TALLAHASSEE — On March 21, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran, Congressman Matt Gaetz, Florida Department of Veterans Affairs Executive Director Danny Burgess and Florida College System presidents applauded President Trump and Congress for ensuring thousands of Florida veterans are able to utilize their GI benefits through remote or virtual instruction, after campus closures due to COVID-19. S.3503, supported by President Trump, gives the United States Department of Veterans Affairs the authority to continue GI Bill payments in the event of national emergencies and health-related situations without interruptions and allows for virtual instruction for both college and career and technical students. The bill also ensures monthly housing allowances will continue until January 2021, giving student veterans protection from uncertain economic times.
In 2018, Florida had over 43,000 student veterans using VA education benefits, and almost 36,000 of those veterans used the GI Bill. Without this important legislation, GI Bill veteran students were not able to use their benefits for virtual or distance learning, and would have seen a reduction of their monthly housing allowance, through no fault of their own. This emergency action will take effect immediately upon signature.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said, “Thanks to the swift action of Congress and President Trump, veterans do not need to worry about paying their expenses while furthering their education online during the COVID-19 health emergency. This is great news for our veterans attending school on the GI Bill. As a veteran, I know how important it is for veterans to have the opportunity to further their education after leaving the service.”
Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs Danny Burgess said: “I’m proud as an American to see the prompt, bipartisan actions taken to ensure our veterans continue their post-secondary education without a loss of benefits during this national crisis. With more than 43,000 Florida veterans and their eligible family members using their earned GI Bill benefits, this continuation of full benefits will go a long way to help them fulfill their educational pursuits.”
President of Tallahassee Community College and Chair of the Florida College System Council of Presidents Dr. Jim Murdaugh said: “I applaud our federal leaders for prioritizing our veterans’ education during this national emergency. The new law will allow us to continue to provide benefits and services uninterrupted so that our students can focus on their coursework. It’s yet another example of how we are all working together to remain flexible and supportive, even under these extraordinary circumstances.”
Palm Beach State College President Ava L. Parker said: “I’m pleased with the swift passage of this federal legislation to support our veterans during a critical time for our nation and to allow them to continue to receive funding for their education. We proudly serve over 1,100 veterans and their families who are working to better their lives, and we are doing everything we can to help them accomplish their goals.”
Executive Director of the Florida Association for Career and Technical Education Marsan Carr said: “Supporting veterans in their ability to continue their career and technical education coursework without disruption is exciting. They have been the backbone of this country in other times of crisis and we need to support them now.”
The Florida College System welcomed and enrolled 28,899 active duty personnel, veterans, active members of the reserves, and their spouses and dependents last year. The new legislation will allow the colleges to continue serving veterans seamlessly as face-to-face education transitions to the online format for the foreseeable future. All 28 Florida College System institutions have staff devoted to welcoming veterans and are designated Military Friendly Institutions offering programs to veterans, in-service personnel and dependents.
For more information on the Florida Department of Education’s response to COVID-19, go online to fldoe.org/em-response.