Senate Passes Bipartisan Tester-Moran Fix to Protect GI Bill Benefits as Universities Close Due to Coronavirus
(U.S. Senate) – The U.S. Senate tonight passed Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Jon Tester’s bipartisan bill, which would allow veterans on the GI Bill to continue receiving full benefits as universities move classes online to prevent the spread of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
The GI Bill determines student veterans’ benefits based on whether or not they attend a physical university in person versus an online program. As colleges and universities close campuses to prevent the spread of the COVID-19, veterans on the GI Bill could lose or have their benefits cut. This bill would allow these student veterans to continue to receive full benefits even if the universities they are attending decide to temporarily move classes online due to COVID-19. Tester introduced this bill last week with VA Committee Chairman Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas.
“We worked quickly to pass our bipartisan bill that will allow student veterans to receive their earned education benefits, regardless of whether their classes are online or in the classroom,” said Ranking Member Tester. “It’s critically important that we provide schools adapting an online curriculum, with the support they need to continue serving students across the country. It’s now up to the House to send this bill to the President’s desk for signature, so that we can keep students focused on their health, safety, and education.”
Tester has been leading the charge in the Senate to ensure that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is taking appropriate measures to protect veterans from coronavirus. In a letter on February 6, Tester and his colleagues called on VA to increase coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ensure that the Department be fully equipped to handle, monitor, and contain the spread of coronavirus.
He also doubled down on this effort by sending a second letter to VA on March 13, to increase the agency’s steps to increase response and preparedness, coordinate with Federal, State, and local governments, provide quality screening and health care, secure funding, and improve communication with veterans and Veterans Service Organizations.
This bill’s passage comes on the heels of the Senator’s announcement of more than $4.5 million in CDC funding for Montana to help combat the spread of the virus—appropriated by the Coronavirus supplemental package signed into law on March 6. Tester has continued to push the Trump Administration to make sure that vulnerable Montanans—in particular, seniors, folks with disabilities, and direct care providers—have access to information about test kits, proper protection and the outbreak of COVID-19. He has introduced legislation to guarantee testing for the virus will be at zero cost, and he is working to extend the IRS tax filing deadline. He has also continued his effort to ensure that the Indian Health Service is providing Tribes with access to proper resources and information.