NACUBO Workgroup Meets with VA Staff, Expresses Concerns
January 14, 2013
Members of NACUBO's VA Payments and Processes Workgroup recently met with Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) staff responsible for administering Chapter 33 benefits to discuss a myriad of issues, including customer service, electronic funds transfer, and Treasury offsets. While NACUBO is working with VA to resolve concerns, there are a number of actions that a school can take to ensure that Chapter 33 benefits are being processed correctly, both at the institution and VA.
Institutions Must Submit EFT Information to VA
Institutions were reminded by VA to submit electronic funds transfer (EFT) information to VA as soon as possible in order to receive payments, including the Annual Reporting Fee, this spring. Federal agencies are required by law to make most payments electronically.
VA sent letters this fall to School Certifying Officials (SCOs) at institutions still receiving payments by check informing them of the requirement that all payments to schools be made by EFT. The letters included details on how to submit EFT information to VA. If they have not done so already, business officers should contact their SCO to locate the letter and instructions. Those with questions should contact the institution's VA Education Liaison Representative (ELR). ELRs can be identified on the VA's website.
Institutions that are not receiving payments from VA electronically by April 2013 may be contacted by the Treasury Department regarding noncompliance.
SCOs now have a direct line of communication for official inquiries on student issues. This line will be staffed by Education Case Managers who have the expertise to answer and resolve most SCO questions. The toll free number is 855.225.1159 and the hours of operation are 7:00am to 5:00pm (CST), Monday through Friday.
SCOs must provide the school's facility code and will be validated as a certifying official through WEAMS. Routine questions should continue to go through the regular toll-free number. VA stressed that it is very important this hotline number remain confidential and not be shared with students. The hotline is solely for official SCO business, and students should continue to call the toll-free number 888.442.4551 of the Education Call Center for their questions.
Tips on Treasury Offsets
As previous reported, VA has started sending school debts stemming from tuition and fee payments under the new GI Bill to the Treasury Department for collection through the Treasury Offset Program (TOP). NACUBO recently published a summary of TOP on our website.
It is important to ensure that debt collection letters from VA not be ignored. VA mails a series of three letters to the school trying to collect the debt before sending it to the Treasury for offset. (Because the current batch of debts sent to Treasury encompasses old debts stemming from 2009, 2010, and 2011, the first two letters in the series may have been sent months or years earlier.) Schools should email any disputes to VA's Debt Management Center (DMC) at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the message to DMC, institutions must make it clear that they are disputing the debt. The debt offset process will be halted once a debt is disputed if a determination is made that the dispute may have merit. This applies only to debts that have not yet been referred to TOP and have been officially acknowledged by VA's DMC to be under dispute. Absent official confirmation, via email, from DMC that a debt is officially in dispute, it will be referred to TOP if not paid within the stated time frame. Institutions can also email DMC to receive a list of all debts owed to VA.
Offsets taken in error are refunded by the creditor agency. To date, VA does not have a system in place to distribute refunds taken in error through TOP, but is working to put one in place. NACUBO will monitor the situation and share information with members once a system is developed.
Confirm Mailing Address
Since many of the communications from VA are sent via USPS, institutions should ensure that VA has the proper mailing address for the SCO. SCOs can verify their mailing address through VA's WEAMS system. The address in WEAMS also appears in VA-ONCE. Receipt of important information may be delayed if the campus main address is listed, rather than a specific address for the appropriate office.
Join the Discussion
Members are encouraged to join NACUBO's VA Processes eGroup. This community, similar to a listserv, allows members to share questions, issues, concerns, and success stores related to administering VA programs.
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