Universal Helicopters Inc. (UHI), a private helicopter flight instructor training company, and Dodge City Community College (DC3), which operates campuses in Dodge City, Kansas, and Chandler, Arizona, agreed to pay $7 $.5 million to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by making false statements to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) under the helicopter flight instructor training program jointly operated by the UHI and the DC3.
The VA provided financial assistance under the post-9/11 GI bill to veterans who were taking courses through the UHI-DC3 Helicopter Flight Instructor Program. The United States alleged that from 2013 to 2018, UHI and DC3 made or caused to be made false statements to the VA regarding enrollment in the UHI-DC3 Helicopter Flight Instructor Program in order to obtain funding from the VA. UHI agreed to pay $7 million and DC3 agreed to pay $500,000 to settle these allegations. Settlement with DC3 is based on its ability to pay.
“The post-9/11 GI bill provides important educational opportunities for veterans in our country,” said Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, chief of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. “The department will continue to help protect the integrity of VA programs designed to advance and benefit veterans.”
“One of the ways the US government demonstrates its gratitude to our veterans is by creating programs to facilitate access to higher education,” said US Attorney Duston Slinkard of the District of Kansas. “It is discouraging for any institution of higher learning to submit inaccurate information in order to inappropriately receive funds intended for those who serve our nation.”
“This case demonstrates the commitment of the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) to aggressively pursue schools that target veterans education benefits,” said Special Agent in Charge Rebeccalynn Staples. from the VA OIG Western Field Office. “The VA OIG will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to protect the integrity of the VA educational benefits program and urges anyone with knowledge of possible fraud against VA to contact the VA Hotline. ‘OIG at 1-800-488-8244.’
Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill program, the VA pays tuition and fees directly to eligible schools on behalf of eligible veterans. To qualify for the program, among other things, a school is required to certify to the VA that no more than 85% of students in a particular course are receiving VA benefits. This requirement, commonly referred to as the “85/15 rule,” is intended to prevent abuse of GI Bill funding after 9/11 by ensuring that the AV pays tuition at fair market value since at least 15 % of enrolled students would pay the same rate with non-VA funds. To determine whether it complies with the 85/15 rule, a school compares non-VA-supported full-time students enrolled in a particular course to full-time veteran students enrolled in that same course. A separate ratio must be calculated for each program of study.
The regulations resolve allegations that, from 2013 to 2018, UHI and DC3 falsely certified compliance with Rule 85/15 when the UHI-DC3 Helicopter Flight Instructor Program included certain expensive classes that were taken almost exclusively by veterans. Additionally, in its settlement with DC3, the United States alleged that to meet the required 15% threshold, DC3 counts part-time students enrolled in only one online course per semester as full-time students, in violation of VA rules.
Civil settlements include the settlement of claims brought under the who tam or the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act by William Rowe, a veteran and former student of the UHI-DC3 Helicopter Flight Instructor Program. Under these provisions, a private party can sue on behalf of the United States and receive a portion of any recovery. The who tam the case is subtitled United States ex rel. Rowe v. Dodge City Community College, et al., No. 18-cv-01113-TC-GEB (D. Kan.). Rowe will receive $1.125 million as his share of the settlements.
The resolution achieved in this case is the result of a coordinated effort between the Department of Justice’s Commercial Litigation Division, Fraud Section, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Kansas, with assistance from the VA OIG and the Veterans Benefits Administration, Education Service.
District Attorney Jonathan Thrope and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jon Fleenor for the District of Kansas prosecuted the case.
The claims resolved by the settlements are allegations only and no liability has been determined.