The VA Causes Grief for Homeschoolers
by Dave Dentel • May 9, 2019
It seems especially unjust, yet it still happens. Parents who have made tremendous sacrifices on behalf of their country sometimes find themselves denied benefits simply because they homeschool.
Home School Legal Defense Association is representing four such families right now. These are military veterans whose pensions or disability payments were reduced over a dispute regarding their children’s status as students.
The problem arises when homeschool law clashes with the less-than-nimble bureaucracy of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Still in School
Veterans who qualify for pensions and disability payments receive additional compensation for each child in their families under the age of 18. These extra payments can continue for children older than 18 if they are still in school.
Unfortunately, VA officials don’t always recognize 18-year-old homeschoolers as bona fide students.
According to Sarah Dunford, HSLDA’s legal assistant for litigation, this problem should have been resolved in 2004 when we presented a veteran’s case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The court unanimously ruled that the regulation which made homeschool students ineligible was invalid.
“Following this ruling, VA regulations and policies were changed so that if the student is following their state’s homeschool law, that student is eligible for benefits” even after turning 18, Sarah explained.
But as is often the case when dealing with big government agencies, there’s a catch.
“The policy manual also has examples of things to ask for, such as proof you are registered with the public school district,” added Sarah. “But those examples don’t necessarily line up with the law of the state where the family lives.”
For instance, a veteran in Oklahoma is being denied benefits for an 18-year-old homeschool student because the VA expects to receive copies of a notice of intent to local public school officials. However, because Oklahoma has no reporting requirements for homeschooling, there are no notices the parent can produce.
Things are slightly more convoluted for a Tennessee veteran we’re helping. The parents filed copies of a notice of intent with the VA showing their 18-year-old is still being homeschooled. But officials rejected those copies as adequate proof of homeschooling, claiming the parents need to submit a VA-approved form.
Then there’s the case of a family from Arkansas, where students are only required to attend school through age 17—which means there is no homeschool reporting for 18-year-olds. We helped the family get benefits re-instated for an older child, and then the VA refused benefits for a younger child who turned 18.
“This poor family was denied twice,” said Sarah.
Mastering Arcane Rules
We’re confident we will be able to help these families, though it will probably take time and won’t be easy.
Darren Jones, the attorney on HSLDA’s litigation team who typically handles these cases, said dealing with the VA requires persistence and knowledge few other attorneys have acquired.
“The law regarding veterans’ benefits is definitely a specialized area,” he said, “and we only operate in a small part of it. It’s really a niche of a niche.”
To work with the VA, Darren first had to become accredited with the agency. To keep this accreditation he is required to engage in a certain amount of ongoing training.
He added that this legal specialty makes HSLDA membership valuable for veterans, because finding a private attorney who can advocate for homeschoolers with the VA “would be seriously difficult.”
Darren said that assisting veterans—especially the disabled—brings a special kind of satisfaction.
“These are people who were hurt in the line of duty,” he points out. “We’ve been able to help them, and I am happy with that.”