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Would Changes to the GI Bill Impact Military Recruitment?

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By Debbie Gregory.

Patriotism is usually among the top three reasons people give for joining the military. So is the promise of great educational benefits provided through the GI Bill. With that said, changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill and other education benefits would probably have a bigger impact on military recruitment and retention if the recipients actually understood what they were getting.

It is common knowledge that a college education is expensive. A recent RAND report evaluating military education benefits revealed that many new recruits and service members don’t really understand what their benefits entail.

Some of the benefits you could be eligible for through the Post-9/11 GI Bill include 100% coverage of tuition and fees paid directly to a state operated college or university on your behalf, a monthly living stipend based on your school’s zip code, an annual book and supply stipend, a one-time relocation allowance, and the ability to transfer GI Bill benefits to a spouse or eligible dependent. And since 2009, servicemembers are not required to contribute to the program to access the benefits.

Veteran advocacy groups, including the Student Veterans of America, have been pushing Congress to make changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill that would expand eligibility for wounded service members and reservists.

For the report, RAND researchers polled 165 new recruits who had yet to attend boot camp, in order to ascertain how much they knew about the Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefit. While education was among the recruits’ commonly cited reasons for joining the military, many were unclear about the actual details of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The new recruits who were well informed about the benefits were generally older, more likely to have college experience and more likely to be female.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

New Forever GI Bill Unveiled

Colmery

By Debbie Gregory.

It looks like big changes may be on the horizon for the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

The “forever” GI Bill, officially titled the “Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017″ looks to be a broad, permanent bill of rights for student veterans and their families. And it has a pretty good chance of passing through Congress.

Named for Harry W. Colmery, the past American Legion national commander who hand-wrote the original GI Bill in 1944, the proposal contains reforms to benefit Purple Heart recipients, reservists, veterans’ surviving dependents, and victims of for-profit school closures.

If the bill, introduced on July 13th  by House Veteran Affairs Committee Chairman and Republican Rep. Phil Roe, is passed by Congress, it will affect veterans who become GI Bill-eligible after January 1, 2018.

Major changes would include:

  • The elimination of the 15-year “use it or lose it” time limit on veteran education benefits
  • A permanent change to the program’s name- just “GI Bill”
  • The guarantee of full veteran benefits for ALL Purple Heart recipients
  • Help for victims of predatory for-profit schools
  • Assistance for survivors and dependents by extending Yellow Ribbon eligibility to those survivors
  • Changing housing allowances for student veterans to the same BAH as similarly situated active-duty service members

The Student Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, Got Your Six, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors assisted in putting the bill together and readying it for approval.

“This beefed-up Post-9/11 GI Bill recognizes the long service and sacrifice of the one percent of Americans who have voluntarily put their personal lives on hold to fight an unimaginable multi-front war for 16-plus years,” said VFW National Commander Brian Duffy.

What do you think?

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Shulkin Backs Off Plan to Cut Benefits of Elderly Veterans

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By Debbie Gregory.

It’s good to know that Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has announced that he wants to avoid any policy changes that will hurt the most vulnerable veterans, those who are part of the Individual Unemployability (IU) program.

“The budget is a process, and it became clear this (plan) would hurt some veterans,” he said. “I’m really concerned about that … I’m not going to support policies that hurt veterans.”

President Donald Trump’s $186.5 billion VA budget for fiscal 2018 has provisions that would dramatically change eligibility rules for the IU program, affecting some 210,000 veterans over the age of 60, at least 7,000 of whom are over 80.

Under current rules, the IU program awards payouts at the 100 percent disabled rate to veterans who cannot find work due to service-connected injuries, even if their actual rating decision is less than that. The change would make them ineligible once they reach Social Security’s retirement age

Although the move would save $3.2 billion just in its first year, the cost to the veterans currently qualified for UI would be enormous. IU payouts can total almost $20,000 a year.

American Legion officials praised the administration “for coming to their senses and committing to protect the Individual Unemployability program that provides for our most vulnerable veterans and their families.”

Shulkin is still committed to looking for ways to be more efficient with taxpayer funds, but not at the expense of veterans’ financial health.

We at Military Connection applaud these actions! Our veterans deserve all of the benefits they receive.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Veteran Education Benefits Lost as For-profits Schools Close

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By Debbie Gregory.

