DOD Proposes New Rule on Institutions Receiving Tuition Assistance Students

DOD Proposes New Rule on Institutions Receiving Tuition Assistance Students

By Debbie Gregory.

The Tuition Assistance Program offers essential resources and support for Active Duty Service Members who are going back to school to earn their college degree.

MilitaryConnection.com is dedicated to assisting active duty personnel, Veterans and their families in finding the college or university that fits their personal criteria, as well as the specifications of certain military educational benefits that can be confusing and overwhelming. MilitaryConnection.com strives to make the transition from Service Member to student easier by offering a user friendly school directory.

On August 14, 2013, the Department of Defense (DOD) published a notice of proposed rulemaking for its voluntary education programs that included the newest draft of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for comment. The DOD has proposed a draft rule that will affect Veteran schools, Veteran colleges, military schools, military colleges, Veteran education benefits and military education benefits.

The DOD has drafted a new rule of final requirements that colleges must meet if they want to enroll active duty members through a federal student-aid program. Under the new change, an institution will be required to disclose its credit-transfer policies, any academic residency requirements, and basic information about a program’s total cost, before a student’s enrollment. The colleges will also be required to provide the perspective student with access to an institutional financial-aid adviser before his or her enrollment.

The new agreement also requires all institutions to ban incentive compensation for its recruiters, financial aid advisers, and admissions counselors. Colleges must also “refrain from high-pressure recruitment tactics,” which include “making multiple unsolicited phone calls” to prospective students. The new rule requirements seem to be aimed squarely at the for-profit colleges that receive half of all tuition assistance money.

The draft rule is a result of a Congressional investigation into the mismanagement of millions of dollars being awarded through the Tuition Assistance Program by the DOD.

Military Service Difficult to Translate into Civilian Work Experience

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By Debbie Gregory.

Recruits are led to believe that the world will be theirs on a silver plate upon completion of their enlistments. They are told that they will go to school for free on the GI Bill, get high paying jobs, because everyone is hiring Vets, and that they will live the rest of their lives cruising down easy street due to their service.

The harsh reality is that civilian life is lot harder for Veterans than what they are prepared for. Before they are discharged, Vets attend TAP class, are given a few brochures, and are sent home with knowledge and experience that doesn’t always laterally equate to civilian work experience or translate well on a résumé.

The typical Post-9/11 Veteran is age 35 and younger, an age group that has a higher-than-average unemployment rate. Why is this able-bodied and proven group of men and women having trouble finding employment?

One of the major challenges that Veterans face is that they don’t have résumés that hiring managers understand. What kind of employment does two to five years in a military specific job class qualify you for? It’s not immediately clear how military experience prepares Vets to work in an office or professional setting.

“There’s a lack of understanding of the breadth of occupations and jobs that people hold in the military,” says James Schmeling, managing director and cofounder of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.

A 25-year-old Iraq war veteran may have significant leadership and technical experience, but may not have a two- or four-year college degree, two or more years of non-military work experience, or references from past employers.

Under most recruiting & job application criteria, “If you don’t have two years of experience in a particular area, you may never get a job interview,” says Rodney Moses, vice president of global recruitment for Hilton Worldwide.

It was apparent how this could be a major setback for Veteran employment applicants, with little or no private-sector experience. This year, Hilton Worldwide has announced its commitment to hiring 10,000 Veterans over the next five years. To accommodate this change, the company has adjusted their online career website to recognize military occupation codes as relevant experience.  Using the re-vamped website, Veteran Employment seekers can use their military job codes to find available positions that fit their skill set. Hilton Worldwide is also working to get the word out that they welcome veterans.

“If you think about the size and scope of some of our hotels, they’re like some of these large ships that are in the Navy,” Moses says.

JPMorgan Chase has also made a commitment to hire 100,000 Veterans by the year 2020. This goal led the company to create a whole new corporate office, the Office of Military and Veterans Affairs. JPMorgan also instituted a training regiment called “Military 101” that teaches their recruiters and managers about the military and teaches Veteran Employees about their company. JPMorgan also hired 15 recruiters whose sole job is to find Veterans to employ.

