Should the VA should change its policy of paying full BAH to Post 9/11 GI Bill eligible veterans only if they are taking more than 50% of their course work in a resident or face-to-face mode per term? In my humble opinion, they should.
First, the policy is prejudicial to the veteran who prefers to earn their post-secondary credential through online learning, rather than having to commit to a daily, weekly class schedule at a resident campus.
The current policy of the VA regarding the payment of BAH benefits for veterans opting to study in a totally online program is the VA will only pay veterans one-half the national average BAH rate, or $783. Veterans opting to study at a college campus receive full BAH based on an E-5 with dependents, and the zip-code of the institution they are attending.
So, with this in mind, here is a scenario to illustrate how the policy is prejudicial.
Two veteran-students, each married, with one child and renting a 3-bedroom apartment. Their wives work and make about $1,500 per month. For discussion sake, the veterans will be attending a college located in the New Haven/Fairfield, CT CT051 Military Housing Area. Each have the same household and life expenses.
Veteran 1 is opting to attend an actual campus, as a commuting student. Based on the current BAH rates, this veteran-student would receive $2,748 for their housing allowance.
Veteran 2 has opted to take their courses entirely online at the same school. Based on the VA policy, this veteran-student will only receive $783 for their housing allowance. This is a difference of $1,966 less per month in benefits paid! This simply is not fair.
A tremendous amount of research has been conducted on the issues facing transitioning veterans from military service to the college environment. The majority of the research found that many veterans find attending class at an actual campus very stressful. Additionally, they find it difficult to relate to their classmates, who are the in most cases, younger than they are and straight out of high school. The research also indicated that many of the veteran-students would rather study online due to the greater flexibility of online programs, and simply because they are not tied to the classroom at fixed time. However, due to the reduction in the BAH payment, they are forced to attend in a resident mode.
The current policy regarding the payment of BAH to veterans who are studying entirely online is not only prejudicial to them, it places them into a situation where they have to possibly seek employment in which to have enough money to live. It also forces veterans into having to study in an environment that is not conducive to their overall well being.
The DoD MOU, Executive Order 13607, and the 8 Keys of Veteran Success have leveled the playing field for institutions of higher education and have set the framework to ensure that all servicemembers, veterans, and military dependents have the opportunity of earning their college degree from the institution of their choice. The payment of VA benefits to veteran-students should be equal, regardless of how the veteran choose to learn.
In a future post, we will discuss the actual differences in payments and explore how the VA may be paying more for resident based educational programs than online programs.