More than $1 billion in Post 9/11 GI Bill veteran education benefits were lost by veterans when for-profit Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes closed their doors.

Since fiscal year 2013, veteran education benefits were being used by some 9,000 veterans pursuing their education at a school that has since shut down, according to a report released by the staff of Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

Carper and other members of Congress are urging for changes in the law so that veterans affected by the closure of a college can restore the GI eligibility they used up at a school that closed.

“It is unfathomable to me that these brave men and women, who volunteered to serve their country in a time of war, are now being left in the lurch by some of the largest recipients of Post-9/11 GI Bill taxpayer dollars,” said Carper, a 23-year veteran of the Navy and Naval Reserves. “This is shameful.”

Enacted in 2009, the post-9/11 GI Bill has provided more than $65 billion for tuition, books and housing to 1.6 million veterans and their families. Recipients can only use the benefits for 36 months of vocational or college education. If a veteran used GI Bill benefits to cover tuition at ITT Tech for two years, she would not have enough benefits left to finish up a bachelor’s degree.

For-profit colleges can only receive 90% of their funding from federal student aid programs to stay in compliance with regulations, but GI Bill benefits don’t count toward that 90%.

For-profit colleges aggressively recruit veterans because their benefits served as a stable source of revenue.

“The VA and Congress need to do more on the front end to hold bad actors accountable and ensure that we’re not continuing to send our veterans to schools delivering poor outcomes and destined for financial collapse,” Carper said.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

One Word Stands Between Guard and Reserves Veteran Status

what is a veteran

By Debbie Gregory.

As the number of reserve component members of the National Guard and Reserves who have served in support of the war on terrorism nears the one million mark, it is shocking and unacceptable to learn that they are not considered “veterans” when they complete their service.

This inequity was written into antiquated law, in a time when the Guard and Reserves were called upon, for the most part, one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer.

The Reserve units of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard are now considered “operational,” used continually,  the same as our active forces.

To be considered a veteran, service members need 180 or more consecutive days on active duty, not including active duty while training. Getting nearly six consecutive months on active duty isn’t as easy as it sounds; the armed forces intentionally limit orders to 179 or fewer days because anyone on active duty 180 or more days is reflected on active duty manning documents, which counts against the service’s personnel ceiling.

It would seem reasonable that we would express our appreciation to these service members by giving them the same “veteran benefits” allotted to those who served in the “regular” forces.  And doing so would be pretty easy, just by changing one word in the current law: “consecutive” to “cumulative.”

The Reserve Officers Association has worked with Congress to try to get this change approved. And it appears that no one is opposed to making the change.

While many argue the semantics of who is a veteran, perhaps we can all agree that when a person dons the uniform of our country, and signs up to serve and sacrifice, we can repay that debt by honoring what they have done. It isn’t necessary to make a divide when unity makes us not only better, but also stronger.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Are For-Profit Colleges the Best Choice for Veteran Education?

for profit schools

By Debbie Gregory.

A number of for-profit colleges have been characterized as preying on those seeing to use their veteran education benefits. These schools are often guilty of inflated job promises and under-delivering on education. With more than 1 million veterans and their families taking advantage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend college, are for-profit school the best choice?

It’s no secret that the for-profit sector has aggressively aimed its marketing to members of the military. A 2014 Senate report found that eight for-profit college companies received $2.9 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill veteran benefits, approximately one quarter of all the funds spent on GI Bill benefits in 2012-2013.

Further, due to a loophole in current law, veteran education students are unusually attractive to for-profit colleges. First, veterans eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits offer for-profit colleges a guaranteed stream of federal revenue but, unlike the students attending the colleges with federal student loans, do not present a risk of subsequent default.

In addition, the Higher Education Act requires that all proprietary (for-profit) colleges demonstrate compliance with the “90/10 rule” meaning that at least ten percent of revenues must come from sources other than federal financial aid funds authorized by Title IV of the Higher Education Act. However, as currently written, federal military educational benefits including Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits are not counted as federal financial aid and in fact are counted on the “10” side of the revenue calculation.

What makes for-profit schools so attractive to this audience, given the fact that on average, for-profit schools cost twice as much as educating veterans at public colleges?

