What You Need to Know About the Shutdown and Your Education Benefits

Since the Government shutdown, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has been relying on carryover funding to continue activities during the lapse in appropriations. However, at the close of business Monday, October 7 all of VBA’s carryover funding was exhausted. Beginning Tuesday, October 8, over 7,000 VBA employees will be put into furlough status and a number of services will be suspended, including: the Education Call Center; personal interviews and hearings at regional offices; educational and vocational counseling; outreach activities and programs, including those conducted at military facilities; and VetSuccess on Campus.

As Congress remains gridlocked, our Veteran Transition Managers here at IAVA have been continually fielding calls and emails concerning the benefits that our community fought for and earned. Many of the concerns surround VA education benefits, namely the Post-9/11 GI Bill. In fact, inquiries have tripled since the shutdown last week. Within the past few days, we have verified that all payments for the month of October are already out and in the hands of veterans and their families. However, the VA has announced that if the shutdown lasts longer than 2 – 3 weeks, they might not have enough cash on hand to pay benefits in November.

Furthermore, DoD education benefits are being affected as well. If you are currently serving, have been approved for classes and Tuition Assistance (TA), and have started classes before the shutdown, the DoD will continue to pay benefits. No new requests are being accepted for TA at this time, and until the shutdown is resolved.

Many of the calls we are receiving concern the Monthly Living Allowance. Though payments have been approved for October, many veterans and family members are concerned about the amounts of their checks this month. It is important to note that there are several reasons for smaller payments, especially at the beginning of a new semester.

First, all benefits are prorated for a student’s rate of pursuit or number of classes relative to what is considered full-time for that institution. So part-time students will have their living allowance prorated based on how many classes they are taking. For example, a student who is taking 7 credits at a school that considers 12 credits full time, that student will receive 60% of the normal living allowance rate. In order to receive any percentage of the allowance, students must be enrolled at least 1 credit hour above half time, and must not currently be on active duty orders. See what percentage of benefits you should receive by visiting our FAQs.

Exclusively online students (or distance learners) also only qualify for a lower living allowance (approximately $714/month). However, a student only needs to take one class in residence (in an actual classroom) to qualify for the full living allowance. Furthermore, Veterans who have served less than three years on active duty since September 10, 2001 only qualify for a percentage of the living allowance benefits under thePost-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33). Check out our eligibility requirements for more information. Thus, if there is a change in your enrollment from last semester to this, payments will be affected accordingly.

At the beginning and ending of a semester, the most common reason a check may be less than one’s regular monthly rate, is that checks are prorated based on the number of days in the month for which you are enrolled.

For example, your full time rate is $800.00; however your term starts on August 19th and continues through December 14th. Payment for the month of August would include the 19th to the end of the month. (All months are based on 30 days, so months with more or less than 30 days would not affect the rate). Thus your payment for the month of August would be approximately $320.00. Payments for September, October, and November would be $800.00 each month and payment for December would be approximately $373.36 (prorated from the 1st to the 14th).

Once your school receives the Certificate of Eligibility (COE)—verifying your eligibility for the benefits, they must enter your information for class enrollment and submit it to the VA for processing. Generally, because the VA is overwhelmed during these times, it could take up to 6-weeks to process a new enrollment, which is why it is important to submit your applications as soon as you know you will be going back to school (paperwork is processed in order by the date received). Given the shutdown, further processing of new claims may be delayed. Once that Certificate is in your school’s hands, and they have your enrollment information, you will generally receive payment from the VA within two weeks of notification from the school. Most importantly, for the beneficiary’s sake, payments are made for the prior month’s training and are paid at the end of each month.

Here at IAVA, we continue to urge Congress to get back to work and ensure they don’t leave our veterans behind and footing the bill for their promised education.

Stay tuned at IAVA.org to learn more about the shutdown as Congress continues to drag their feet. Also, if you have further questions about your benefits, check us out at NewGIBill.org and ask a question or calculate your benefits.

Ryan Weemer is a USMC Iraq war veteran and the Veteran Transition Manager - Education for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).