Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees recently sent a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis R. McDonough requesting additional clarification on the newly released guidance concerning the 85/15 rule.
Sens. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) asked the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide more clarity and communication to schools and students as to how to meet the new requirements, noting that the updates may negatively impact the ability of colleges and universities to enroll and serve veterans, including those currently enrolled.
The 85/15 rule prohibits paying VA benefits to students enrolling in a program when more than 85 percent of the students enrolled in that program are having any portion of their tuition, fees, or other charges paid for them by the school or VA. It aims to combat predatory practices of schools and "is vital to ensuring student veterans and their eligible beneficiaries receive sound and substantial education and training," the letter states.
However, the lawmakers cite concern over recent guidance from the VA on how the rule will be implemented going forward. In particular, they note the new interpretation of what constitutes a "supported student."
Under previous guidance, a supported student was generally defined as any student receiving any amount of VA education benefits. The recent guidance expanded that definition to include any student who receives an institutionally-funded scholarship or grant, any student who is granted any waiver or forgiveness of tuition and fees, and any student using a payment plan. As such, students who do not receive any form of assistance from VA would be included in the 85/15 calculation as supported students.
The letter states that institutions across the country have expressed concern that the VA's new interpretation of the law will significantly impact their ability to accept student veterans and their beneficiaries, including those students who are activated in the Guard or Reserve components during their academic term. Furthermore, school officials are worried about the lack of training and communication from VA on accurate implementation of this new guidance.
Sens. Tester and Moran and Rep. Takano asked the VA to review its recent guidance on the 85/15 rule and respond to their requests for information no later than December 1, 2021.
"We strongly support VA's efforts to ensure student veterans have positive educational outcomes and are not victims of predatory behavior, but we also want to prevent unnecessary barriers for both schools and veterans, so veterans are able to utilize their earned VA education benefits,” the lawmakers state in the letter.
U.S. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Press Release
Letter to U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis R. McDonough