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August 14, 2022

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Nevada senator’s bill will close loophole in veterans’ education benefits endangered by pandemic

Senator Cortez Masto Visits Nellis AFB

Christopher DeVargas

Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto takes a tour of on-base housing for servicemembers and their families stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Friday Aug. 24, 2018.

Air Force veteran Ally Schroeder, 27, will graduate in May from UNLV with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition sciences.

She has been paying for her tuition and housing through the G.I. Bill, which has provided money toward schooling or job training to service members since the 1940s. But due to COVID-19 moving classes to a remote setting, Schroeder and other recipients of the benefit were at risk of losing half of the allowance.

Schroeder, who joined the Air Force in 2016 and served both overseas as well as at the Nellis Air Force Base as a vehicle mechanic, typically gets a monthly housing allowance of $1,674. But when classes transitioned to the online setting, the VA was set to cut her allowance to $871.

“The VA is considering that (as) distance learning, or web learning still,” Schroeder said, “so you wouldn’t get the money for that.”

Schroeder won’t have to worry about losing part of benefit moving forward, as the Responsible Education Mitigating Option and Technical Extensions (REMOTE) Act signed Tuesday by President Joe Biden ensures veterans will be able to get their full Veterans Affairs housing allowances while pursuing education during the pandemic.

“I don’t want to say that it’s, like, giving us what we earned or what we deserve, but I’m happy that the VA is able to accommodate us veterans in these situations,” Schroeder said. “We’re still being affected by it. Maybe not as directly as we were in 2020, but still to this day we’re being affected by (COVID-19), and it’s great to see that they have our back in this situation.”

Cutting the benefits would have created “extreme uncertainty” for veterans who could have been forced to abandon their education in order to make up the cost of rent or a mortgage, said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., who introduced the act in the Senate along with fellow Democrat Jon Tester of Montana.

In the 2018-19 academic year (the latest year available), there were 6,030 student veterans across the seven Nevada System of Higher Education’s institutions, according to NSHE’s Office of Academic and Student Affairs, and about 3,800 student veterans were receiving payments from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I’m a very big planner,” Schroeder said. “I have been my entire life. This has been something that’s been factored in mine and my husband’s finances. … Not having that money, I don’t bring anything in to my family at all. We’d just be living off of my husband’s salary.”

The REMOTE Act will also extend remote learning waivers and simplify the VA verification process for tuition reimbursement to minimize unnecessary paperwork. It will also fix a technical error in current law to ensure that U.S. universities, including Nevada’s colleges, can continue to recruit foreign students without losing G.I. bill funding, according to Cortez Masto’s office.

“Nevada’s student veterans who are learning remotely deserve their full VA housing benefits, and this legislation will make sure they are not unfairly penalized for pursuing their education online during the pandemic,” Cortez Masto said. “This bill becoming law means that veterans in Nevada and across the country can celebrate the holidays without worrying about how they will pay rent during their upcoming semester.”

Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Jacky Rosen of Nevada, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Mark Kelly of Arizona cosponsored the bill, which was also endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.