Tester Leads Committee Hearing on Improving Education and Employment Opportunities for Veterans During COVID-19

Chairman questioned Montana State University on how VA programs can better support student veterans and their families throughout the pandemic

Chairman Jon Tester yesterday led a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on expanding veterans’ access to education, employment, and home loan guarantee programs under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Labor (DOL).

During the hearing, Tester questioned the Director of Veterans Services at Montana State University (MSU), Joe Schumacher, on how VA can better support schools and student veterans and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Montana is still struggling to deal with the COVID pandemic—it continues to be a major problem,” said Chairman Tester. “I know Montana schools are doing everything they can to support their students. Can you talk about what MSU is doing to support student veterans who tend to be a little older than the average college student and may have families to support?”

“Here at Montana State, we pride ourselves on serving those who have served,” replied Mr. Schumacher. “We go above and beyond simply just certifying the various chapters of the post-9/11 GI Bill. I think ensuring the timely and accurate certification of those benefits is so important. Every student’s first question when they come to campus is: how am I going to pay for my time here? And it only becomes more complex when you have a family and other greater financial responsibilities [than] your 18-year-old counterparts do. So here at Montana State, we not only have that dedicated space for veterans to come together, have community, but they can also interact with dedicated staff like myself—with free tutoring and mental health counseling.”

For years, Tester has worked to modernize and strengthen education benefits for veterans and their families, starting with the Harry W. Colmery Act in 2017 (later known as the Forever GI Bill), which eliminated the 15-year window for veterans to use their GI Bill benefits. In 2019, he introduced the Post-9/11 GI Bill Transferability Entitlement Act to allow veterans with at least 10 years of service to transfer their educational benefits to dependents. He also fought to cut down on excessive bureaucracy through his bipartisan GI Bill Work Study Improvement Act, which streamlines the processing and administration of VA benefits through the VA Work-Study Allowance Program. He recently introduced bipartisan legislation to expand GI Bill benefits to select National Guard and Reserve duty statuses through his Guard, Reserve, and Active Duty (GRAD) VA Educational Assistance Parity Act.

The Senator also engaged VA and DOL officials on how the Departments can provide better education, training, and communication to schools regarding new regulations—including recent changes to the 85/15 policy, which prohibits VA from paying benefits to students enrolling in a program where more than 85 percent of program participants receive funding from the Department.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the veteran unemployment rate across the country rose exponentially—from 3.1 percent in 2019 to 11.7 percent in 2020. To help curb the alarming increase in unemployment, Chairman Tester introduced bipartisan legislation to create the Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program to provide unemployed veterans and reservists with 12 months of educational benefits to pursue training in high-demand occupations. He successfully secured this rapid retraining program in the American Rescue Plan earlier this year.

Tester’s Q&A is available HERE and HERE.

Tester’s closing statement can be found HERE.