The Department of Veterans Affairs warned Arizona officials about running afoul of federal law after the state approved Ashford University’s ability to accept GI Bill education benefits, according to a letter obtained by POLITICO through a public records request. As previously reported, the VA earlier this month rejected Arizona’s approval of veterans benefits for Ashford. But the letter shows that VA officials went further. After outlining what the VA believes are five “deficiencies” with Arizona’s approval, the VA suggests that the state’s decision could put its own compliance with federal rules in jeopardy.
— The VA “is currently without sufficient information to determine whether the [Arizona State Approving Agency] is in compliance” with federal law and regulations, the letter says, adding that it “could reflect negatively” on the federal agency’s annual evaluation of the state regulator.
— A key issue in the VA’s letter is whether Ashford, which is a mostly online for-profit school, has enough of a presence in Arizona for that state to have jurisdiction over approving the institution for benefits. The VA letter questions, for instance, whether the university’s footprint in Phoenix qualifies as a campus. VA officials write that the agency “finds no evidence of instruction emanating from Phoenix.” They also note that the company’s headquarters is in California and it has a campus in Iowa. Arizona’s approval of Ashford was a big win for the company because it came as the school was locked in a dispute with its Iowa regulators and also faces a state investigation in California. Read the full letter here.
— The VA’s back-and-forth with Arizona authorities over Ashford also comes as the Bridgepoint Education-owned school has been sparring with the federal agency in recent weeks. The company has accused the VA of providing “misinformation” to its student veterans about their ability to use veterans education benefits at the school — and it recommended that student veterans call President Donald Trump’s new White House hotline that is meant to accept veterans’ complaints about the VA. Officials at the VA reject those allegations, and have said that they were providing accurate information.