First off, as previously stated, for-profit schools are the ones targeting and courting these potential students. They make for easy acceptance and easy enrollment in order to cash in on veteran resources.

Traditional colleges and universities should be doing much more to reach out to help those who served reach their education goals. These nontraditional students often come out of the military with unique skill sets. These schools need to let veterans know that they are not only welcome, but they are accepted and valued. Becoming a “Veteran Friendly” or Yellow Ribbon School would go a long way to that end.

Also, transition resources should focus on giving advice to those who want to further their education. Providing more guidance and knowledge on how to make that transition is crucial: when to apply; what kind of credentials schools are looking for; how to package yourself as an applicant. If a veteran needs to beef up their academic credentials, then attending a community college is a great alternative.

The bottom line is that not-for-profit schools need to market their veteran education value. In the long run, it will greatly benefit the schools , the veterans, and the tax payers.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Is Privatizing the VA a Good Idea?

VA

By Debbie Gregory.

Top Republicans’ growing support for privatization of the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system has Hillary Clinton vowing to fight “as long and hard as it takes.”

The Democratic presidential candidate has said that veterans’ issues would be a priority of her administration, unveiling a comprehensive plan to revamp the delivery of health care to veterans, while holding the VA more accountable.

Clinton said the secretaries of defense and veterans affairs will be told that “there will be zero tolerance for the kinds of abuses and delays we have seen.”

Veterans advocates acknowledge the need for reform at the VA. But they do not believe private insurance or medical care is capable of accommodating veterans’ specific needs. They maintain that a voucher program for purchasing care outside the VA system will inevitably fall short of veterans’ expenses.

Clinton agrees that privatization will throw veterans into the private insurance market. “I believe in giving vets more choice on when and how you receive care, and I think there should be more partnership between the VA and private hospitals and community health care providers. But we cannot and I will not put our vets at the mercy of private insurance companies without any coordination, or leave them to fend for themselves with health care providers who have no expertise in the unique challenges that are facing our veterans,” Clinton said. “Privatization is a betrayal, plain and simple, and I’m not going to let it happen.”

While Ben Carson’s proposal to basically disband the VA health system is the most radical of the GOP presidential contenders’ plans, other candidates are not far behind. Donald Trump’s plan would have VA medical facilities compete with non-VA care providers.

Clinton said mental health and substance abuse treatment should be readily available for veterans, calling the frequency of veteran suicide and homelessness rates a “national disgrace.”

And, she said, pharmacies that price gouge veterans would be subject to the “full power of the federal government.”

Which side of the argument do you agree with?

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Military Connection: Great News for Veterans Suffering from TBI

TBI Rehab

By Debbie Gregory.

On April 13, 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced the contract recipients for the Assisted Living Pilot Program for Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury (AL-TBI) program.

The AL-TBI program was originally slated to end in 2014. But provisions in the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 extended this program through October, 2017. Through the AL-TBI program, Veterans who meet the eligibility criteria are placed in private sector residential care facilities that specialize in neurobehavioral rehabilitation. Veterans in the program are provided with team-based care and assistance in many cognitive areas, including mobility, speech and memory.

To date, approximately 202 Veterans have participated in the AL-TBI program at 47 different facilities located in 22 different states. As of April, 2015, there are 101 Veterans enrolled in the AL-TBI program. And thanks to the extension through the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability act of 2014, the VA continues to accept new Veterans into the program.

In October, 2014, the VA issued a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) to all vendors (in this instance to care facilities) who wished to participate in the AL-TBI program. The VA awarded 20 contracts, effective April 1, 2015, to companies and organizations that have facilities in a total of 27 different states.

“We are pleased to extend this valuable program and provide specialized assisted living services to eligible Veterans with traumatic brain injury that will enhance their rehabilitation, quality of life and community integration,” said Dr. Carolyn Clancy, VA’s Interim Under Secretary for Health, “TBI is one of the prevalent wounds of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and VA remains committed to taking care of those Veterans suffering from TBI.”

Veterans suffering from TBI as a result of injuries sustained through service to their country deserve the best care that we can provide. The continuation of the Al-TBI program and the awarding of these 20 contracts reaffirms our support to those Veterans and their families.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Great News for Veterans Suffering from TBI: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Proposal Could Hurt Low-income Veterans

Assisted livingBy Debbie Gregory.

