The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing last month to consider the views of several witnesses called to testify with regard to the proposed bill from Committee Chair Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), designed to address defects in and offer curative ammendments to the original Post 9/11 GI Bill.
“Since the original legislation did not have the usual vetting by the [Senate Veterans Affairs] Committee, it has come to light that there are number of provisions in need of modification," Senator Akaka said. "Keeping in mind that the goal is to have a streamlined program—for beneficiaries and administrators—a number of improvements are also in order so that benefits are delivered in a timely, accurate, and equitable way.”
One provision in the original 9/11 GI Bill denied Veterans who elect to study at a distance education institution the monthly living allowance that is given to Veterans who study at fixed facility institutions. This can amount to as much as $1300 per month more given to students attending resident colleges.
This discriminatory provision is widely viewed in the Veterans’ Community as being very unfair to online students, and Sen. Akaka has proposed to add at least some monthly living stipend for online students. It is no accident that more than 70% of the DoD’s Tuition Assistance funding for voluntary education goes to online learning students, yet the GI Bill ignores this fact and instead tries to steer Veterans to abandoning online learning as an option. Caught up in this unfair situation are many hundreds if not thousands of homebound vets, some of whom are severely wounded.
Here is an excerpt from testimony to the Senate Committee submitted by Tim Embree of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) on why the GI Bill needs to be amended to provide online students equal treatment. Embree's testimony is a moving reminder of why we are here as distance educators:
Many disabled veterans and single mothers are attending online courses to achieve their dream of a college degree. But, under the current rules, even if they are taking a full course load, they do not qualify to receive the New GI Bill’s substantial monthly living allowance. If these veterans were able to take just one course at a local college, they would qualify for the full living allowance. Yet enrolling in a course at a brick-and-mortar institution is nearly impossible for a single mother simultaneously struggling to keep food on the table, for example, or for a disabled veteran who cannot navigate a flight of stairs without assistance. A living allowance for students of online institutions would stop many veterans from having to choose between keeping a roof over a family’s head and concentrating on being a successful student. The allowance would enable them to provide for their families while increasing their future earning potential through education. The New GI Bill was supposed to encourage student veterans to focus on their education and not their financial situation—but without the New GI Bill 2.0 upgrade, student veterans pursuing degrees through distance learning are left out in the cold.
IAVA member Specialist (SPC) Weaver was awarded a bronze star for his meritorious service during two tours in Iraq. He is currently at home recovering from the fractured spine he sustained after being ejected from a moving vehicle. SPC Weaver suffers from vertigo, hearing problems and loss of mobility. Despite his injuries, SPC Weaver still dreams of completing his education and has been looking to attend college online, where he can complete his degree at his own pace. In spite of his service, SPC Jeffrey Weaver cannot benefit from the New GI Bill in its current form.
This seems quite absurd as it is fact that many service disabled veterans are undergoing treatments and have special needs. Although I am not totally disabled, because of my current conditions, it would be nearly impossible to collect on the Post-9/11 GI Bill entitlements. This seems to be an issue we need to raise to Congress.
IAVA Technical Recommendations: A student veteran pursuing a degree through a distance program should qualify for a living allowance based on the zip code of his or her residence. Or, at the very least, the living allowance should be set at the lowest Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rate for an E-5 pay grade, with dependents. This adjustment would be an increase of about $140 over the currently purposed rate.
You can visit the committee’s website to see details on the hearing, as well as a video of the proceedings.
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