Just before adjourning for its August recess, Congress managed to agree on legislation reforming the way that the Department of Veterans Affairs provides health care to veterans. The Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (HR 3230) includes a provision requiring public institutions, as a condition of participation in VA education benefits programs, to charge veterans and their dependents in-state tuition and fees regardless of their current state of residence if the following conditions are met:
- The veteran was discharged no more than three years prior to enrollment, after a period of service of at least 90 days.
- The veteran is using VA education benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill (Chapter 30) or the Post 9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33), or the dependent is using Chapter 33 benefits.
- The veteran resides in the state in which the institution is located while attending.
As long as the individual begins attendance within the three-year window, he/she must continue to be charged in-state tuition rates as long as enrollment is continuous.
The mandate is not absolute. A public institution may require a veteran to show intent to reside in the state in the future, but not by a physical presence test, or to meet requirements unrelated to residency. The VA may also grant case-by-case waivers if deemed appropriate in regards to a specific course of instruction.
DOMA Impact on In-State Tuition
Under Section 135 of the Higher Education Act, members of the Armed Services on active duty, and their spouses and dependents, may not be charged more than the in-state rate for tuition and fees if their domicile or duty station is in the state. A recent "Dear Colleague Letter" (GEN-14-15) from the Department of Education adds to earlier guidance on the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). As in GEN-13-25 and GEN 14-14, spousal benefits must be extended if the parties were legally married in the jurisdiction where the marriage took place, regardless of whether it is recognized in the state where the couple resides or attends school.