Today, U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee about his legislation to provide veterans with the counseling services needed to make informed decisions about their education. Lautenberg's bill addresses concerns that veterans are being persuaded to enroll at some educational institutions by unscrupulous or deceitful marketing tactics and are not receiving the quality education they are promised.
"As our veterans return home from war, we must work to make sure that the important benefits provided by the G.I. Bill are protected for years to come. That's why I am outraged to hear that bad actors in the education community are taking advantage of our heroes," said Lautenberg, an Army veteran who attended college on the G.I. Bill. "We must follow through on the promise of the G.I. Bill and ensure our veterans are succeeding in school."
Lautenberg's "GI Educational Freedom Act of 2012" would ensure that every veteran who receives educational assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) receives comprehensive educational counseling. In addition, this bill would establish a tracking system at the VA for veterans to report instances of waste, fraud, and abuse at their schools to make sure veterans are receiving quality education. The legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Scott Brown (R-MA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). More information on the bill can be found here.
The following are Senator Lautenberg's prepared remarks from today's Senate Veterans Affairs hearing on "Economic Opportunity and Transition Legislation":
"I want to thank you for inviting me to appear before your committee to discuss the G.I. Educational Freedom Act, which I introduced in March with Senator Rubio. As a G.I. Bill recipient, it is an honor to be here to talk about an issue so close to my heart.
"Serving in the Army was among the greatest privileges of my life. I was 18 years old when I joined the more than 16 million men and women who served during World War Two. I didn't start out with a lot. My family was poor and my father died early, leaving my mother a young widow. Thankfully, the Army gave me a chance to serve my country and improve my family's financial condition.
"When I returned home, there was no way I could have afforded college on my own. The G.I. Bill allowed me to go to Columbia University, where I enjoyed a world class education that otherwise would have been unavailable. And that education paved the way for me to start a business called ADP, which now employs more than 50,000 people around the world.
"My success in business helped me give something back to my country and become a U.S. Senator. And as a Senator, I've never forgotten what mattered all those years ago: that my country stood up for me when I returned home from military service.
"I was proud to work with Senator Webb and former Senators Hagel and John Warner to create a new G.I. Bill for the 21st Century. The new G.I. Bill is making a real difference for thousands of veterans and their families every year.
"As our veterans return home from war, we must work to make sure that this important benefit is protected for years to come. That's why I am outraged to hear that bad actors in the education community are taking advantage of our heroes. By using misleading advertising, they rope veterans and their G.I. Bill benefits into an education that does not adequately prepare them for employment.
"The VA offers counseling services to help veterans navigate the educational process. But the services are available only to veterans who specifically request educational counseling. One thing is clear: the VA's current approach is not sufficient. Last year, out of the hundreds of thousands receiving VA educational assistance, fewer than 6,500 beneficiaries requested this counseling.
"That is why I introduced the G.I. Educational Freedom Act along with Senator Marco Rubio and four other Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle. This bill would make sure the VA offers every veteran the counseling and information they need to make informed educational choices. It is supported by the Military Officers Association of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
"Congress must take action now. We must follow through on the promise of the G.I. Bill and ensure our veterans are succeeding in school. Today's veterans have made tremendous sacrifices for our country, and they deserve a quality education in gratitude for their service. I urge my colleagues to support this common sense, bipartisan bill."