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Last week, we wrote about a False Claims Act settlement involving the Post-9/11 GI Bill, an educational benefit program for veterans. In that case, the culprit was Caldwell University in New Jersey. Caldwell paid over $4.8 million to settle charges that it ripped off the Department of Veterans affairs by lying about and grossly over-charging for online classes. Just a few days ago, the Department of Justice announced another False Claims Act settlement for violations of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is a Veterans Administration program that provides tuition and fee payments to qualifying schools on behalf of veterans. To participate in the program, schools must certify that a maximum of 85% of students in a course are receiving VA benefits. This requirement is designed to protect the VA from abusive pricing by ensuring at least 15% of students are paying privately for the course. In order to receive GI Bill funding, schools must certify that they are in compliance with the 85/15 rule.
Florida Academy, located in Fort Myers, Florida, provides professional education for persons in the beauty-and-wellness and skilled trades industries. The for-profit school had been enrolling veterans and receiving payments under the Post-9/11 GI Bill since 2012. From January 1, 2017 through January 1, 2018, the academy falsely certified to the VA that it was complying with the 85/15 rule. Even though it knew or should have known that nearly every student in a Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning class was a veteran, Florida Academy falsely told the VA that it met the 85/15 rule in order to receive funds under the program.
In announcing the settlement, the VA Office of Inspector General emphasized the VA’s commitment “to protecting and safeguarding the integrity of VA programs intended for the advancement and benefit of veterans.” We appreciate the efforts of the VA and the DOJ to root out fraud against programs for veterans.