The California Department of Veterans Affairs, also known as CalVet, provides services and programs for some 1.6 million California veterans and their families. Those programs include educational programs/benefits that, combined with the GI Bill (where applicable) or on their own, can make a big difference in how a veteran and veteran family members pay for higher education.
California State Approving Agency for Veterans Education (CSAAVE) was created for service members, veterans and dependents “who want to receive GI Bill® benefits” with the intent of “attending college education and job training programs” which must be CSAAVE-approved and monitored.
However, the CalVet official site CSAAVE page features the following announcement:
“Effective…Oct. 1, 2019, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will serve as the State Approving Agency in California. The California State Approving Agency for Veterans Education (CSAAVE) and the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) want to ensure that this is a seamless transition for you, your institution, and for your student veterans and dependents.”
This is in reference to a VA press release announcing it was taking back college approval authority from CSAAVE, which had formerly been tasked (under a cooperative agreement with the VA) with oversight of approval for GI Bill funds for higher education programs in the state. The Department of Veterans Affairs announced it will take back authority for approving such programs in California.
The VA commonly enters into agreements with state approving agencies, according to its own press release. But the VA is also required to determine, “whether SAAs are complying with legal standards and requirements.” The VA reserves the right to take back control of the approvals, and has done so on several occasions in other states.
The VA notified CalVets that CSAAVE does not have the authority to continue approving schools in fiscal year 2020. “This decision,” the VA official site states, “was based on VA’s assessment of CSAAVE’s performance over the last three years.”
CSAAVE didn’t go without a fight; the agency sent a letter to California schools in September 2019 announcing its “intent” to curtail approval authority. But the VA is unequivocal in its press release statement advising, “CSAAVE will no longer serve as the SAA. VA will be assuming those duties as of Oct. 1. VA will provide additional notifications to key stakeholders to ensure a seamless transition for GI Bill beneficiaries and student Veterans.”
CA Community Colleges (CCC)
The CalVets official site reminds that California veterans can “use their education benefits to pay for up to 100% of fees at most Universities of California, California State Universities, for Veterans or survivors.” And while that may sound like a no-brainer, there’s an important reason why CalVets calls attention to this.
The official site states that college is an “absolute necessity for veterans” returning home after a military career. In California, the community college is a gateway to that experience. Why?
CalVets advises that in many cases, “…veterans are ineligible for direct admission to the University of California or the California State University systems.” What do they do instead? CalVets says the majority of these California veterans enroll in a community college program first.
CalVets refers veterans to CCCApply.org, the “online gateway to the California Community Colleges.” Competition is higher than you might expect, with roughly three million students per year enrolling in “one of the 112 Community Colleges in California.”
Troops To College
Aimed at, but not limited to combat veterans and other military members who need to transition into civilian life, Troops to College is designed to make college life more accessible for all veterans and help them understand “the full range of curriculums and services available to veterans at California state universities”.
California National Guard Education Assistance Award Program (CNGEAAP)
CNGEAAP provides financial assistance for qualifying members of the California Army National Guard and Air National Guard. The State Military Reserve is also included in this program which is a state grant covering up to 100% of an awardee’s tuition at the following institutions:
- Universities of California
- California State Universities
- California Community Colleges
- California “proprietary institutions”
- California “public institutions”
Who Qualifies For CNGEAAP And How?
- An active member in a Guard or State Military Reserve unit with two years of service.
- A qualifying member who agrees to remain active Guard or Reserve for the duration of the education benefits.
- The service member agrees “to obtain a certificate, degree, or diploma that is currently not held” with the benefits.
Only those who are accepted into an approved higher education program will be awarded funds, with the following additional requirements applicable to all awardees:
- Minimum coursework required is three (3) academic units per term
- Minimum GPA is 2.0 annually
- Must be a California resident as determined by the school
- Must not be a recipient of a Cal Grant award for the same academic year
To apply, complete a FAFSA form, and the following:
- Complete the CNGEAAP application
- Download and print the Statement of Understanding at CNGEAAP official site
- Have the statement signed by your commander
College Fee Waiver
The College Tuition Fee Waiver for Veteran Dependents benefit was created to waive “mandatory system-wide tuition and fees at any State of California Community College, California State University, or University of California campus.” There are four types of eligibility plans for the waivers, which do not cover books, parking or room and board:
Plan A allows certain qualifying dependent children over the age of 14 but under the age of 27 (unless the child is also a veteran, in such cases the age limit is 30).
Spouses of wartime vets who are totally service-connected disabled may qualify with no age restrictions, and unmarried surviving spouses of wartime veterans who died on duty may also qualify.
Dependents of veterans declared missing in action, POWs, forcibly detained or interned in the line of duty, etc. may also qualify for the college fee waiver.
According to the official site, to qualify, “The Veteran must have served at least one day of active duty during a period of war” or times “in which the Veteran was awarded a campaign or expeditionary medal.”
Those who receive this benefit cannot use it concurrently with VA Chapter 35 benefits.
Plan B provides college fee waivers for children of veterans who “has a service-connected disability, or had a service-connected disability at the time of death.” This benefit is also for children who had a veteran parent who died of a service-related cause.
No wartime service is required and there are no specific age limits. Dependent children are the only applicants allowed for Plan B and there is no rule against drawing Plan B benefits while using VA Chapter 35 benefits at the same time.
Plan C allows college tuition benefits for a dependent “of any member of the California National Guard” who was killed, or who died of a disability resulting from “an event that occurred while in active service to the state,” or who was permanently disabled “as a result of an event that occurred while in the service to the state.” Unremarried surviving spouses may also qualify.
Plan D permits these education benefits to be provided to Medal of Honor recipients and children of Medal of Honor recipients under the age of 27. Plan D benefits are limited to undergraduate studies and there may be both income and age restrictions. Plan D beneficiaries can also draw VA Chapter 35 benefits at the same time.
Non-Resident College Fee Waiver
The following students may qualify for a non-resident fee waiver in participating California schools:
- Veterans who were on active duty for more than one year immediately prior to being discharged.
- Undergraduate students currently serving in uniform, stationed in California, “except a member of the armed forces assigned for educational purposes to a state-supported institution of higher education.”
- Undergraduate students who are dependents of a member of the armed forces stationed in this state on active duty.
- A currently serving (and stationed in California) student seeking a graduate degree “except a member of the armed forces assigned for educational purposes to a state-supported institution of higher education, is eligible.” Time limits may apply.
- Graduate students who are dependent children of those stationed in California. Time limits may apply.
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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