Today, U.S. Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA), members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced the Servicemember Education Reform and Vocational Enhancement (SERVE) Act of 2013, a bill to improve the quality of educational programs for servicemembers and veterans to help them transition into the civilian workforce.
The SERVE Act will raise minimum standards for programs that accept educational benefits from the Veterans Administration (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) to make them consistent with educational standards currently required for other federal programs, such as Pell Grants and other types of federal financial aid, ensuring all veterans receiving benefits through the GI Bill and Tuition Assistance obtain a high-quality education. The legislation also establishes a new pilot program to facilitate the use of veterans' benefits for employment or on-the-job training programs and provides academic or employment counseling throughout the process to enable servicemembers the opportunity to be employed more quickly and at a lower cost.
"When our servicemen and women return to civilian life, the transition can be hard," said Chambliss, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee. "While we have in place some programs, like the post Post-9/11 GI Bill, that assist veterans during this time, it is often difficult to know what the best programs are for each individual. The SERVE Act, introduced by Senator Kaine and myself, will raise the standards for educational programs that train our troops, and ensure our veterans and servicemembers are getting the counseling they need to effectively use their benefits. We should have no higher priority than caring for our nation's veterans, and the improved transparency and career counseling from this legislation will guarantee our troops receive the training they need to be successful in their civilian careers, increasing the likelihood of employment after their training is complete."
Chambliss has been an outspoken advocate for military personnel throughout his 20 years in Congress. He has been a strong voice for Georgia's military communities and a tireless advocate for improving the quality of life for troops and their families. Chambliss has supported legislation in the past to increase education and employment-training opportunities; improve reporting systems for suicide prevention; provide superior healthcare coverage for servicemembers and their children; ensure better military family housing; and support programs to ease the transition of troops back into civilian life.
"I'm proud to introduce the SERVE Act with Senator Chambliss, just six months after we introduced the Troop Talent Act. It's important we do everything we can to improve the quality of life for our servicemembers as they transition from active duty service" said Kaine. "This bill will elevate the standards for educational programs that receive funding from the VA and DoD, empower our nation's veterans with increased access to high-quality education and job training, and equip them with the academic counseling, knowledge and skills to ease their transition back into civilian life."
Over the Veterans Day weekend, Kaine traveled to Winchester, Richmond and Williamsburg to discuss the SERVE Act along with its companion legislation, the Troop Talent Act of 2013, which Kaine and Chambliss introduced in April. Through both bills, Kaine hopes to address the low graduation rate and high unemployment rate among veterans - especially young veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, which remains higher than the national average.
Fact Sheet: The SERVE Act of 2013
Background: As the United States begins to draw down its forces after more than a decade at war, it is more important than ever to demonstrate our commitment to the brave men and women who have served and sacrificed to protect our nation. An important part of this commitment is ensuring our nation's veterans are prepared for their transition from military service to civilian life and a new career path.
Education and career training are the greatest tools we have to prepare our veterans for future employment. Over one million veterans have taken advantage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and $30 billion has been invested, yet graduation rates remain a concern and the unemployment rate among veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq remains higher than the national average.
The Servicemember Education Reform and Vocational Enhancement (SERVE) Act of 2013 will improve the quality of education and training for veterans and military members taking advantage of educational benefits provided by the Veterans Administration (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD).
This bill will increase the minimum standards that participating educational programs must meet by requiring them to be "Title IV" eligible -- a requirement already in place for institutions accepting other types of federal tuition assistance, including Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, and Perkins Loans.
This bill also improves transparency and career counseling to ensure degree or training programs deliver what they advertise and ensure our troops receive the training they need to be successful in their civilian careers.
The SERVE Act of 2013 will:
Require institutions accepting VA or DoD educational benefits to meet minimum standards by ensuring consistency between federal agencies. Raising the bar on minimum standards that educational institutions must meet ensures servicemembers are getting a quality education.
Improve transparency of education and training programs by requiring institutions to disclose information such as graduation rates, withdrawal policies, and program costs to students and by ensuring programs fully deliver what they advertise.
Require these institutions to provide access to academic and/or career counseling for military and veteran students in hopes of not only improving their chances of graduating, but also helping prepare them for future careers.
Facilitate the use of VA and DoD educational benefits for employment training programs by creating a five-state pilot program. States will be charged with developing best practices needed to ensure that quality employment training, apprenticeship, and on-the-job training programs are eligible for participation in the Post-9/11 GI Bill program.
Require an annual report to relevant Senate and House Committees on which schools and programs veteran and military students are putting their educational benefits toward, the number of complaints received, and recommendations for further legislative action to improve educational outcomes and ensure the greatest return on investment in these federal programs.