Senator Jim Webb (D-VA), author of the landmark Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, today introduced bipartisan legislation to preserve those veterans' education benefits from abuses by certain schools. Troubling statistics show that the cost to taxpayers to send a veteran to a for-profit school is more than double the cost of a public university and that eight of 10 educational institutions collecting the most V.A. benefits are for-profit schools.
The Military and Veterans Educational Reform Act of 2012, cosponsored by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Scott Brown (R-MA), would make critical reforms to protect the integrity of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and military tuition assistance. It would require schools participating in educational assistance programs through both the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense to meet the same educational standards currently required for other federal funding.
"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.
"Some for-profit institutions are providing our students a great education, but with the significant federal dollars being spent, we owe it to taxpayers and our veterans to carefully monitor and provide adequate oversight," continued Senator Webb. "Growing concerns of abuses by some educational institutions put at risk the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, itself, and the invaluable benefits it provides our veterans. Abuses of the World War II G.I. Bill, especially among for-profit vocational schools, led to follow-on restrictions of that program and then to even fewer benefits for those who served in Korea and Vietnam. Fixing these problems is not taking anything away from our veterans, it is preserving the greatest G.I. Bill our veterans and military members have ever had."
"Senator Webb did a great thing by leading the charge to expand education opportunities for this generation of veterans, but it's clear that we need to do more to protect this hard-earned investment and provide the basic oversight and protections against educational fraud and abuse that our men and women in uniform deserve," said Senator Harkin. "These critical and common-sense reforms will go a long way toward ensuring that G.I. Bill and Tuition Assistance benefits are a gateway to a good education and a fulfilling career and will empower our veterans and servicemembers to make educational choices that fit their needs through better transparency and support."
"For years, the G.I. Bill has helped to strengthen our country's workforce by raising the skill levels of the Americans who have served in our military and are returning to civilian life," said Senator Carper. "However, once our troops return home to seek higher education, they often do not have adequate resources to make determinations about quality institutions and adequate career paths. Achieving accreditation is generally viewed as the only universal standard for sorting reputable schools from disreputable ones. By extending accreditation protections currently in place for federal student aid recipients to veterans using the G.I. Bill, this bill takes needed steps towards strengthening the protections currently in place for veteran and military students seeking to use their taxpayer subsidized benefits. It also builds a stronger support network to help our servicemen and women navigate the complicated process of picking a school."
"Today, I'm honored to have the opportunity to stand up for our servicemembers and our veterans," said Senator McCaskill. "Providing our heroes with a quality education, opening up job opportunities, and protecting them and their families from fraud are goals we should all be able to rally around."
"We have an obligation to provide both veterans and active duty members with the tools they need to make sound decisions about their education," said Senator Brown. "While there are many educational options for those who sacrifice so much, we need to make sure that these schools are held to the highest standards of quality. By focusing on accountability, disclosure, and oversight, this bill ensures that taxpayers' investment in these programs is protected and service members are set on a course for future success."
"This bill will help ensure that veterans are able make sound educational choices and can get the job training and education that they need to transition to the civilian workforce," said Tom Tarantino, Deputy Policy Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). "Many returning veterans today do not have the tools they need to properly evaluate their college options so they can take full advantage of their G.I. Bill benefits. Some for-profit schools are deceptively recruiting veterans and then failing to provide them with the job training and education that they advertised. This puts the future of the New G.I. Bill in jeopardy. IAVA fought hard for passage of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill in 2008, and we're committed to ensuring all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans can take full advantage of their benefits. The Military and Veterans Education Reform Act of 2012 is critical to that mission."
"The VFW believes that up front counseling and a centralized complaint process for reporting fraud, waste and abuse are key to protecting veterans' G.I. Bill benefits. Senator Webb understands this and has made these two provisions cornerstones in his bill to help protect today's student-veterans," said VFW Executive Director Bob Wallace. "We look forward to working with Senator Webb and the VA to make sure the most comprehensive and practical solutions are put in place."
"Requiring VA and DoD to take more measures that will help our veterans make the best use of their education benefits is most welcome," said Fang A. Wong, National Commander of The American Legion. "Senator Webb's bill addresses our organization's concerns about this matter, and helps ensure that those who qualify for G.I. Bill benefits are provided enough information to help them make sound decisions when choosing their schools."
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.
* Requires that all schools with 20 or more students enrolled in VA and/or DOD educational assistance programs provide support services to veteran and military students.
* Requires the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, to the extent practicable, to provide one-on-one, in person educational counseling to veterans and members of the Armed Forces participating in programs of educational assistance at or before the individual enrolls.
* Requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of Defense to conduct a compliance review of an educational institution whenever certain quality measures are triggered.
* 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.
Signed into law on June 30, 2008, the 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 2009, more than 1.1 million servicemembers and veterans have applied to use their new benefits and nearly 700,000 have received benefits under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.