An attempt by the government to close a loophole found in eligibility requirements for a Veteran benefit would most likely disqualify the majority of Veterans from the services that the benefit was intended to help.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently proposed to close a loophole that allowed war time Veterans to transfer assets to family members or trusts in order to meet income requirements for a benefit that helps provide funding for medical care and assisted living to low-income Veterans.

A report written by the Government Accountability Office in 2012 recommended that the VA introduce a look-back provision into their system, to keep Veterans from transferring assets in order to meet income guidelines. The GAO report referenced one instance where a Veteran transferred more than one million dollars into a trust just weeks before applying for the benefit. And even though VA case workers knew about the transfer, the claim was approved because of the loophole. The GAO found that financial planners have charged Veterans hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars in fees and urged them to transfer assets into trusts. The transfers are legal for VA benefits but tend to disqualify the Veterans for other programs, such as Medicaid coverage.

Under the proposed change to the program, there would be an evaluation any transfer of assets made within the three years prior to the application of the benefit, when looking to meet income requirements. The VA claims that the proposed change to a penalty period might keep financial advisers from suggesting that Veterans create the appearance of an economic need where the need does not exist.

The VA’s proposal to close the loophole would do more than just eliminate the opportunity for wealthier Veterans to move around their assets to qualify for benefits. The change could essentially eliminate funding for assisted living services for truly low-income Veterans.

The benefit, as it currently stands, provides up to $2,120 per month for wartime Veterans who are at least 65, or who have a disability not connected to their military service. This benefit is intended to provide medical care only. But the proposed change eliminates many of the services from assisted living from its allowable expenditures, services that many elderly and disabled Veterans depend on. The new proposal classifies such services as help with medications and assistance with daily functions as “non-medical” services and will therefore no longer be covered if the change is made.

The VA estimates that the proposal could save the department $134 million over five years from the look-back provision, and would save $313 million on denied coverage for assisted living services. This estimation has some Veteran advocates wondering if the transferring of funds wasn’t the prime target of the proposal.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Proposal Could Hurt Low-income Veterans: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Companion Veteran Legislation

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By Debbie Gregory.

As a service member, you supported and defended the Constitution and the American way of life. As a Veteran, it’s important to continue that patriotism and citizenship by taking part in the processes that run your country. This means voting, being aware of current legislation and policies, and contacting your elected leaders and telling them how best to represent you, especially when it comes to Veteran-centric legislation.

On March 16, 2015, a pair of bills were introduced, one into each house of Congress, that are designed to provide Veterans with greater access to long-term care centers in their communities.

The Veterans Access to Extended Care Act has been introduced into the House as H.R. 1369 and into the Senate as S. 739. Together, this set of companion bi-partisan legislation is paving the way for improved programs for older Veterans and Veterans who need long-term care.

H.R. 1369 was introduced by Representative Jackie Walorski (R-Indiana) and co-sponsored by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii),and  Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pennsylvania).

S. 739 was introduced by Senator John Hoeven (R-North Dakota) and cosponsored by Joe Manchin (D- West Virginia).

The summary of both forms of the legislation read as:

Veterans Access to Extended Care Act of 2015

This bill modifies the treatment of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) agreements with service providers to furnish veterans with nursing home care, adult day health care, or other extended care services.

Any such agreement shall:

  • not be treated as a federal contract for the acquisition of goods or services and shall be not subject to any provision of law governing federal contracts for the acquisition of goods or services, and
  • include specified requirements (such as for medical licensing and VA review of staff and facilities) to ensure the safety and quality of care furnished to veterans pursuant to such agreement.

The failure of a provider to comply with a provision of the agreement may result in VA termination of the agreement.

Such agreements are exempted from the application of certain public contract labor laws.

Both bills were read on the floors of their respective chambers, and referred to their houses’ Committee on Veterans Affairs. Be sure to frequent www.Congree.gov to check on the Veterans Access to Extended Care Act in both forms of the bill, H.R. 1369 and S. 739. Be sure to contact your representatives and senators and tell them how you want them to vote on these and other bills on your behalf.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Companion Veteran Legislation: By Debbie Gregory