March 29, 2007

Veterans Affairs: Another Victory for Homeschooling

On March 16, 2007, the Department of Veterans Affairs promulgated new regulations that now treat homeschools just like any other school, ending years of discrimination that questioned whether or not homeschooling was an “educational institution.” These new regulations come as a direct result of a 2004 decision in favor of Home School Legal Defense Association member and Vietnam veteran George Theiss, whom HSLDA represented in his claim for veterans benefits for over five years.

Under his military pension, Mr. Theiss was entitled to receive benefits to help care for his children as long as each was a member of his household and was pursuing a course of instruction at an “approved educational institution.”

In March of 1998, however, the General Counsel for the Veterans Administration issued an official opinion that homeschooling did not count as an “approved educational institution.” This opinion was based on a faulty interpretation of the word, institution, and its application to homeschools. In 1999, the Department informed Mr. Theiss that when his son turned 18, the additional benefits would be cut off based on the General Counsel opinion, even though Mr. Theiss was conducting a homeschool program in full compliance with Wisconsin law.

HSLDA took Mr. Theiss’s case through an administrative hearing and into the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Affairs. On July 27, 2004, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Affairs released its decision in Mr. Theiss’s favor, criticizing the General Counsel both for its “narrow” definition of “educational institution” and its failure to present a “rational, comprehensive explanation” for not considering homeschooling an educational institution.

On November 18, 2004, the Court of Appeals actually revisited its previous decision, answering the VA’s petition for reconsideration with overwhelming support for HSLDA’s position and for homeschoolers across America. This order of the full court was unanimous in denying the request for review. It was clear from this decision that the Department of Veterans Affairs would have to revisit its regulations and turn a more favorable eye on homeschoolers.

The regulations promulgated on March 16, 2007 resulted from both HSLDA’s win in Mr. Theiss’s case and the work of HSLDA’s Federal Relations Department in providing the Department of Veterans Affairs with language and input that would correct this issue.

These new regulations specifically include homeschools under the description of “educational institution,” stating that “the term also includes home schools that operate in compliance with the compulsory attendance laws of the States in which they are located, whether treated as private schools or home schools under State law.” As of March 16, 2007, the discrimination that brought Mr. Theiss through five years of litigation to receive the benefits he deserved has been effectively terminated.