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Sweeping Legislation Boosts Protections for Student Veterans

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New federal legislation will increase investigations of unscrupulous colleges that may take advantage of GI Bill beneficiaries. (Adobe Stock)
New federal legislation will increase investigations of unscrupulous colleges that may take advantage of GI Bill beneficiaries. (Adobe Stock)
January 11, 2021

RICHMOND, Va. -- Thousands of veterans in Virginia and across the nation now have additional educational support with the signing of landmark legislation that includes major protections of the GI Bill.

Carrie Wofford, president of support group Veterans Education Success, said the Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act, passed unanimously by Congress, lets student vets get in-state tuition at public universities, regardless of residency.

She outlined another important provision, which directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to target schools for payment instead of veterans if any conflicts over tuition occur.

"Previously, before this law, [the] VA was going after students every time there was a tuition dispute and it was affecting one out of every four GI Bill students, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office," Wofford explained.

She said if a chosen school closes or doesn't get VA approval, the new law means veterans can get their GI Bill payments back and start over at another school. More than 780,000 veterans live in Virginia. Nationally, about 70% use their GI Bill benefits.

Wofford noted the bill also places more scrutiny on schools known for taking advantage of GI Bill recipients. The VA will investigate if schools facing government legal action, creditors or fines should not receive more GI Bill money, she said, adding advocates have been pushing for this protection for years.

"VA felt that their hands were tied," Wofford remarked. "They felt that under the law they couldn't cut off GI Bill funding. So Congress unanimously came back and said, 'Oh, yes, you can, and you should. You must protect the GI Bill funds from unscrupulous schools or schools that are closing or schools being raided by the FBI or schools that are being cut off by their creditors.'"

About 62% of student veterans are first-generation students. The broad 340-page package also includes more than a hundred measures to help veterans facing issues including homelessness and COVID-19 and to improve services for female veterans.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.

Disclosure: Lumina Foundation for Education contributes to our fund for reporting on Education. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Diane Bernard, Public News Service - VA