27 April 2015

Impacts of Section 702 of the “Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act

Section 702 of the “Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act” has made substantial changes that are going to have a significant impact on many Veterans relying on the Post 9/11 GI bill. 
  1. Public schools are required to grant in-state tuition and fee status to all Veterans who served greater than ninety days on active duty after 9/11 and are within three years of their effective separation date, or to their spouses or children using transferred benefits, or a recipient of the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship that live in the state of the school.
  2. The enforcement mechanism to schools and states is that the VA will not pay ANY post 9/11 benefits to ANYONE attending a state school that does not comply.
  3. Some Veterans will likely lose their benefits completely (because some states and schools will not comply in time for their degree to be complete). 
  4. Many more Veterans will likely lose their benefits for a period of time until states and schools come into compliance, and will be responsible for paying their own tuition and fees for that period. They will NOT be reimbursed based on current guidelines. 
  5. This loss of benefits will affect veterans currently enrolled at a non-compliant school.  Even if they previously qualified as in state, or for the Yellow Ribbon program, they will lose any Post 9/11 benefits until the school becomes compliant. 
  6. The secretary of the VA could potentially waive these requirements, but it does not appear likely. The VA states: “VA is in the process of developing waiver criteria for States that are actively pursuing changes to comply with these provisions. More information regarding the waiver criteria will be included in a regulation published in the Federal Register… However, at this time we do not currently have a projected date for this publication.   
  7. In a non-compliant state, Veterans selecting a school may actually save money over the course of their degree by attending a private school that participates in the Yellow Ribbon program versus a non-compliant state school, even if the school becomes compliant as little as one month late, because the GI bill benefits will not re-commence until the next term. 
  8. Veterans need to make state legislatures and school residency certifying offices aware of this impending challenge, they are the ones capable of fixing it. 
  9. Most schools and even the VA GI bill help center are still working through what this means, and the effective date of 1 July 2015 is rapidly approaching. 
What can Veterans do? 
  1. Check and see if your state is compliant. The VA’s site for reference is here: http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/702.asp
  2. This site is more visually pleasing and has more information, but has some accuracy errors, be sure to double check with the VA site. (https://www.vetshq.com/education-student-veterans-benefits-and-the-states/)
  3. If your state is compliant, congratulations, just pass the word to your fellow Veterans whose states may not be. 
  4. If your state is not compliant, read and understand the detailed version of this info paper with appendices, the VA fact sheet, the VA FAQ, and the legislation itself (all appended in the long version of this document). You will likely need to know it to teach others. 
  5. Monitor the VA Section 702 web page and the FAQ for the possibility of a decision on a waiver. If one occurs learn its conditions quickly. (http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/702.asp
  6. Check your state’s legislative webpage, for example, this is North Carolina’s, there is usually a bill search tool. I found “Veterans Tuition” to be a good search term, check the dates and see where a bill to require compliance in process. NC’s is in committee and has been for a month. (http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/SiteSearch/SiteSearch.asp?cx=016444635331331191208%3A2jn1cirfegg&cof=FORID%3A11&q=veterans+tuition&sa=Go
  7. Write to the appropriate state legislature (especially the bill’s sponsors, committees etc.) to accelerate the pace, educate them on the possible consequences. 
  8. Write to the state school’s office that determines in-state eligibility and encourage them to unilaterally grant in state tuition status for “covered persons” without waiting on the legislatures. 
  9. Write to the VA Sect 702 team to encourage them to move up their timeline for waiver planning from “indefinite” to “prior to 1 July 2015” so we won’t have to pay out of pocket. (Section702.Vbavaco@va.gov
  10. Write to news outlets to educate them about the impending impact and the responsible offices that could correct the problems. 
  11. Write to your US Congressmen and request they intervene and require the VA to waive the penalty that will fall on Veterans, by allowing currently enrolled and admitted students to use their benefits at their schools, even if they are not yet compliant. 
  12. Plan for the worst, prepare alternative funding for the possibility of the state legislature, state schools and VA’s failures to address the issue by the deadline, and consider a private school with a Yellow Ribbon program as an alternative. Run the numbers and compare costs. 
  13. Get your fellow Veterans to do the same (feel free to re-paste this anywhere you like).  The clock is ticking. 
Thank you for your time and attention, please feel free to re-contact me with any questions or clarifications.

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