Veterans studying online may soon receive a boost to their monthly stipend to help cover cost of living during the summer months if Rep. Juan Ciscomani is successful.
Rep. Ciscomani wants to help remove barriers for veterans taking online classes over summer months. Presently, student veterans taking only virtual coursework over the summer receive the VA stipend of $1,054.50 per month. This amount is half the national average.
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While not a big deal in areas where the cost of living is low, veterans living in areas with a high cost of living such as San Francisco and New York City frequently experience a financial hardship during summer months when they can only take online courses.
Rep. Ciscomani’s bill will at least help some veterans, and it is a good step toward normalizing benefits for veterans who are only able to attend school online. There exists a large push from supporters of brick and mortar schools to limit available resources or incentives for students utilizing online only education. Some of the limitations appear protectionist in nature that ends up financially disadvantageous to certain veterans only able to attend school online.
Online Learning VA Stipend Backstory
Online learning has been around for nearly two decades, but only recently have major brick and mortar colleges and universities seriously augmented their classrooms with some online learning and hybrid programs. But, VA stipend rates have not kept up with changes in demand for online education including higher quality of instruction and better learning management tools.
According to VA, “We’ll pay you up to $1,054.50 (equal to half the national average for MHA). This is the maximum amount we’ll pay you each month.”
Until now, Congress has not been able to successfully find a funding solution to help veterans using online learning. Veterans attending online classes frequently receive less than half the stipend amount as veterans who attend similar classes in person.
What resulted over the years is a huge disincentive for veterans to select the best learning options for them due to the monthly stipend difference. Veterans living in major cities with a high cost of living were disincentivized to receive training online.
For example, a hypothetical veteran living in San Francisco in an exclusively online training program at University of California Berkeley would only receive half the national average.
What could this look like?
Presently, that stipend difference using GI Bill numbers is $1,054.50 versus $3,585 for brick and mortar attendance at the same university. Meaning, veterans where online education is a preferred method of instruction receive less than ⅓ what is otherwise paid for brick and mortar education potentially at the same university.
This example is limited to veterans who do not attend at least one class in person during the semester.
Rep. Juan Ciscomani Needs Support
In a commendable bipartisan effort, Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-Ariz.) has taken the lead in addressing the needs of student veterans who pursue their education online during the summer semester. Last week, he introduced H.R. 5702, known as the “Expanding Access for Online Veteran Students Act,” a pivotal piece of legislation aimed at increasing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) monthly housing allowance (MHA) stipend for these dedicated individuals.
Understanding the Challenge
The crux of the issue lies in the existing disparities between housing allowances for veterans attending in-person classes versus their counterparts enrolled in virtual courses. Under the current framework, veterans attending physical classes receive the full monthly housing allowance, while those engaged in online learning receive only half of this essential benefit. This inequity has raised concerns, especially as the prevalence of virtual classes continues to grow.
Proposed Solution: H.R. 5702
Rep. Ciscomani’s proposed legislation, H.R. 5702, seeks to rectify this imbalance by boosting the monthly housing allowance for veterans who opt for online classes during the summer semester at their respective colleges or universities. By bridging the gap in benefits between in-person and online student veterans, the bill endeavors to ensure that these dedicated service members have unfettered access to the benefits they have rightfully earned.
For those interested in delving deeper into the details of this crucial legislation, the full text of H.R. 5702 is available here.
Rep. Ciscomani’s Vision
Rep. Ciscomani, a staunch advocate for veterans, expressed his unwavering commitment to this cause: “As our service members transition to civilian life and pursue educational opportunities, they should have full access to all the benefits they have rightfully earned. In response to the growing prevalence of virtual classes, this legislation seeks to eliminate the disparity in benefits between in-person and online student veterans.”
Broad Support from Veteran Service Organizations
It’s heartening to note that the Expanding Access for Online Veteran Students Act has garnered widespread support from prominent Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Student Veterans of America, and AMVETS. This broad coalition underscores the importance of addressing this issue comprehensively.
In sum, Rep. Juan Ciscomani’s bipartisan initiative, encapsulated in the Expanding Access for Online Veteran Students Act, aims to uplift the educational journey of our dedicated student veterans by ensuring that they receive equitable housing allowances. As this legislation gains momentum, it represents a crucial step toward recognizing and honoring the sacrifices made by our nation’s veterans in their pursuit of higher education.
What do you think?
Is this a step in the right direction? Or, should veterans receive ⅓ as much simply because they are better served through online education?