Congress Blocks Reduced Housing Allowance for Student Veterans

Airman learning online.

Veterans going to school on the GI Bill will not be affected by lower basic housing allowances that Congress imposed on active-duty troops, thanks to eleventh-hour lobbying efforts by two House committees and veterans' service organizations.

Without the provision, student vets would have seen their housing assistance lowered because their housing stipends are tied to the Basic Allowance for Housing rates of the active duty force.

"We set up literally until midnight with both committees to wall [the BAH rates] off from each other," said Steve Gonzalez, assistant director for The American Legion's Veterans Employment & Education Division in Washington, DC. "Right now you have a BAH number that only corresponds to the GI Bill and BAH that only corresponds to the active duty military."

Gonzalez said the fix is only temporary, however, and the Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars -- which also took part in the last-minute lobbying -- will begin working with the new Congress next week on a permanent solution.

The groups worked with the House Veterans Affairs Committee and House Armed Services Committee to get the language inserted into the National Defense Authorization Act, he said.

The Senate committees were not involved at all even though they agreed with the final version of the bill that included the temporary fix, Gonzalez said.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee had been pushing legislation to exempt veterans from a 1 percent cut in the active duty BAH rate. The Defense Department sought the reduction as a cost-savings measure, apparently giving little thought to its impact on student veterans. 

Veterans in school under the Post 9/11 GI Bill receive monthly housing allowances that are tied to the active duty BAH. The amount is based on the BAH rate for an E-5 with dependents and will go up or down each year in accordance with housing costs across the country.

Because housing costs vary from place to place, the allowances do as well.

For example, the current BAH for an E-5 with dependents at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, is $1,560. For an E-5 assigned to the Pentagon, the allowance is $2,175, according to the Defense Department's calculator.

The BAH reduction for service members will mean a loss of about $187 for an E-5 stationed at Fort Sam Houston, and about $261 for an E-5 assigned to the Pentagon. The amounts are relatively small but collectively represent millions in savings for the Pentagon.

The Pentagon originally asked for a 5 percent reduction to BAH over three years, but lawmakers backed off on that against pressure from veterans groups and military associations that lobbied on behalf of the active duty service members.

Bryant Jordan can be reached at

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