Because of continued information technology difficulties with implementing sections 107 and 501 of the Harry W. Colmery Educational Assistance Act of 2017 (Forever GI Bill), both of which change the way monthly housing allowance payments are calculated, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has directed Under Secretary for Benefits Paul R. Lawrence to take the following actions:
- Effective Dec. 1, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) will reset its implementation efforts for sections 107 and 501 of the law to give the department the time, contracting support and resources necessary to develop the capability to process Spring 2020 enrollments in accordance with the law by Dec. 1, 2019.
- This includes soliciting bids from contractors for support in the areas of program integration, systems implementation, and software development.
- During this time, VBA will pay monthly housing allowance rates for the Post-9/11 GI Bill at the current academic year uncapped Department of Defense (DoD) Basic Housing Allowance (BAH) rates.
- For many students, this DoD BAH rate will be equal to or higher than their current payment.
- VBA will also correct retroactively any underpayments.
- If a student was overpaid due to the change in law or because of VBA’s challenges in implementing the law, the student will not be held liable for the debt.
- Also, for the current academic year (2018-2019), VBA will pay housing allowances based on the location of a school’s main campus, rather than the physical location of the student.
- This interim policy will terminate by Dec. 1, 2019, upon implementation of a fully developed IT solution for sections 107 and 501 of the law.
- Finally, VBA will define a training site as a “campus” when the following conditions are true: the physical site of the training is either owned or leased by the school, and the school has ownership or control over the student’s classroom instruction or the faculty conducting the instruction. This approach reduces the administrative burden for schools and students from VBA’s initial interpretation of the law.
As these changes are implemented, VBA will remain in continuous contact with Veterans, Congress, Veterans Service Organizations and other stakeholders to ensure everyone is informed and knows what to expect.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should beneficiaries do now?
Students can benefit from planning ahead of time, enrolling early, staying in contact with their School Certifying Officials, and avoiding changes in their schedules once enrolled.
If students do drop/add hours, they should immediately contact their School Certifying Official to mitigate potential overpayment.
Students can expect payments to be in line with normal processing times and VA will continue to pay students based on the location of the institution’s main campus.
VA will provide beneficiaries with housing benefits at the current academic year uncapped DoD BAH rate for an E-5 with dependents.
VA made this decision because it allows the department to update the housing rates, and is in line with what most students should be receiving each month. VA will not inconvenience any student by collecting any overpayments.
The anticipated workload for the spring is normal, and VA is positioned to complete the work within its timeliness standards.
What should schools do now?
School Certifying Officials can submit enrollment documents as early as 6-months in advance, and we are encouraging certifying officials to submit enrollment documents as soon as they are available.
VA will not require schools to resubmit enrollments for terms that started prior to the IT solution.
What is VA doing to communicate these changes to students and schools?
VA will be communicating these changes with a multi-faceted approach:
- VBA is sending an email to student Veterans
- The Post-9/11 GI Bill and VBA social media accounts will be publishing links to this update and FAQ for its more than 650,000 combined followers
- VBA is notifying the 35,000+ School Certifying Officials and higher education leadership teams, as well as the state approving agencies and national school associations.
Why didn’t VA update the rates in August?
Initially, VA scheduled the annual updates for release at the same time as the IT solution for the Sections 107 and 501 of the Colmery Act. Since the IT solution deployment did not occur at that time, VA did not update the rates in August.
What is the difference between the 2017 and 2018 housing rates?
On average, approximately one percent.
How did the housing rates change?
Prior to the passage of the Colmery Act, Post-9/11 GI Bill MHA payments were based on the DoD BAH rates for an E-5 with dependents at the location of the main campus of the school. DoD assesses BAH rates every January 1, and reports them to VA; VA then calculates the VA rate (typically about one percent higher than the DoD rates effective August 1 of the same year).
Section 501 of the Colmery Act removes the exemption and aligns MHA with DoD’s BAH. However, VA is delaying implementation of this provision until Spring 2020.
What types of claims are affected?
All Post-9/11 GI Bill claims associated with a housing allowance will be impacted by these changes.
What is VA doing to avoid/mitigate the peak enrollment delays that occurred in Fall 2018?
For the Fall 2018 term, VA asked schools to hold enrollments that would have been affected by the implementation of Section 107. When VA asked schools to submit those enrollments in July, it caused a significant increase in the pending workload and took approximately eight weeks to return to typical processing times.
VA is asking schools to submit enrollments as soon as possible for the Spring 2019 term. The anticipated workload for the Spring is normal, and VA is positioned to complete the work within its timeliness standards.
Will VA provide students with any assistance if I have a hardship?
If a student experiences financial hardship due to a delay in payment, we ask that they contact the Education Call Center at 888-442-4551 between 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. Central Time, Monday-Friday. VA will expedite any hardship request.
For more information, visit the GI Bill website at https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/.