I have started receiving questions about debts and partial term T&F payments now that T&F debts are assessed on the school under Section 1019 of Public Law 116-315. It has made me realize that many SCOs do not understand how mitigating circumstances and the one-time 6 credit hour exclusion work. So I thought it was a good time to update and resend this bulletin regarding Mitigating Circumstances and the one-time 6 credit exclusion that I sent out a couple of years ago. Additional info can also be found in the VA Once Quick Reference User Guide PowerPoint found on the GI Bill website and in the SCO Handbook, although I am not sure if the handbook has been fully updated for Section 1019 yet. What are Mitigating Circumstances? Mitigating circumstances are the reason a student has withdrawn from a class(s). Acceptable mitigating circumstances are unanticipated or unavoidable events beyond a beneficiary’s control that lead to the withdrawal from, or failure to complete, one or more classes with non-punitive grades.
If a student drops a course or withdraws from school after the drop/add period, receives a non-punitive grade and does not provide acceptable mitigating circumstances, VA will reduce benefits (or terminate as applicable) effective the first day of the term. For a CH33 student, this means a debt will be created on the school for the full amount of T&F paid for the course (or for the term in the case of a full withdrawal). If a student drops a course or withdraws from school after the drop/add period, receives a non-punitive grade and provides acceptable mitigating circumstances VA will pay a prorated payment through the student’s last date of attendance. If the adjusted cert comes in before VA has paid T&F to the school VA will determine the prorated payment amount due and pay that to the school rather than paying the full T&F and created a debt. NOTE: Mitigating Circumstances are not required for the following as VA pays through the last date of attendance without question in these situations: -Punitive grades (NOTE: VA will pay through the end of the month during which the reduction or termination occurred, rather than through the LDA, when punitive grades are assigned.) -Reductions or terminations that are within your school’s drop/add period as long as that period does not exceed 30 days from the start of the term -NCD clock hour programs that are not organized on terms/mods etc (ie a program with one beginning and ending date such as for an NCD cosmetology school) What is Your Responsibility? It is ultimately the student’s responsibility to provide mitigating circumstances and you are not required to provide this information to VA. As T&F debts are now placed on the school it is in the school’s best interest to provide mitigating circumstances whenever possible, however, as it can affect how much T&F you receive and/or how much the T&F debt will be. Additionally, it will also generally enable VA to accept the info from the school and pay through the student’s LDA and close the case. If VA has to reach out to the student for mitigating circumstances they will go ahead and reduce or terminate the cert creating the T&F debt on the school effective the first day of the term. If acceptable mitigating circumstances are then later received from the student VA will reduce the debt or if the school has already repaid the funds, VA will issue an additional payment. This can become quite confusing when it happens possibly weeks or months later so it’s best practice to provide mitigating circumstances whenever you can. If you do choose to provide mitigating circumstances to VA for a student you should obtain some sort of documentation from the student for their VA File or, at a minimum, obtain a signed statement from the student. How do You Report Mitigating Circumstances? Based on the “reason” chosen for adjustment or termination (i.e., reduction after the drop/add nonpunitive grades assigned, etc) a Mitigating Circumstance box may appear.
On a student’s first reduction or withdrawal requiring mitigating circumstances, VA will automatically grant acceptable mitigating circumstances for up to 6 credits. NOTE: Each LDA is treated separately so if there were multiple reductions or a reduction and a termination in the same term only the first instance can qualify for the one-time 6 credit exclusion. This holds true even if less than 6 credits have been withdrawn from in that first instance – there is no rollover. The T&F will be paid through their last date of attendance without having to provide the reason for the reduction/withdrawal for up to 6 credits. If the student reduces/withdraws from more than 6 credits on their first reduction/withdrawal or, has multiple adjustments during the term, VA will grant acceptable mitigating circumstances for up to 6 credits for the first reduction/withdrawal only and the student will be required to submit acceptable mitigating circumstances for all of the remaining credits withdrawn from or the school is subject to the first day of term debts for those remaining credits. NOTE: This is a one-time grant and is not applicable if the student completes the term and receives non-punitive grades. It is also not applicable if the reduction/termination is received before the initial certification from the school for the term is processed. In this case, VA will calculate payments based on the adjusted certification and send prorated payments to both the school and student rather than paying in full and creating a debt. Please note, due to the 6 credit exclusion possibly being able to pay for only some of the credits withdrawn from and/or possible acceptable mitigating circumstances only covering some credits the processing office may reach out to you for T&F for what seems like an added number of credit hours. Please provide them with the information they request. If you have any questions regarding mitigating circumstances or the one-time 6 credit hour exclusion please let me know.