Changes to VA Education Benefits Programs and Required School Certifying Official (SCO) Training
With hustle and bustle of the holiday season and the 2019 year behind us, we want to take this opportunity to discuss some important changes in recent months to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' ("VA") education benefits programs.
In general, the point-of-contact for eligible veteran students ("VA students") at your campus are the School Certifying Official (SCOs) or school administrators at educational institutions and training facilities, tasked with administering, assisting, and supporting VA students with their VA education benefits. By now, they may have received questions from VA students regarding their Chapter 33 - Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA). It's easy to simply defer them to the VA but knowing how these changes impact your VA students' benefits will help mitigate confusion and/or frustrations.
The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act of 2017 ("Colmery Act"), became Public Law No. 115-48 on August 16, 2017. The Colmery Act, contained a number of amendments/provisions "To amend title 38, United States Code, to make certain improvements in the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes." Below we've summarized key changes.
Section 501 - Amends the MHA rate VA uses in calculating and paying monthly housing allowances (i.e. using VA's MHA Rate or Department of Defense' (DOD) Rate) for eligible Chapter 33 students. The effective date of this change was August 1, 2018 but the change did not occur until just a few months ago. According a VA publication, "VA did not have the capability to make the rate change immediately." Consequently, on December 1, 2019, VA systems began processing MHA for eligible Chapter 33 recipients to comply with the new rules. These systematic changes impact certain beneficiaries and is based on the date the VA student first used his/her Chapter 33 entitlement. In other words, since these systematic changes went live on December 1, 2019 and enforcement of this section is effective August 1, 2018, certain students will receive overpayment/underpayment letters from the VA, depending on when they first used their Chapter 33 entitlement. See Monthly Housing Allowance Communications Toolkit for more information.
Section 305 - Requires the VA, in consultation with the State approving agencies, to develop and administer required training for school certifying officials employed by covered educational institutions offering courses of education approved under chapter 36 of title 38, United States Code. The effective date of this change was also August 1, 2018; however, the required training for existing and new SCOs will be enforced as of August 1, 2019. See Required Training for SCOs - Effective August 1, 2019 for more specific requirements.
Last month (January 2020), VA's Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) Division introduced new procedures for SCOs and Business Office personnel on behalf of Chapter 31 students through its VR&E e-Authorization & e-Invoicing system and process.
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