Out of nearly 3,000 colleges across the country, 40% re-opened for spring semester primarily online while only 2% were fully in person as of January 2021iv. This high rate of online courses not only demonstrates the ability for students to adapt to new modes of learning but also makes way of a subset of the population that will continue to opt for online learning after COVID-19. To prepare for this wave of online learning, we recommend Congress consider changing Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) rules to accommodate distance learning as a norm.
According to Accenture Higher Education research, 33% of enrollment in higher education pre-COVID-19 was online or hybrid. Said another way – education was already shifting towards virtual, with or without the nudge from the pandemic. Proclivity for virtual classrooms is especially true for non-traditional students, who – without more flexible modalities of education – lose access to education as they strive to balance the competing demands of work, family, and school. As Veterans and their spouse beneficiaries tend to be non-traditional students, support for online learning would have a direct impact for them. For example, prior to COVID-19, GI Bill students were paid MHA for online courses at half the national average for MHA. Since COVID-19, legislation has been passed to pay the in-person rate for any courses that were converted from in-person to online due to COVID-19, through December 2021. If this rule was extended to all online courses, even once we claim victory over the COVID-19 pandemic, it would help meet the growing demand for online education. This shift towards online learning has created uncertainty and complexity for Veterans around both housing payments and program eligibilityv. As participation in non-traditional programs, such as Coursera, increases, VA has the opportunity consider putting these programs through the process of becoming GI Bill-approved. Through aggressive advocacy with education institutions and industry to reinforce the benefits of non-traditional programs and the approval of these programs for GI Bill funding, VA can be proactive in making the next generation of education opportunities available to Veterans who, paired with skills gained in the military, are uniquely positioned to succeed through these types of programs.
Nearly 5.5M Vietnam-era Veterans are at or approaching retirement agevi. With the next wave of aging Veteran population entering long-term facilities, we recommend that Congress and VA consider capital investments in State Veterans Homes to better prepare for future outbreaks and provide innovative modes of care delivery that address the social determinants of health.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 hit elderly populations particularly hard. In addition to increased health risks, COVID-19 demonstrated that State Veterans Homes were especially ill-prepared to react to a health crisis, attributed to limited oversight, public health reporting, and PPEvii. As part of budget considerations, VA could consider making capital investments geared at addressing Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services-identified deficiencies, enabling telehealth visits, and addressing the social determinants of health.* While these homes are run by each respective state, increased oversight and investment would create conditions to better prepare for future outbreaks. Capitalizing off the blended care model VA implemented at the onset of COVID-19, VA can extend the same approach employed at VA hospitals to State VA Homes. For example, VA’s partnerships with both Verizon and AT&T to provide a 5G network to hospitals represent a benchmark for future partnerships, and harness a wealth of data that can inform improved care and reporting. Additionally, in 2020, VA facilitated more than 5.6M telehealth experiences, reaching 79% more Veterans through virtual care than in 2019 viii. If VA extended support for State VA Homes to benefit from the same technologies, telehealth visits could help reduce feelings of isolation among Veterans, addressing both medical care and mental care. Not only does this improve outcomes for Veterans by addressing the individual environmental conditions that affect health risks and outcomes, it empowers Veterans to play a more active role in their own care.
As the Administration takes steps to build back better, Veterans play a key role in contributing to the economy. emphasized through the GI Bill, entrepreneurship, and other means. Research shows that just a 1% increase in GI Bill usage yields immediate national outcomes, including a $2.82B increase in GDP and 26K people lifted out of poverty. VA has an opportunity not only to aid our country’s economic recovery from this pandemic, but to rebuild it with improved services. Through bold action, innovative ideas, and fierce advocacy, the incoming VA appointees and committee members can take steps to boost economic impact and put Veterans at the forefront of solutions – driving outcomes for Veterans and their families, and our country as a whole.
Economic impact of the GI Bill
The GI Bill has a transformative impact. Research shows that just a 1% increase in GI Bill usage yields immediate national outcomes, including: