Getting a Handle on Veterans’ Education Benefits!
I just have
to say that I spent a lot of time this year learning about Veterans’ Education
Benefits (VA benefits).
First, the 2009-2010 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) had changes regarding VA benefits. In prior years, FAFSA filers were asked to report the monthly amount of VA benefits expected. Financial aid administrators were required to include that amount as a resource when calculating other federal student aid. An analogy is borrowing an auto loan: If you trade in a vehicle and/or pay cash for a portion of the auto cost, you can only borrow an auto loan for the difference. Likewise, if a student has VA benefits and other aid applied towards educational costs, the amount of educational loans that can be borrowed is the difference. For the most part it was pretty straightforward.
However, on the 2009-2010 FAFSA, the applicant was not asked to report the monthly value of their VA benefits. Instead, they were asked to report the type of VA benefits. So, I didn’t see dollar amounts (which I understand very well). I saw chapter numbers such as 1606, 1607, 30, 31, 33. These meant nothing to me. But, to be in compliance with federal student aid regulations we needed to convert the chapter numbers to dollar amounts. So, I spent time with our Veterans Administrator (Gene Clark) and bookmarked the US Department of Veterans Affairs website (http://www.va.gov/). I soon learned how to calculate a value for most of the reported Chapters on the FAFSA. Of course, the new Chapter 33 benefits (Post – 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance) were impossible to estimate. We got through our financial aid awards making sure that the VA benefits were included.
Then, on July 1st President Obama signed into law technical corrections to the Higher Education Act (HEA). Among other things, effective with the 2009-2010 financial aid award year, Veterans’ Educational Benefits are to be excluded as a resource for calculating federal student aid! I spent much of July and August recalculating financial aid awards with estimated VA benefits. I had to take the dollar amount of VA benefits out of the calculation and pretend that the reported chapter numbers didn’t exist. The automobile loan analogy no longer works for me! But, a lot of veterans on campus were happy to see the additional federal aid funds. And I think President Obama sent a strong message of support to our Veterans
Since the world of financial aid is turbulent, another twist quickly came with regards to VA benefits. On July 8th, New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) sent out a bulletin clarifying a school’s responsibility for reporting VA benefits. Most of the aid programs through HESC are tuition awards such as TAP (tuition award program). If a student receives a VA benefits that is applied towards tuition (Chapter 33) then the school needs to report that. HESC will not pay a tuition award if there is already a tuition award applied and no remaining tuition cost to the student.
As it stands today, I can’t look at VA benefits for determining federal student aid eligibility. However, I have to look at VA benefits when certifying a New York State TAP award. And RIT factors in VA benefits when determining eligibility for RIT-sponsored grants and scholarships.
I’m still holding on! I’ll get a Part 2 blog out on Veterans’ Education Benefits - sharing what I know about the new Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Benefits. So, stay tuned.