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Kilili veterans bill added to House-passed coronavirus act

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (Office of the CNMI Congressional Delegate) — Veterans in a vocational rehabilitation and education program would be protected, if their school is unable to transition to online learning during the coronavirus, under terms of legislation introduced by U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan and passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday. Kilili’s bill was added to the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, a bill with multiple provisions to help veterans keep their benefits intact if the coronavirus pandemic disrupts their education.

“We cannot let any student veterans lose their work-study payments, have their housing cut off, exhaust their disaster housing stipend continuation payments, or lose their benefits due to school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic,” said House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-California.

Takano’s Republican counterpart on the committee, ranking member Phil Roe, M.D. of Tennessee, recalled his own experience using veterans benefits after his military service. “I know firsthand how important the GI Bill is since I relied on it to put food on the table for my family after I got out of the Army,” Dr. Roe said. “With so many veterans struggling because of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has never been more important than it is now to make sure the GI Bill is there for them, just like it was there for me.”

Sablan’s bill, H.R. 6262, is also bipartisan. Republican Michael Bost joined Sablan in introducing the measure, which amends title 38 of the U.S. Code to restore entitlement to rehabilitation programs for veterans affected by school closures or disapprovals.

“My bill allows the Veterans Administration to keep paying for a veteran’s housing and providing a subsistence allowance through the end of the term, in the event the school the vet is attending closes suddenly or terminates a program of study,” Sablan said.

Sablan’s bill also prevents veterans from losing eligibility time for education support, when they do not receive credit for classes taken. And it provides two additional months of subsistence allowance to veterans currently participating in the vocational rehabilitation and education, or VR&E, program, who may face difficulty finding a job as a result of Covid-19’s impact on near-term employment prospects.

In addition, the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act, H.R. 6323, recognizes that not every student veteran will be able to make the transition to online learning, if their school is forced to use that system during the coronavirus crisis. Veterans in that situation could also continue to receive a housing allowance. The bill, as passed by the House today, also allows the VA to continue paying student veterans on work-study, even if they lose their on-campus job due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Even as the pandemic has limited the ability of congressional committees to hold physical hearings and limited regular activity on the floor of the House of Representatives, the Veterans Affairs Committee, of which Congressman Sablan is a member, has continued its own work to lessen the impact of the virus on veterans, whether they are students or seeking medical care.

For more information about the committee’s efforts to address the Covid-19 crisis and resources for available for veterans, visit https://veterans.house.gov/covid-19.

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