirements to VA. However, if the discontinued class is a prerequisite to future classes, you cannot enroll in the next sequential required class until the pre-requisite is complete. If your school doesn’t have an “Incomplete Grade” policy, the school should withdraw you from the class based on your last date of attendance.
Q10) I have been enrolled full-time since January 2020, but COVID-19 disrupted my plans to stay enrolled full-time. Do any special circumstances apply to the education benefits I receive?
VA will continue to pay your MHA (and qualifying Kicker payment) at the full-time rate for any subsequent enrollments between March 1, 2020 and December 21, 2021 if your school closed, fully or partially cancelled your program, or your program was disapproved because the course was modified due to COVID-19, and you were enrolled as a full-time student on or as of March 1, 2020.
For example: You were enrolled in school full-time at the beginning of 2020. In April 2020, some of your classes were canceled due to COVID-19. For the remainder of the Spring semester and for the Fall semester you continued training, but only at a 50% rate of pursuit. Because you were enrolled full-time as of March 1, 2020, you can continue to receive your MHA at the full-time rate while enrolled in any institution between March 1, 2020 and December 21, 2021.
Note: Your entitlement will only be charged against your actual rate of pursuit.
Q11) COVID-19 changed my plans for pursuing my education. Has anything changed to expand education benefits available to me?
If you are a Veteran using your GI Bill benefits (Montgomery Bill, Post-9/11, or VR&E), the expiration date of your benefits will automatically be extended 661 days if your school closed (temporarily or permanently) due to COVID-19.
Note: If you are a Veteran who was released from Active Duty on or after January 1, 2013, you are a surviving spouse using Fry Scholarship benefits, or you are a surviving child using Fry Scholarship benefits based on a death occurring on or after January 1, 2013, there is no limitation for the use of your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
If you are a child using transferred benefits, your expiration date cannot be automatically extended 661 days but rather will be extended for the period of time you are prevented from training as a result of the closure.
For example: You were released from Active Duty on January 1, 2010 and were using your GI Bill benefits to attend university between March 1, 2020 and December 21, 2021. Due to COVID-19 your school closed temporarily from April-May 2020. Because the pursuit of your education was negatively impacted by COVID-19, your GI Bill benefits are automatically extended for an additional 661 days. Your previous expiration date was January 1, 2025 (15 years from your discharge date); it will now be October 24, 2026.
Q12) Will 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 due to COVID-19?
It depends on your school’s grading policy. You will need to check with your SCO to confirm. However, rules regarding failing grades have not changed with this COVID-19 legislation.
Q13) What happens if my On-the-Job Training (OJT) or Apprenticeship establishment changes to online and remains open, but I can’t work because I was furloughed? What if it temporarily ceases the trainee program training due to COVID-19?
VA will pay your MHA based on the maximum hours offered by your program if your OJT or apprenticeship program has reduced the number of hours you are able to work due to COVID-19 and you are no longer able to fulfill the 120-hour requirement. Your rate of pursuit and MHA will be calculated based on the number of hours you are offered to work. Additionally, you can now roll over any hours worked in excess of 120 from one month to the next.
For example: Your employer could only offer you 60 hours of work due to COVID-19, and you are only able to work 50 of those hours. Because of this new law, you will still be paid your MHA the same way as if you had worked 100 of 120 hours offered (applying the same ratio of hours worked to total hours offered).
Below are a few additional things to know:
Q14) What should I know if I am participating in Work Study?
The new laws allow VA to continue to pay the Work Study allowance at the full-rate of 25 hours per week for students who were already participating in a Work Study program on March 1, 2020, even if the student is unable to work those hours due to COVID-19. These students are allowed to extend their Work Study contracts and continue to participate in the Work Study program through the Fall semester only.
For students who began a new Work Study contract after March 1, 2020, VA is unable to continue paying work study benefits for the periods in which the student is unable to perform qualifying Work Study activities, even if due to COVID-19.
Q15. Where should School Certifying Officials (SCO) go if they have questions?
Check out our SCO-specific COVID-19 FAQ page.