Billings Gazette: New law aimed at ensuring veterans can use G.I. Bill to attend college

by Holly Michels

Following concern about the interpretation of a rule related to veterans using the G.I. Bill to pay for college, President Joe Biden has signed a new law clarifying the program.

Last year schools across the country and in Montana raised the red flag about how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was interpreting what’s known as the 85/15 Rule.

The 85/15 Rule has been around since the 1950s and says the VA cannot pay for the education of students enrolled in programs where more than 85% of students have their tuition supported by the VA or the college. The rule aimed to prevent programs from taking advantage of veterans using their G.I. Bill benefits.

The change in interpretation hinged on what counted as a “supported student.” Before it generally meant any student who was receiving VA education benefits, but the new understanding broadened that to more students receiving assistance or benefits. Because of the number of “supported students” at many schools, use of the program could have been in jeopardy for veterans in Montana.

At Carroll College in Helena, for example, the definition of a “supported student” could have included nearly all of the campus’ students, the college’s director of veteran services said last year.

The new law was sponsored by Montana Sen. Jon Tester and is called the Ensuring the Best Schools for Veterans Act of 2022. It clarifies the 85/15 rule to ensure schools can still enroll veterans and keeps oversight aimed to prevent programs that seek to take advantage of veterans using G.I. Bill benefits. The law passed with bipartisan support.

“No veteran should have to cut through bureaucratic red tape to access their hard-earned education benefits,” Tester said in a press release. “I’m proud to have worked with Sen. (Jerry) Moran (R-Kansas) and our colleagues on this bipartisan law to remove roadblocks standing in the way of Montana veterans and their families getting the quality education they deserve.”

Late last year, representatives from colleges in Montana met with staff for Tester, who chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.

In a Nov. 12 bipartisan, bicameral letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, Tester, Moran and Rep. Mark Takano asked for clarification on the new interpretation of the 85/15 Rule.

In the press release sent Wednesday, college administrators said they were pleased with the new laws.

“The Ensuring the Best Schools for Veterans Act allows us to remove a burdensome reporting process for the 85/15 Rule, which the majority of Montana’s public institutions fall within,” Patrick Beckwith, director of Military and Veteran Services at the University of Montana, said in the release. “Now, we can focus on new opportunities to enhance the veteran experience with finding new programs and pathways for those who served and continue to serve.”

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