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State Approving Agencies Protect and Promote the GI Bill

Seventy Years of Safeguarding the GI Bill: State Approving Agencies Protect and Promote Veterans Education and Training

By Joe Wescott, Past President And Legislative Director of the National Association of State Approving Agencies

 

History and Role of the SAA

Next year, State Approving Agencies (SAAs) will celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the National Association of the State Approving Agencies, Inc. (NASAA).  So for over seven decades, SAAs have been promoting veterans education and protecting the GI Bill. Signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on June 22, 1944, only two weeks after D-Day, the bill, according to Roosevelt, gave “emphatic notice to the men and women of our armed forces that the American people do not intend to let them down.” American veterans seized that promise, and at war’s end, showed up in record numbers on college campuses throughout the US.  In fact by 1947, the year SAAs began planning NASAA, veterans accounted for 49 per cent of all college students. SAAs take that promise just as seriously today.  

 

From the very beginning, Congress had recognized the right and responsibility of the states for the education of their citizens.  As such, the GI Bill required that each state create a “state approval agency” that would be required to provide to the Veterans Administration (VA) a list of programs, which could lead to civilian employment and smooth the veteran’s transition back into the civilian world.  Eventually, SAAs became the primary source of assuring institutional accountability by exercising that authority to approve or disapprove programs, while monitoring education and training programs for veterans to make sure that the programs met federal and state requirements. Today, SAAs, supported by federal funding from the VA, oversee a highly successful federal-state partnership that maintains the rights of the states while monitoring and protecting a federally sponsored program administered under the terms and conditions of federal law.  This cooperation between the SAA and the VA has been a critical component in the successful administration of the GI Bill.  Over time, SAAs have become the “face of the GI Bill.”

 

SAAs accomplish their mission by evaluating programs for approval, after which they provide written reports of their findings to the VA and to the educational/training establishments.  They also provide oversight and technical assistance by visiting and inspecting each approved institution and confirming that they are offering these courses and programs in compliance with state and federal law. Further SAAs work in the important areas of outreach and liaison, making sure that veterans and other eligible persons are fully aware of their earned benefits and how to use them. SAAs do this by conducting training workshops for institution officials so they are knowledgeable of their important role of advising and certifying veterans.  SAAs also participate in job fairs and maintain websites in their states offering information to veterans and school personnel.  SAA personnel also interact with Education Service Officers at military bases to ensure active duty and contract personnel are provided adequate and up to date information.  Additionally, SAA directors meet with senior education leaders in the state to ensure that universities, community colleges, state agencies and businesses understand the GI Bill and are aware of needed policy or regulatory changes. 

 

Finally, SAAs also offer other unique services, such as providing consultative services regarding state laws and regulations dealing with educational institutions and training establishments; acting as a repository for information on approved programs at academic and vocational institutions, apprenticeship sites, and on-the-job training sites in the state; and conducting workshops designed to assist personnel in better understanding the criteria for educational programs in general or in evaluating specific training endeavors.  SAAs are truly advocates for quality education and training for our veterans and their dependents.  

 

Recent Developments and Changes

To truly understand the extent of the SAA mission, and how it has become even more important over the years to safeguarding veterans education and training, it is necessary to understand the complex nature of the various recent laws that impacted the GI Bill programs.

 

Post 9/11 GI Bill

The Post-9/11 GI Bill, which became effective August 1, 2009, is the newest GI Bill and was a game changer for veterans and institutions that serve them. It provides increased benefits for those who have served (or are currently serving) since Sept. 11, 2001.  In addition to paying tuition and fees directly to the institution, it also pays a monthly housing allowance (based on the Department of Defense’s rate for an enlisted member grade E-5 with dependents) and up to $1,000 per year for books and supplies.  Additional benefits are possible under the Yellow Ribbon Program for those attending institutions that participate in that program.  Also, it is possible to transfer the benefits to dependents for those members who are willing to extend their military commitment. Without question, the workload for SAAs increased as a direct result of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  Most SAAs became actively involved in outreach efforts concerning this new GI Bill. 

 

Veterans Educational Assistance Improvement Act of 2010

On Jan. 4, 2011, President Obama signed the Veterans Educational Assistance Improvement Act of 2010.  It provided for changes to the Post 9-11 GI Bill.  This Act provided for expansion of the Post-9/11 GI Bill to include active service performed by National Guard members under title 32 U.S.C. for the purpose of organizing, administering, recruiting, instructing, or training the National Guard; or under section 502(f) of title 32 for the purpose of responding to a national emergency. It also limited active duty members and transferee spouses to the net cost for tuition and fees prorated based on the eligibility tiers (40 percent to 100 percent) previously established for veterans. Other changes included simplifying tuition and fee rates( e.g.,pays all in-state tuition and mandatory fees) for those attending a public school and creating a national maximum for those enrolled in a private or foreign school.  

