NAICU Washington Update

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Considers Bill to Fix 85/15

July 14, 2022

The Senate Committee on Veteran's Affairs held a legislative hearing on a variety of bills related to veterans issues, including the Ensuring the Best Schools for Veterans Act of 2022.  This bill would fix the regulatory problem institutions are having with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recent policy changes related to the 85/15 rule. 

The bipartisan bill makes clear that institutions with veterans comprising 35% or less of their total student enrollment are exempt from calculating and reporting the 85/15 ratio at the programmatic level. Without this bill, new veteran students will be ineligible to enroll in many majors this fall. 

The bill reverses the VA’s “reset” of the 35% waiver and eliminates the need for institutions with less than 35% veteran student enrollment to calculate, maintain, or submit 85/15 reports. Institutions would be required to disclose veteran enrollments every two years to maintain eligibility to accept GI bill benefits.

During the hearing, Anne Meehan, assistant vice president for government relations at the American Council on Education, provided testimony on behalf of the higher education community, which NAICU endorsed. Also, NAICU submitted a letter of support for the bill for the hearing record signed by 37 affiliated associations. 

The higher education community is advocating that this bill be enacted before Congress takes a break for the August recess to avoid the unintended consequences of blocking access to the very programs veterans are interested in pursuing, such as cybersecurity, IT, business management, criminal justice, or health care fields. 

Chairman John Tester (D-MT) noted that he has heard from five institutions in Montana about programs being suspended and asked what the negative effects on veteran students this fall would be if the 35% reset were not reversed. Meehan answered using NAICU’s survey data that 20% of institutions in May had at least some programs denied, and that VA was still processing 35% exemption re-applications. 

During the hearing, James Ruhlman, deputy director for program management, VA Education Services, indicated that VA has the capacity to implement the streamlined provisions in the bill related to the 35% exemptions if the bill is enacted.  Another witness, Kristina Keenan, associate director, National Legislative Service for Veterans of Foreign Wars, indicated the organization’s support of the bill, noting that 85/15 was not intended to prohibit veterans from using benefits on educational pursuits. 

Once the bill is passed out of committee, the Senate will consider it on the floor and send it to the House, which has an identical companion bill

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