Lawmakers Seek to Expand GI Bill Access, Remove Red Tape

Lawmakers largely agreed that bureaucracy may overburden institutions accepting student veterans.
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Matthew Arrojas is a news reporter at BestColleges covering higher education issues and policy. He previously worked as the hospitality and tourism news reporter at the South Florida Business Journal. He also covered higher education policy issues as...
Published on September 25, 2023
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  • Lawmakers are worried about a trend of schools deciding not to accept GI Bill benefits.
  • Representatives from institutions said bureaucratic red tape was a major reason schools are opting out.
  • A deluge of risk-based surveys may be at fault.

Congressional lawmakers last week sounded the alarm as colleges and universities opt out of accepting GI Bill benefits due to the oversight that comes with them.

Representatives from the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs gathered last Wednesday for a hearing titled "Less Is More: The Impact of Bureaucratic Red Tape on Veterans Education Benefits." There appeared to be bipartisan support for addressing complaints that institutions have about the overbearing presence the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has when overseeing programs that accept GI Bill recipients.

The main culprit: a deluge of "risk-based surveys."

The VA has enhanced the frequency of audits on programs that benefit from students taking advantage of GI Bill funds, lawmakers said. Risk-based audits can occur frequently, placing a heavy administrative burden on institutions to provide thousands of documents simply because they received an enrollment bump of veterans or because a complaint from a decade ago resurfaced, panelists before the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity said.

Chair Rep. Derrick Van Orden, a Republican representing Wisconsin, said he believes the VA's intentions are pure but added that it misapplies oversight laws.

Ranking member Rep. Mike Levin, a Democrat representing California, echoed this thought.

"I have real concerns about how VA is implementing risk-based surveys, and I can empathize with the frustration coming from schools," Levin said. "However, we're talking about refining processes, not rolling back underlying projections for veterans."

The frequency of risk-based surveys was a sticking point among lawmakers and advocates who appeared before the subcommittee.

Jan Del Signore, president of the National Association of Veterans' Program Administrators (NAVPA), told the subcommittee that institutions often have less than 30 days to respond fully to a risk-based survey that may not have been warranted to begin with. Additionally, the VA should reconsider what criteria need to be met to trigger a risk-based survey of a program.

For example, the VA audited many schools due to an increase in enrollment following the reopening of schools after the initial COVID-19 lockdowns, she said.

A March letter from Veterans Education Success added that the VA initiated a risk-based survey when one institution grew its veteran student population from two to four.

Panelists also stressed that institutions often need more than 30 days to respond to a risk-based survey but aren't always given sufficient time.

"It takes a multitude of different departments to pull together this information," Del Signore said. "For example, the school is required to provide the last two years of all advertising and to include all your social media; so if you're a public institution and you have football season right now, those are all your football posts that need to be provided."

Joseph Wescott, the national legislative liaison of the National Association of State Approving Agencies (NASAA), stressed that this red tape is pushing schools away from accepting GI Bill funds.

"Unfortunately, in recent years, VA interpretation of certain laws has resulted in requirements that led to some schools deciding to withdraw from the GI Bill program or being unable to participate," Wescott said.

In closing the hearing, Van Orden urged continued communication between the VA, advocacy groups, and institutions. He asked Joseph Garcia, executive director of Education

Service at the VA, to reconsider the agency's current thinking on risk-based surveys to instead focus on rooting out actual bad actors.