 

Break or interval pay became no longer payable under any VA education benefit program unless under an executive order of the president or due to an emergency, such as a natural disaster or strike; and reimbursement for more than one “license or certification” test was provided (previously only one test was allowed).  Finally, the change allowed for reimbursement of fees paid to take national exams used for admission to an institution of higher learning (IHL) (e.g., SAT, ACT, GMAT, LSAT) and provided that those who are eligible for both Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Chapter 31) benefits and Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) benefits may choose the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s monthly housing allowance instead of the Chapter 31 subsistence allowance.

 

Most importantly, however, veterans and other eligible persons were allowed to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill for non-college degree (NCD) programs at public and private NCD institutions, on-the-job (OJT) and apprenticeship training programs, flight programs and correspondence programs.  Benefit payout is capped for many of these programs and you are encouraged to visit the VA GI Bill website www.gibill.va.gov for more information.

 

The mission of SAAs changed somewhat with this law in that degree programs at public and private not for profit schools, registered apprenticeships, FAA approved flight school programs, public high school programs, and public licensure examinations were declared “deemed approved” for veterans education.  However, one final change to note is that  SAAs were permitted to assist the VA with compliance surveys, thus increasing their oversight of the administration of the GI Bill. 

 

President’s Executive Order 13607

On April 27, 2012, President Obama signed the Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members.  This  important order provides that those institutions which sign up as Principles of Excellence (POE) schools will commit to assisting prospective students in making right choices about how to use their Federal educational benefits.  The order also seeks to prevent abusive and deceptive recruiting practices that target the recipients of Federal military and veterans educational benefits. Finally, educational institutions promise to provide high quality academic and student support services to active-duty service members, reservists, members of the National Guard, veterans, and military families. During compliance survey visits, SAA personnel review a participating school’s compliance with the principles. 

 

Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans (PL 112-249)

Signed on January 10, 2013, this law required a centralized mechanism for tracking/publishing feedback from students and SAA regarding the quality of instruction, recruiting practices, and post-graduation employment placement of institutions of higher education. It also provided that SAAs share with accrediting agencies or associations information regarding the SAA’s evaluation of an IHL

 

Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 (PL 113-146)

This law, commonly referred to as the Choice Act, was signed on August 7, 2014. It provides around $17 billion to address shortcomings of the VA health care system.  However, it also provides that public colleges and universities, to maintain their SAA approval, must grant in state tuition to veterans, as specified in the law.  SAAs worked hard with their VA partners to insure that state governments were aware of this requirement and took the required action to provide this benefit. Due to those efforts, today all states and the District of Columbia provide this important benefit to veterans. 

 

Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016 (PL 114-315)

Signed on December 16, 2016, this law improves veterans’ access to health care, disability and education benefits as well as addressing veterans’ homelessness.  It also codified and clarified approval authority, mandating that SAAs were the approval authority in the states “or the Secretary (of the VA) when acting in the role of a State approving agency.”  This act also allowed more flexibility in scheduling oversight visits to enhance oversight while conserving state and federal resources. 

 

Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 (PL 115-48)

Signed on August 16, 2017, this law, often referred to as “The Forever GI Bill,” is the most far reaching change to the GI Bill since the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  This law, named after the American Legion national commander who drafted the original GI Bill language in 1944, will allow more veterans to use the GI Bill and provide them more time to use it. Its provisions enhance or expand education benefits for veterans, servicemembers, families and survivors. In addition to other changes, the act eliminates the 15-year time limitation to use Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for veterans who left active duty on or after January 1, 2013, children who became eligible for the Fry Scholarship on or after January 1, 2013, and all Fry scholarship eligible spouses.  Furthermore, it provides limited restoration of benefits and relief to veterans affected by school closures or disapprovals. In addition, certain work-study is permanently authorized, including work-study in a SAA, and VetSuccess on Campus programs will be available to more students in higher education. Finally, of note, the law provides increased benefits to veterans pursuing approved STEM programs across the country. 

 

Additional information on these laws and VA educational benefits can be found at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) GI Bill website www.gibill.va.gov.

 

State Approving Agencies Today

 

Today, some 50 SAAs, located in state university systems, state departments of labor, and state departments of veterans affairs throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico, are laboring to protect and promote the GI Bill.  Thousands of institutions and training establishments presently have their programs approved for the education and training of veterans. Please feel free to contact your SAA to help locate an approved program at an academic institution offering degree or certificate programs or an establishment offering apprenticeship or on-the-job training programs.  You can find more about those programs and the contact information for each State Approving Agency at the National Association of State Approving Agencies (NASAA) website at www.nasaa-vetseducation.com .

 

Dr. Joseph Wescott is the Immediate Past President and Legislative Director of NASAA as well as the Executive Director of the North Carolina State Approving Agency.