On January 5, President Donald Trump signed into law the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020. The legislation, a package of several bills addressing veteran issues, includes language from the Protect the GI Bill Act, which aims at providing protections to student veterans and protecting taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse.
NACUBO and several other higher education associations sent letters to both the House and Senate committees responsible for veteran issues expressing concerns with the bill. Ultimately, however, the bill passed both chambers and was signed into law.
Presumably, the Department of Veterans Affairs will follow up with guidance on this new law, most likely in the form of an updated School Certifying Official Handbook.
Unless otherwise noted, all provisions of the legislation take effect on January 5, 2021.
Dual Certification for Student Veterans
Under the legislation, the VA will develop policies for institutions to submit the verification of enrollment of students receiving Post-9/11 GI education benefits at two specific times, as determined by VA. This change is intended to minimize overpayments and effectively will require institutions to utilize the “dual certification” method for student veterans, whereby the institution first certifies enrollment with tuition and fees reported as zero in order to start the veteran’s housing payments. Then, the institution will amend the certification with the correct tuition and fees amount after the end of the add/drop period, when course schedules are unlikely to change. This provision of the law goes into effect on August 1, 2021. Student veterans will need to submit monthly certifications to the VA to verify their enrollment.
Overpayments to Student Veterans
Counter to NACUBO’s recommendations, a key provision of the bill makes colleges and universities responsible for repaying VA for overpayments of tuition and fees that result from changes to a veteran’s enrollment. This can occur when a student veteran drops a course, fails to complete a course with a passing grade, or withdraws entirely from a program. While the change to require dual certification will significantly reduce overpayments resulting from enrollment changes or withdrawals at the beginning of a term, changes made later in the term will require schools to repay the VA.
Prior to a student veteran enrolling at an institution, the institution will have to provide estimates of costs (including tuition, fees, books, supplies, and living expense) and aid (including Title IV aid and student loans ) for the entire duration of the student’s program. Additionally, institutions will have to share graduation and job placement rates and information regarding the acceptance of transfer credits. This provision takes effect on August 1, 2021.
The law also increases the oversight role of State Approving Agencies (SSA) by including items that will trigger a risk-based review by the SSAs, which could result in the disapproval or suspension of an educational institution. Those triggers include—
- Notice that a school is on the Department of Education’s Heightened Cash Monitoring 2 payment method
- Notice of final punitive action taken by the Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission, or other federal agency against an institution relating to misconduct or misleading marketing practices as determined by the VA
- Notice of final punitive action taken by a state against an institution
- The loss, or risk of loss, of accreditation
- ED placing an institution on provisional status
SAAs may also take action if an accrediting agency:
- Issues a show cause order
- Sanctions an institution
- Places an institution on probation
- Removes accreditation or candidacy for accreditation
These provisions take effect on October 1, 2022.
The law removes the previous requirement that veterans (or other covered individuals) needed to enroll within three years of discharge in order to receive the in-state tuition rate at a public institution. The VA will publish on its website a database explaining requirements public institutions may have for covered individuals to demonstrate intent, by means other than satisfying a physical presence requirement, to establish residency in the state where the institution is located, or to satisfy other requirements not relating to the establishment of residency, in order to receive the in-state tuition rate. Institutions will need to provide the VA with an initial explanation of those requirements and, if those requirements change, provide updates to the VA within 90 days. This provision takes effect on August 1, 2021.
The VA may continue to provide education benefits to covered individuals if it determines the individuals were negatively affected by the COVID-19 emergency. If a student receiving benefits under this provision does not make progress toward the completion of their program during the period they received the benefit, the assistance provided will not be counted when determining the total amount of assistance the individual is entitled to.