The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued the latest in a series of five audits charging that the Department of Veterans Affairs' oversight failures could potentially lead to $2.3 billion in GI Bill money going to ineligible for-profit schools over the next five years.
The latest OIG report released Monday focused on poor monitoring of state officials -- called State Approving Agencies, or SAAs -- by the Veterans Benefits Administration "to ensure only eligible programs participated" in post-9/11 GI Bill student education and training.
The report found that an astounding "86 percent of SAAs did not adequately oversee the education and training programs" to make sure the schools had proper accreditation. The VBA's failure to monitor the SAAs contributed to the problem, it added.
"The OIG estimated that, without correction, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) could issue an estimated $2.3 billion in improper payments to ineligible programs over the next five years," the report stated.
"Because VBA and the SAAs lacked effective controls to ensure the proper review, approval, and monitoring of programs," the report noted, "VBA could not provide reasonable assurance" that the money was going where it should and students were receiving quality education.
In fiscal 2017, VBA paid schools about $5.06 billion for nearly 750,000 post-9/11 GI Bill students, according to the report. Poor oversight contributed to GI Bill students attending "4,400 programs where VBA lacked sufficient support for program eligibility, and for which VBA issued an estimated $585 million in related improper payments."
In its response to the findings, the VA disagreed with its OIG on who was responsible for the oversight. "VBA maintained it has a limited role for oversight of SAAs," the report said, but the OIG's office said the VBA had sufficient authority under the U.S. Code and directives from the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Carrie Wofford, president of the non-profit Veterans Education Success, called the report "serious and damning."
"[But] we are ... heartened the inspector general agreed with us that VA has a statutory obligation, apart from the state approving agencies, to cut off colleges that deceive veterans," she said.
The latest OIG report came amid an ongoing scandal over the department's failure to put in IT systems in time to handle changes in the housing allowances under the GI Bill, a misstep that resulted in a backlog of thousands of claims.
The VA last next week pledged to reimburse veterans who were underpaid and have a new system in place by December next year.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee was set to hold a hearing on the housing allowance problems this week, but the event was postponed in deference to the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, who died in Houston last week at age 94.
Other federal agencies have investigated the for-profit schools' efforts to attract post-9/11 student veterans and their GI Bill tuition money.
Last month, 28 veterans organizations called on the Federal Trade Commission to release the names of the for-profits that participated in an $11 million scam to buy "leads" on potential veterans from shady companies that set up websites not affiliated with the military, such as army.com, to track those interested in the military.
A Rand Corp. study released last week, however, offered a different take on for-profit schools, at least regarding the Defense Department's military spouse scholarship program, Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA). Service members whose spouses use MyCAA are more likely to stay in the military, and the scholarship users are more likely to be employed, the Rand study found. It also noted found that spouses who used for-profit institutions were more likely to be employed than those who did not.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.