NAICU Washington Update

VA Officials to Congress: We'll Be Up and Running by August 1

March 02, 2009

Despite the challenges and complexities of the new GI Bill, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials assured Congress recently that they are on track to implement the new GI Bill -- including the new Yellow Ribbon Program, of particular interest to private colleges.

Economic Subcommittee Ranking Member John Boozman (R-Ariz.) conceded that the program had proven a "...far more complex task than anyone thought," but committee members continued their calls for no delays or unnecessary burdens on veterans in claiming their educational benefits.

Main witness at the hearing was Keith Wilson, director of the VA's office of education service, who also spoke at NAICU's Annual Meeting in February and Fall Leadership conference in November.  Wilson walked subcommittee members through the complex task the VA has before it to ensure a successful launch this August.  Pre-launch activities include hiring and training 530 new staff members, acquiring office space, dealing with the regulatory issues and the new IT tools for registration, determining veterans' eligibility, calculating pay, and handling transitions.

The bottom-line assurance that the VA gave Congress was that the program would go into effect on August 1.  But in answer to questions from panel members, Wilson also made clear that any changes to the law could stall the entire program's timely implementation. 

Among the key dates of interest to private colleges that Wilson mentioned include:

  • Final Regulations:  While officially scheduled to be published by May 11, Wilson predicted they would be out much earlier than that.  At another point, he said he expected them out very soon.
  • Formal Solicitation of Yellow Ribbon Agreements:  Also officially targeted for May 11, Wilson predicted this could be underway as early as April.
  • Acceptance of Applications from Veterans:  Veterans will be able to start applying for benefits on May 1, with a VA goal of issuing Certificates of Eligibility to veterans within 24 days of application.  Veterans would take these certificates to the college of their choice.
  • Publication of Participating Yellow Ribbon Colleges:  Officially targeted for June 30, but the VA also predicted these would be out before June 30.
  • Payments Begin:  August 1.

Questions also arose over the controversial state-by state list of highest tuition and fees recently posted by the VA.  This list will determine the base amount an eligible veteran can bring to a private college, before the addition of any Yellow Ribbon funds. 

Committee members expressed surprise at some of the numbers on list -- citing the high of over $15,000 per semester in Tennessee.  Wilson explained that there were a host of variables in the manner in which colleges charge tuition and fees and that the VA merely went by the letter of the law in implementing the provision. 

Also of concern to committee members was the question of how to handle refunds for veterans who drop out of school.  The current plan is for colleges to make the refund to the veteran, who then is liable for reimbursing that refund to the government.  Wilson also stressed that any change to the law at this point would only add complexity to a very difficult process, and would threaten the ability of the program to get off the ground by August 1.

For more questions on the new program, visit NAICU's special GI Bill Web site section.



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