The latest version of the Post-9/11 GI Bill – GI Bill 2.0 – offers expanded benefits, especially for online students. Distant learners, as they are referred to by VA policy, were previously excluded from receiving the living (housing stipend) stipend unless they enrolled in at least one course per term in a classroom setting. Many veterans who desired to take 100 percent of their classes online were upset by this rule. Some took the obligatory single course in the classroom to get the stipend. Many chose not to enroll at all.
Starting next fall, Post-9/11 GI Bill eligible veterans will be able to get a monthly living stipend without having to take traditional classroom courses. The stipend for online students will be significantly different from the traditional classroom student version. Online students will get half of the national average stipend (average Basic Allowance for Housing for an E-5 with Dependents). For example a full-time student who is taking 100 percent of his or her classes online will get $673.50 a month, while a full-time student taking at least one classroom course will get the full stipend rate based on the specific location of the school.
As a former online student, I can say that this is better than nothing. In fact, a school official told me that a large percentage of his students planned to drop their classroom courses and attend online only due to this change.
Of course nothing is without cost and legislation is no different. Congress is bound by a pay-as-you-go rule which means that the costs of any program like the Post-9/11 GI Bill 2.0 must be offset by new taxes or reductions in other areas. To help cover the cost of the GI Bill reforms, Congress chose to end the practice of paying benefits during school-breaks and changed the formula for the housing stipend payment rate.
Changes to Stipend Payment Formula – Veterans currently enrolled at a rate of better than half-time receive a full living stipend check. However, beginning October 1, 2011, the housing stipend will be prorated based on the student’s rate of pursuit. For example, a student enrolled at ¾ time will get ¾ of their living stipend – based on the location of their school. The new prorating factor applies to online students as well.
The reforms offer more veterans expanded options and opportunities to take vocational training, flight school, numerous certification exams, stipends for online learners, and the ability to tap into the VA’s OJT and Apprenticeship program.
Many of us who supported and pushed for GI Bill reform are disappointed that some vets will lose so others may gain. Which was exactly what the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs was trying to avoid.
Hopefully continued pressure from veterans will force the 112th Congress to continue forward on the ground work laid by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs last year.