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Defend Veteran and Military Education Benefits

Less than two years ago, the one millionth new veteran went to school on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, 40 known as the New GI Bill, and we realized the vision that IAVA and partner organizations had for our newest veterans when we started to advocate for this historic benefit in 2007. IAVA is proud of our leadership in driving the passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2008 and in championing upgrades in 2010 and 2014, these upgrades simplified and improved tuition benefits, expanded eligibility to the National Guard, included vocational programs, and made nationwide in-state tuition rates a possibility for new veterans beginning this year.

Despite the enormous success of the New GI Bill, there is still work to be done. There have been attempts to measure the impact of the New GI Bill, but there is no centralized mechanism to track graduation rates, employment outcomes and other measures of success that would help veterans make better decisions about how best to use their benefits. Meanwhile, veterans’ New GI Bill benefits remain under attack by predatory for-profit schools that see the New GI Bill as a shortcut to profits. Even with recent regulations passed to help veterans evaluate schools, the so-called “90/10” loophole that incentivizes predatory actors to target veterans and their families remains open. The 90/10 law states that no more than 90 percent of a for-profit school’s revenue be generated by federal funds, relying on 10 percent of their revenue thus requiring them to prove their value through the free market. However, because the law was written to exclude federal GI Bill benefits from the 90 percent the legislative intent has not been realized and problems continue to persist, hence creating a loophole.

As the war in Afghanistan winds down, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will continue to be at the core of new veterans’ transition home, into careers, and into positions of leadership in every sector. The country’s higher education system must be fully equipped to meet their needs and ensure their success.

4.1: Defend the New GI Bill from Fraud, Waste and Abuse
4.2: Streamline the New GI Bill
4.3: Ensure the Success of Veterans on Campus

4.1: Defend the New GI Bill Against Fraud, Waste and Abuse

In recent years, Congress and President Obama took steps to protect student veterans from the practices of some predatory actors in the for-profit schools sector. Through the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2012 and the 2012 Principles of Excellence for Military and Veteran Education Programs Executive Order, student veterans were given more resources to distinguish quality education programs—aligned to their career goals— from poorer, abusive programs.

Despite these reforms, for-profit schools remain incentivized to target student veterans. A 2014 Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee report found that eight of the 10 schools receiving the most revenue from Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits were for-profit companies, though they only educated 25 percent of veterans.  Limitations in the regulations and in the reporting requirements prevent many poor-performing schools from being identified or disciplined. Congress must take bold action to prevent these schools from squandering veterans’ educational benefits and jeopardizing their futures.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. 
Close the 90/10 loophole by including DoD and VA education benefits in the category of “government funds” for the purposes of calculating the 90 percent limit of public dollars a for-profit school can receive.

II. Require the DoD and VA to provide oversight of school performance and student success. These metrics should be collected, tracked, regularly reported to Congress, and made available to the public.

III. Prevent all schools from using taxpayer dollars for marketing and recruiting veterans and service members.

IV. Eliminate VA education funding for programs that participate in Title IV.

V. Require the VA and DoD to independent information information on student resources like College Navigator and nonprofit resources like IAVA’s www.NewGIBill.org.

VI. Develop and fund a section within College Navigator to allow for social media integration as a tool so students can rate schools and share their experiences with other students.

VII. Adopt gainful employment regulations that ensure government funding is provided only to vocational programs with proven employment outcomes for students.

4.2: Streamline the New GI Bill

While the Post-9/11 GI Bill is a historically comprehensive educational benefit for veterans and their families, it can be significantly improved. Currently, veterans often struggle to make ends meet between semesters. Veterans do not receive their housing allowances during the holiday breaks and often cannot get a job for such a short period to cover their basic costs. And for new enlistees, they are still automatically enrolled into the old Montgomery GI Bill and pay a buy-in fee of $100 for the first 12 months of enlistment, even with the free Post-9/11 GI Bill in place.

Some veterans are enrolled in schools that participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which helps cover the cost of tuition at private colleges and universities, but this program is not offered at all schools. Additionally, some veterans are unable to pursue scholarships to cover additional costs of their education without losing portions of their GI Bill benefits. IAVA is continuing to fight to ensure that the New GI Bill completely enables veterans to complete their education.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. 
Restore interval payments for breaks in the school year. Ensure that break pay does not reduce student veterans’ benefits.

II. Require that new enlistees opt-in to the Montgomery GI Bill, rather than opt-out.

III. Abolish the “payer of last resort” calculation for tuition and fees benefits in the New GI Bill.

IV. Allow National Guardsmen and Reservists with less than three years of total active duty service to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program.

V. Expand the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit to allow veterans to use their remaining entitlement to repay student loans.

VI. Allow veterans to “cash in” their GI Bill benefits to use as seed money for starting a small business.

VII. Allow medically discharged veterans and retirees to transfer their unused GI Bill benefits to their spouses and dependents.

4.3: Ensure the Success of Veterans on Campus

The post-WWII GI Bill proved to be a smart investment, returning seven dollars to the economy for every dollar invested in the program. The question of whether the Post-9/11 GI Bill can live up to that legacy will depend on the success of today’s student veterans. The government should continue to build upon its existing programs to support veterans on campus to realize the full potential of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Veterans also bring unique experiences to college campuses, greatly contributing to the diversity on campus. It’s in the interest of college campuses to attract this talent and provide a supportive environment in which these leaders can thrive. In IAVA’s member survey, 30 percent of our student veterans identified availability of support programs for military students as a reason why they chose their school. By investing in programs on campus, schools can both support their current student body and attract the interest of more veterans and their families.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. 
Commit to becoming a veteran-friendly campus by adopting “IAVA’s four veteran-friendly best practices”:
• Participate in the New GI Bill Yellow Ribbon Program;
• Agree to be a Servicemember Opportunity College (SOC) and provide college credit for military training;
• Create and support a veterans’ group on campus; • Train faculty and staff on veterans’ issues.

II. Collect metrics on the performance of student veterans in individual schools to establish a set of best practices to support student veterans and help student veterans make more informed educational decisions.

III. Fully fund the Model Programs for Veteran Student Success grant program, which enhances on-campus programs for student veterans.

IV. Require colleges and universities to reimburse tuition paid to students who are deployed mid-academic term and cannot complete coursework.

V. Develop a program to link veterans with trusted education counseling services that help prospective student veterans with test preparation and admissions counseling.

VI. Provide government grants to VSOs and nonprofits to develop student veteran service programs in order to help veterans achieve their educational goals.

VII. Expand the VetSuccess on Campus (VSOC) program to cover more veterans, including those attending online programs.