There are a variety of VA programs for veterans including education, healthcare, home loans, and nursing homes. These programs depend on a combination of VA provided and private contractor provided services. The non-government agencies that work with the Department of Veterans Affairs must be VA-approved in order to do business with the agency and offer help to veterans.
But what does it mean to be VA-approved? The level of oversight, involvement, and control of third party agencies will vary depending on the nature of the program. It’s not safe to assume that all VA programs have the same level of control or regulation.
It’s important to remember that because some programs will require more of the recipient of those services than others. This is especially the case where being an informed consumer or patient is concerned.
VA Approval for Schools and Other Institutions of Higher Learning for The GI Bill
Not all schools can accept students who wish to attend using their GI Bill benefits. In recent decades, there have been several scandals or controversies associated with certain for-profit institutions of higher learning. They put increased pressure on the Department of Veterans Affairs to vet for-profit colleges in a more comprehensive way.
The VA responses to that pressure included adding fallback options for students who have been affected by closure of failing for-profit colleges or those that have have their GI Bill privileges revoked by the VA. But what does it take to be approved by the VA in the first place?
According to Department of Veterans Affairs documents, the approval process does not begin and end with the VA. State Approving Agencies (SAA) are “generally responsible for the approval of education and training programs in their respective states.”
These agencies are a college’s way into being recognized and approved for the payment of VA education benefits. The guidelines for approval published on the VA site include but are not limited to the following requirements for both accredited and non-accredited schools:
- Submission of an application for approval
- Submission of a catalog that includes graduation, attendance, progress, and other policies as well as tuition, fees, and program requirements
- Written records of review and appropriate credit for prior training
- Additional reasonable criteria as required by the State Approving Agency
On-the-job training programs (OJT) are regulated, too. Requirements for VA approval of these programs include the following as listed on VA.gov:
- The OJT program provides the job skills and related training the trainee needs to be fully qualified for the job.
- It is reasonably certain that the job for which the person is being trained will be available after the trainee completes the program.
- The job customarily requires between 6 months and two years of full-time OJT.
- The length of the OJT is not longer than customarily required in the community.
- Progression and promotion to the next higher level depend on skills learned through OJT training and not just on such factors as length of service and normal turnover.
VA Approval for Lenders And The VA Loan Benefit
VA Pamphlet 26-7, the VA Lender’s Handbook, spells out the general requirements for being a VA lender. There are two basic types of participating VA lenders. Those who have “unsupervised authority” to issue VA mortgage loans and those who do not.
Those who are supervised are not necessarily subject to that supervision in a punitive way. In general, these lenders may be newcomers to the VA loan program. They need to meet program guidelines to earn unsupervised authority to approve VA loans without the assistance or participation of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
VA loan rules include requirements for all first-time VA lenders, who must submit the following information to the Department of Veterans Affairs:
- Specimen signatures of all officers, underwriters, or other personnel authorized to sign documents related to VA-guaranteed loan activities
- VA Form 26-8812, VA Equal Opportunity Lender Certification
- A letter identifying the lender’s corporate address, the lender’s owners, any lending personnel or officers that VA or HUD ever debarred or took other adverse action against, and a list of all the lender’s branch offices that are involved in VA mortgage lending.
As you can see, the VA is interested in proper oversight of their participating lenders and conducts background checks on those who want to apply to issue VA mortgages.
But the VA does not deal with or manage participating lenders on a daily basis. The lenders you find who offer VA mortgages are likely not doing so to the exclusion of other mortgage or lending products.
Participating lenders must go through VA training procedures to become fully qualified to service VA mortgage loans. But the VA loan program does not guarantee borrowers that all lenders offer the same services, interest rates, terms and/or conditions. What you are offered by one participating VA lender does not automatically translate to similar options at another lender.
The Department of Veterans Affairs does not, for example, set or regulate interest rates or FICO score requirements for participating lender. They do require the lender’s standards to be “reasonable and customary” for similar types of loan products available in that market. Borrowers should expect to shop around for a VA mortgage loan the offers them the most competitive terms and rates.
VA Approval for Private Healthcare Providers
According to the VA official site, the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare system includes “the nation’s largest integrated health care system with more than 1,400 sites of care, including hospitals, community clinics, nursing homes, domiciliary, readjustment counseling centers, and various other facilities.”
In the last few decades, the VA’s use and/or approval of private care has grown. TRICARE has brought more choices to military members and family healthcare options. While that is not directly associated with VA healthcare for the purposes of this article, it’s worth noting as a “cultural shift” in military medicine to stop trying to address all medical issues “in-house” via VA or military medical providers.
TRICARE provides and encourages use of private providers within the beneficiary’s existing network. The Department of Veterans Affairs takes a different approach, noting on its’ official site, “Primarily, Veterans seeking VA health care should be seen and treated at VA medical facilities.”
Non-VA medical care, referred to by the VA as Purchased Care, is only authorized under specific circumstances. This is “when VA facilities/services are not feasibly available or cannot be economically provided to the Veteran.”
Private care in this context is approved in two different ways. One is clinical approval. The VA must determine that the care offered by the private provider is necessary on a medical basis. The other approval process is administrative. This means that the patient is eligible for the care required outside the usual VA medical system.
VA Nursing Home Care
In general, when you begin searching for VA nursing home options, you will discover three basic types of facilities. One is a typical privately administered nursing home that has no obvious connection to VA programs or services.
Another is the state-operated veterans’ home or nursing facility. These homes may require certain kinds of military discharges for admission, state residency, or other requirements. These homes must comply with certain VA standards to receive government funds available for the care of individual veterans.
But these homes are not operated by the national Department of Veterans Affairs. They are often administered by the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs, Division of Veterans Services, etc.
According to the VA official site, “To participate in the State Veterans Home program, VA must formally recognize and certify a facility as a State Veterans Home. VA then surveys all facilities each year to make sure they continue to meet VA standards.”
The phrase “VA-approved” in this context would specifically refer to facilities that pass their VA inspections and meet VA standards on a regular basis.
Then there are the VA-operated facilities that are directly under the national Department of Veterans Affairs and have specific requirements for admission. The criteria includes the following circumstances as described on the VA official site:
- You’re signed up for VA health care, and
- We conclude that you need a specific service to help with your ongoing treatment and personal care, and
- The service (or space in the care setting) is available near you.
VA approval in these cases is implicit since the Department of Veterans Affairs itself operates the homes, more than 130 in all.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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