Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), author of the landmark Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, today renewed his call for quick enactment of his bipartisan legislation to preserve those veterans' education benefits from abuses by certain schools. Senator Webb's Military and Veterans Educational Reform Act of 2012, sponsored by 15 senators and endorsed by more than a dozen veterans service organizations, would make critical reforms to protect the integrity of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and military tuition assistance. Senator Webb made his comments at a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing to receive testimony from the VA and veterans service organizations about his legislation and other proposals to safeguard G.I. Bill benefits.
"I introduced the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill my first day in office, starting with a simple concept: that we owe those people who have served since 9/11 the same type of quality educational benefits that those who served in World War II received," said Senator Webb, who served as a combat Marine in Vietnam and later as counsel to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. "I'm very proud to say that we were able to do that and it continues to be a great investment in the future of our country through the people who have served."
"At the same time, there have been growing concerns about abuses by some educational institutions that might put the integrity of this program at risk," said Senator Webb. "Publicly traded educational companies are spending billions of billion dollars marketing and recruiting veterans into poorly performing for-profit schools. There are many for-profit institutions that are providing great services, particularly to non-traditional students. But with the significant federal dollars being spent in this sector, we owe it to our veterans to carefully monitor and provide adequate oversight so that we have standardization among the institutions who are receiving federal monies in order to educate our veterans.
"That is why I introduced this bill, which takes a simple approach to ensure a minimum standard of quality by requiring that all institutions receiving funding from Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and Tuition Assistance be Title IV eligible."
At the hearing, representatives of leading veterans service organizations testified in support of Senator Webb's legislation:
"IAVA strongly supports the Military and Veterans Educational Reform Act of 2012," said Tom Tarantino, Deputy Policy Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). "This bill will help ensure that veterans using their military and veterans educational benefits do not fall victim to deceptive and predatory practices by for-profit schools. In addition to enacting reasonable oversight of educational institutions, the bill mandates that any vocational schools that train students for a course that requires a license or certification actually meet the training requirements for that license or certification as defined by the state or approving body issuing the license or certification. Above all, the legislation requires that all students using benefits are properly informed about their choices and have the ability to report fraud, waste and abuse."
"The Military and Veterans Educational Reform Act of 2012 is consistent with recommendations that MOAA and other military and veterans groups made to the Administration in January 2012 to strengthen consumer education for military and veteran students applying to college or non-degree training and ensuring rigorous oversight of all institutions that receive military tuition assistance and G.I. Bill funding," said Colonel Robert F. Norton, USA (Ret.), Deputy Director of Government Relations of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).
"SVA supports further integrating the Department of Education standards into the approval process for courses to be eligible for the G.I. Bill," said Peter Meijer, Member of the Board of Directors of the Student Veterans of America (SVA). "In general, one of the persistent problems that has remained unsolved in the system is that the VA is neither designed nor established as an agency focused on education policy. Since the implementation of the G.I. Bill, the VA has tried to become such an agency. SVA feels that this is potentially problematic."
Signed into law on June 30, 2008, Senator Webb's Post-9/11 G.I. Bill offers returning service members up to 36 months of benefits including payment of tuition, fees and educational costs, plus a monthly housing allowance while enrolled in full-time training. Since May 2009, more than 1.2 million individuals have applied for this benefit and the VA has paid $18 billion for nearly 720,000 beneficiaries of the program.
The Military and Veterans Educational Reform Act of 2012:
Requires that all programs receiving funding from Tuition Assistance and Post-9/11 G.I. Bill be "Title IV" eligible, which is already a requirement for schools receiving other types of federal funding. Title IV eligibility requires, among other things, accreditation by a Department of Education-approved accrediting agency, new schools to have an undergraduate withdrawal rate for all students of no more than 33%, and mandated reviews by the Department of Education if a school has high dropout or default rates, which could lead to sanctions or other penalties.
Expands the training responsibilities of the State Approving Agencies by requiring them to conduct outreach activities to veterans and members of the Armed Forces, to conduct audits of schools, and to report those findings to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of Defense to develop a centralized complaints process to report instances of misrepresentation, fraud, waste, and abuse, and other complaints against educational institutions.
Increases the transparency of educational institutions by requiring them to disclose graduation rates, default rates, and other critical information to potential students to ensure that they can choose the best academic program for their needs.
Increases interagency coordination by requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Education to improve information sharing.