Senate VA Committee Holds Hearing on Bills to Fine-Tune Laws that Support Veterans
July 15, 2022

​The Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs heard testimony Wednesday on a range of pending legislation to help veterans, primarily bills to fine-tune and address unintended consequences of laws already on the books.

Anne Meehan, ACE's assistant vice president for government relations, spoke to the panel about the Ensuring the Best Schools for Veterans Act of 2022 (S. 4458), a bill that would clarify the 35 percent exemption to the 85-15 rule and restore it to its original intent. ACE strongly supports this bipartisan legislation, introduced by Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-KS), which will ensure veterans can continue to enroll in quality programs of their choosing.

The 85-15 rule provides important safeguards for veterans and their GI Bill benefits against waste, fraud, and abuse. At its core, the law seeks to ensure that at least 15 percent of students in any education program are not using GI Bill benefits to pay for the program. The rationale for the rule was that the enrollment of at least some non-veteran students provided important evidence of program value and quality because non-veterans are willing to pay out of their own pockets to attend.

The statute includes an important exception to the reporting requirement: institutions with a low percentage of enrolled veterans—less than 35 percent—are exempt. Unfortunately, as part of its 85-15 policy reset, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has required institutions to "reapply" for their 35 percent exemption and to submit 85-15 ratios for every program, placing institutions in a Catch-22 where they are unable to receive the exemption without first computing the ratios.

As a result, campuses spent multiple days computing 85-15 ratios for hundreds of programs, most of which did not have any veterans enrolled. Compounding these challenges, as a result of the VA's changes to the definition of a "supported student," campuses also found they had many programs that now exceeded the 85-15 ratio, even though there was not a single veteran enrolled in the program.

By clarifying the 35 percent exemption, S. 4458 would undo the negative impacts of this policy change on institutions with low veteran populations and the veterans they serve. As Meehan told the committee, the bill should be passed quickly to help minimize disruptions for veterans this fall. Read her full testimony here.