Fort Myers, FL – United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez announces that Florida Academy has agreed to pay $512,500 to the United States to resolve allegations that it made misrepresentations to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in order to maintain its eligibility to receive VA funding under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Florida Academy, which is located in Fort Myers, Florida, is a for-profit provider of adult professional education programs in the beauty-and-wellness and skilled trades industries. Beginning in 2012, the VA provided financial assistance for veterans taking classes at Florida Academy as part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is a VA educational benefit program for veterans who served on active duty after September 10, 2001. As part of that program, the VA provides tuition and fee payments directly to qualifying schools on behalf of eligible veterans. In order for a school to qualify for the program, it is required to certify to the VA that no more than 85% of the students for any particular course are receiving VA benefits. This requirement, commonly referred to as the “85-15% Rule,” is intended to prevent abuse of Post-9/11 GI Bill funding by ensuring that the VA is paying fair market value tuition rates since at least 15% of the enrolled students would be paying the same rate with private funds. Schools that receive GI Bill funding are required to certify their compliance with this rule and notify the VA in the event they are no longer in compliance.
According to the Settlement Agreement, the United States alleged that, from January 1, 2017, until January 1, 2018, Florida Academy received Post-9/11 GI Bill funding during a time when they knew, or reasonably should have known, that it did not qualify because almost all of the students who were enrolled in the Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (“HVAC”) Advanced Fundamentals class were veterans, whose tuition was paid for by the VA. The settlement resolves allegations that Florida Academy made misrepresentations to the VA regarding its compliance with the 85-15% Rule.
“The Post-9/11 GI Bill is crucial to providing educational opportunities to our veterans who served following the 9/11 attacks on our country,” said United States Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez. “Our office will continue to vigilantly protect the financial viability of programs designed to serve and honor our veterans.”
“As detailed in the civil settlement, Florida Academy’s actions took advantage of VA’s Post-9/11 education benefits program,” said David Spilker, Special Agent in Charge, VA Office of Inspector General. “VA OIG is committed to protecting and safeguarding the integrity of VA programs intended for the advancement and benefit of veterans."
The investigation was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle S. Cohen, with assistance from the VA-OIG.
The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.