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    Subject Term: "Veterans education"

    3 publications with a total of 10 open recommendations
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    8 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reduce the occurrence of overpayments, and increase debt collections, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should improve program management by expanding monitoring of available information on overpayment debts and collections. This could include regularly tracking the number and amount of overpayments created and the effectiveness of collection efforts.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA reported in March 2017 that the Veterans Benefits Administration and the Debt Management Center had recently developed a plan to track, analyze, and report on new measures of overpayments. This will include the number and amount of new overpayments, average debt per student, and the amount of uncollected debts outstanding. VA plans to include this information in a bi-annual report and use the data to identify trends and determine root causes of student and school debts. We will consider closing this recommendation once VA has produced the new reports and we have had an opportunity to review them.
    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reduce the occurrence of overpayments, and increase debt collections, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should address overpayments resulting from enrollment changes by providing guidance to educate student veterans about their benefits and consequences of changing their enrollment.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA officials reported in June 2017 that the agency has drafted revisions to the initial and subsequent award letters issued to students. The draft letters that we reviewed included more detailed information on education benefits and the consequences of changes in enrollment and a link to a website with additional helpful information about student overpayment debts. VA officials said these revisions are pending approval and the new award letters should be implemented by December 2017 once the necessary IT resources are available. We will close this recommendation when we receive confirmation that these changes have been incorporated into the letters that are sent to beneficiaries.
    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reduce the occurrence of overpayments, and increase debt collections, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should address overpayments resulting from enrollment changes by providing guidance to schools about the benefits of using a dual certification process where schools wait to certify the actual tuition and fee amounts until after the school's deadline for adding and dropping classes.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA reported in March 2017 that the agency sent school administrators an official letter in March 2017 asking them to use the dual certification process and to wait to certify actual tuition and fee amounts until after the school's deadline for adding and dropping classes. In addition, VA reported that it had discussed the dual certification method during a webinar with school administrators in June 2016. While these communications are helpful, we believe that VA should also update its guidance, such as its School Certifying Official Handbook, to include this information so that specific guidance on how dual certification can reduce tuition and fee overpayments is available on a continuing basis for current and future school certifying officials.
    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reduce the occurrence of overpayments, and increase debt collections, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should address overpayments resulting from enrollment changes by identifying and implementing a cost-effective way to allow Post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiaries to verify their enrollment status each month, and require monthly reporting.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA officials reported in March 2017 that the agency is developing a plan to add functionality for monthly verifications of student enrollment to its information technology systems, as GAO recommended in its 2015 report. Officials said they expect to complete these upgrades by December 2017once the necessary IT resources requested by the Veterans Benefits Administration are provided.
    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reduce the occurrence of overpayments, and increase debt collections, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should improve efforts to notify veterans and schools about overpayment debts by identifying and implementing other methods of notifying veterans and schools about debts to supplement the agency's mailed notices (e.g., email, eBenefits).

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA officials reported in March 2017 that the agency is developing a plan to update its IT systems so veterans could be notified of overpayment debts through eBenefits or by email. VA plans to complete this action by December 2017 once the necessary IT resources are available.
    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reduce the occurrence of overpayments, and increase debt collections, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should improve efforts to notify veterans and schools about overpayment debts by including information on both the cause of the debt and how to repay it in debt letters.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA agreed with our recommendation and reported in March 2017 that it is working on a plan to include school term dates on debt notification letters sent to schools. VA also plans to review and modify the initial debt letters sent to students and schools to include information on both the cause of the debt and how to repay the debt. VA plans to complete these actions by December 2017 once the necessary IT resources are available.
    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reduce the occurrence of overpayments, and increase debt collections, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should revise policy for calculating overpayments to increase collections by prorating tuition overpayments when veterans reduce their enrollment during the term based on the actual date of the enrollment change rather than paying additional benefits through the end of the month during which the reduction occurred.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA officials reported in March 2017 that the agency is revising its tuition overpayment regulations, as GAO recommended in its 2015 report. VA officials said these proposed regulatory revisions are going through the internal approval process, which is expected to be completed by October 2017.
    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reduce the occurrence of overpayments, and increase debt collections, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure it is recovering the full amount of tuition and fee payments if a school does not charge a veteran for any tuition or fees after dropping a class or withdrawing from school. For example, VA could adjust its overpayment calculation to account for these situations or provide schools with guidance on how to account for school refund policies when reporting enrollment and tuition changes.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA officials reported in March 2017 that the agency plans to amend its procedures to account for school refund policies when calculating veterans' overpayment debts, as GAO recommended in its 2015 report. VA officials said they plan to publish this information in the School Certifying Official Handbook and notify schools and student veterans about the change. However, officials also reported that the agency needs to address several issues with its information technology systems before these changes can be made. Officials said they expect to complete these upgrades by December 2017 once the necessary IT resources requested by the Veterans Benefits Administration are provided.
    Director: Melissa Emrey-Arras
    Phone: (617) 788-0534

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure that veterans' education benefits are used effectively, the Secretary of VA should take additional steps to improve the outreach, accessibility, and usefulness of its educational counseling services, particularly for prospective student veterans, for example by (1) featuring these services in resources intended for prospective students veterans; (2) prioritizing efforts to enable veterans to apply for educational counseling online; and (3) considering cost-effective ways to gather more information on applicants, users, and key program areas (such as the timeliness of service) to better identify service needs or gaps and to improve the effectiveness of future outreach.

    Agency: Department of Veterans Affairs
    Status: Open

    Comments: VA has taken steps and is planning additional work to improve the accessibility and usefulness of its educational counseling services, especially for prospective student veterans. Specifically, VA has incorporated an online application and some additional information about educational counseling on its website. However, VA is in the process of transitioning to a new website, vets.gov, which is not yet fully operational. Additionally, the current pathway within that website for prospective student veterans to learn about educational counseling is not completely clear, and VA officials noted that they are working on specific sequencing for the new website to present that information. VA has estimated that the new website will be fully operational by the end of March 2017. At that time, GAO will review the new website to make sure that prospective student veterans who want help on how to use their education benefits effectively have an easy-to-follow pathway to access information explaining VA's educational counseling services and the different ways to apply for these services.
    Director: St James, Lorelei
    Phone: (202) 512-2834

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: As part of the development of a national maritime strategy and a national freight strategic plan, the Secretary of Transportation should direct MARAD--in consultation with maritime industry stakeholders--to study and identify any potential problems in ensuring that U.S. mariners are adequately trained to meet the needs of the entire maritime industry, including the domestic waterways. Public forums, such as MARAD's roundtable discussions, could serve as a means for gaining industry input on potential training issues.

    Agency: Department of Transportation
    Status: Open

    Comments: On April 7, 2017 GAO requested an update on the status of MARAD's position on whether or not the recommendation would be implemented. In June 2016, MARAD indicated that it had not made this determination. In response to GAO's latest inquiry, MARAD indicated that it was in the process of checking on whether any action had been taken within the agency to implement the recommendation.