Pima Community College is taking immediate steps to address deficiencies in the services it provides to veteran education benefit students following a decision by the state Department of Veterans Services to sanction the College over poor record-keeping.
PCC was notified this week that it will not be allowed to certify the enrollment of new veteran education benefit recipients for 60 days because of the deficiencies, which came to light during compliance surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in December 2013 and January 2014.
“Pima clearly dropped the ball in the way we document and track the services we provide to our veteran education benefit recipient students,” said Chancellor Lee D. Lambert. “We will move quickly to rectify the deficiencies and take steps to ensure they are not repeated.”
A veteran education benefit recipient is any student who is eligible for federal veterans education benefits, such as the Post- 9/11 GI-Bill or the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program. This term, PCC has approximately 1,300 students using veterans education benefits.
The certification suspension affects only new students receiving federal VA education benefits. Students currently enrolled in approved programs are not affected. A copy of the letter PCC received on March 19 from the state Department of Veterans’ Services can be read at the bottom of PCC's Veterans Education Benefits webpage.
“I have directed the appropriate offices within the College to make this matter their top priority,” Chancellor Lambert said. “I fully expect that we will be able to regain the confidence of state and federal veteran’s officials over the next eight weeks so that we can continue to certify new veterans education benefit recipients for our summer and fall terms.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs asked the state Department of Veterans’ Service to determine whether Pima should remain approved for VA benefit purposes after it found that PCC:
- Failed to accurately and promptly report enrollment, tuition and fees.
- Failed to promptly notify VA of changes that affect the amount of payment to beneficiaries
- Failed to ensure VA beneficiaries are enrolled in and pursing the approved program of study as certified.
- Failed to maintain a record of previous education and training of VA beneficiaries to grant appropriate credit, and to report the amount of credit to the beneficiaries.
According to the VA, these were repeat findings from a previous compliance survey conducted in 2012. Pima developed a plan to fix the problems at the time but did not implement it.
“We cannot let this happen again,” Chancellor Lambert said. “Our veteran education benefit recipients deserve better from us. We need to fully comply with all federal laws and regulations, and state policies. Anything less than full compliance is unacceptable.”
PCC recently hired three Veterans Services Specialists – and plans to hire at least three more ─ to work with veteran education benefit recipients and review approximately 3,700 files for accuracy prior to Pima’s next audit. Over the next two months, each file will be closely reviewed, using the “audit checklist” provided by the auditors, corrected as needed, and then will undergo a secondary quality review by another staff member.
“Fixing these problems and delivering tangible benefits doesn’t happen quickly, and institutional change is an ongoing process,” Chancellor Lambert said. “But by meeting our problems head-on, PCC can fulfill its commitment to becoming a student-centered learning organization that delivers the best support to our student-veterans and Veteran Benefits Recipients.”
“This issue is personal for me,” Chancellor Lambert added. “My father was career military and I am proud to have served my country in the U.S. Army. We are obligated to do the best job we can in serving those who served.”