VA Will Give Extra Cash to Those Affected by GI Bill Housing Changes

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Airman Dalton Shank, 5th Bomb Wing public affairs specialist, reads pamphlets on the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., on March 10, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Alyssa M. Akers)
Airman Dalton Shank, 5th Bomb Wing public affairs specialist, reads pamphlets on the Montgomery GI Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., on March 10, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Alyssa M. Akers)

About 250,000 veterans affected by a new reduction in GI Bill Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) payments could receive extra cash for one school term, thanks to a "relief" program offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Student veterans who might qualify for the relief payout were sent an email notice Jan. 22 about the change.

"You are receiving this email because we have identified you as someone impacted by our recent implementation of changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA)," the email, provided to Military.com by the VA, said. "Some GI Bill students may realize a decrease in their MHA because of these changes, and VA is offering these impacted individuals the opportunity to apply for one-time relief to aid in their transition and financial planning to a lower MHA.

"When relief is granted in these circumstances, VA will pay the difference between the previous MHA payment, and the new MHA payment to individuals verified by VA to have been affected by the change for the first affected term."

To be paid the different, qualifying students need to fill out a special waiver request, the email states.

Monthly Housing Allowance Changes

Since its implementation, the GI Bill Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) has been based on the military's Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). This worked well when the Post-9/11 GI Bill began, but there was a little-noticed provision in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act that reduced BAH payments to cover 95% of a service member's housing costs instead of 100%.

The legislation didn't affect the GI Bill MHA rate, however, which meant MHA was actually higher than BAH. Lawmakers decided to change that in 2017, when the Forever GI Bill realigned GI Bill MHA payments with military BAH.

The Forever GI Bill states that anyone who first uses their benefits on or after Jan. 1, 2018, will get the new, lower MHA. Those who used their GI Bill before that date are grandfathered in and receive the higher MHA rate -- unless they change schools or have a break in classes of at least six months.

The law also states that GI Bill MHA will now be paid based on the location of the campus where you attend the majority of your classes. Previously, MHA was paid based on the location of the main campus. So, depending on your situation, your housing allowance may increase or decrease.

Delay in Implementation Caused Overpayments

These changes were supposed to go into effect Aug. 1, 2018; however, the VA had problems updating its computer systems in time, so they weren't implemented until Dec. 1, 2019. As a result, more than 300,000 veterans were underpaid. These veterans will get lump-sum payments to make up the difference.

VA executives testified to Congress several times that those veterans who were overpaid due to the delay in implementing the law won't have to repay the government.

Up to 250,000 veterans who were overpaid as a result of the change in the law will have their debts automatically waived by the VA and are eligible for the one term relief payment of their MHA at the old, higher rate. According to the VA, this will help affected students adjust their budgets to the new lower payment amounts.

If you think you may be affected by this change in the law, you should contact the VA Education Service at 888-442-4551.

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