Student veterans looking to get their education benefits restored after an unexpected school closure would get clearer guidelines from the Department of Veterans Affairs under legislation finalized by Congress this week.
The Veterans Eligible to Transfer School Credit Act was approved by House lawmakers in May and finalized by the Senate this week. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the measure into law later this month.
Under current law, students attending a school that suddenly shuts down can have their full Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits restored if they transfer to another college or university with fewer than 12 class credits. If they have 12 or more, they are eligible only for the remainder of their education payouts.
But veterans advocates said the process as it stands is confusing, because VA officials do not provide explanations of how much of the GI Bill benefit is available until after students enroll at a new school.
“VA should not be making it harder for student veterans to use their benefits and get back on track to their educational goals with unnecessary requirements,” said Will Hubbard, vice president for veterans and military policy at Veterans Education Success.
“VA should be finding ways to ease the burden of veterans coming from a school closure situation instead of adding statutorily unsupported hurdles.”
The new legislation, sponsored by Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., allows students at closed schools to sign a declaration stating that they understand they cannot receive full restoration of their GI Bill benefits if they transfer 12 or more credits.
In turn, VA officials will take that memo as proof that the veterans are eligible for full GI Bill benefits. Instead of waiting to apply for restoration after enrolling at another school, the students can move ahead with a clear indication of the benefits still available to them.
VA officials had resisted the change in the past, but the legislation overrides their objections.
The move is not expected to add any cost to VA operations, since the legislation only clarifies student benefit eligibility and does not alter student status.
Congressional Budget Office analysts do not have an estimate of how many veterans may be affected by the move, but several high-profile schools with students using the GI Bill — including Stratford University, Quest College and Cazenovia College — have closed in the last year alone.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.