JPMorgan’s efforts are in support of a project called the 100,000 Jobs Mission, which now involves 113 private-sector companies who are sharing best practices on how to recruit, hire, and retain Veterans. By hiring Veterans, companies not only gain motivated employees; but the companies also receive public accolades for supporting the Vets, and federal tax credits of up to $9,600 for each Veteran that they hire, noted a 2012 McKinsey report.

Justin Verlander Donates $1 million to Launch Wins for Warriors

wins for warriors

By Debbie Gregory.

Detroit Tigers pitcher, Justin Verlander, is joining with the Detroit Tigers Foundation by making a one million dollar commitment to launch the Wins for Warriors initiative. The initiative is designed to support the mental health and emotional well being of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans and their families in Detroit, Richmond and Norfolk.

Reports indicate that as many as one in three Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans who saw combat will eventually experience significant mental health challenges. Many don’t seek help because of the stigma associated with receiving mental health care. Wins for Warriors is devoted to remove the sense of shame or fear around Veterans and their families that seek mental health services and helps to provide the support and care they need.

Funds from the $1 million commitment will be distributed to Give an Hour and The Mission Continues. The groups have the expertise to have a long-term impact on the health of America’s Veterans. Whether you’re a U.S. service member returning home from a tour of duty with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a young military wife whose four-year-old has had nightmares since her father’s deployment to Iraq, a nonprofit organization known as Give an Hour is ready to connect those in need with a volunteer mental healthcare professional.

Give an Hour has created a network of nearly 1,200 mental health professionals nationwide who donate an hour each week to provide free mental healthcare services to military personnel and their families. The mental healthcare professionals participating in Give an Hour offer a range of services, including individual, marital, and family therapy; substance abuse counseling; treatment for PTSD; and counseling for individuals with traumatic brain injuries.

The Mission Continues is a 501(c) nonprofit organization that serves as framework for U. S. military Veterans to perform community service work toward issues ranging from disaster preparedness to education for low-income youth, to the training of service dogs for wounded veterans. The Mission Continues was founded in 2007 after CEO Eric Greitens returned home from service in Iraq as a Navy Seal.

With Verlander’s contribution, more Veterans and their families will receive the help they need and deserve from these wonderful programs. Verlander has brought his fame as well as his donation to the table and helped to raise awareness to the needs of returning military heroes/heroines.

Employment Protections Elusive for Returning Vets

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By Debbie Gregory.

Where are the transitioning Veteran jobs, National Guard jobs, and Veteran employers that the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) promoted? Despite laws protecting the civilian jobs of National Guard members and reservists, more than 15,000 Service Members since 2001 have had to fight for their employment rights through official complaints that require tedious and sometimes expensive disputes.

In 1973, the DOD adopted the Total Force Policy, which recognized that active and reserve U.S. military forces should be readily available to support military operations. As a result, reserve forces were no longer considered to be forces of last resort; rather, they are now recognized as indispensable to the nation’s defense from the earliest days of a conflict.

The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense office, was established in 1972 to promote cooperation and understanding between Reserve Component Service members and their civilian employers and to assist in the resolution of conflicts arising from an employee’s military commitment.

The National Guard and Reserve are an integral part of our military. Almost half of the men and women serving in our armed forces are members of the National Guard and Reserve. If you are a member of the National Guard or Reserves, you may be worried about transitioning back into a civilian workplace. Will you return to the same position with the same responsibilities? Will your colleagues understand what you’ve been through and welcome you back? Will your company welcome you back?

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects service members’ reemployment rights when returning from a period of service in the uniformed services, including those called up from the reserves or National Guard, and prohibits employer discrimination based on military service or obligation. Employers are required to provide to persons entitled to rights and benefits under the USERRA, a notice of the rights, benefits and obligations covered under the act.

The federal government provides veterans a means to resolve USERRA complaints, first through the Department of Defense’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, whose volunteers call employers, explain the law and try to resolve the matter. The Department of Labor (DOL-VETS) proudly Serves Veterans & Service Members! They provide resources and expertise to assist and prepare them to obtain meaningful careers, maximize their employment opportunities, and protect their employment rights.

Looking at Graduation Stats for Students Using the GI Bill

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By Debbie Gregory.

The government has spent nearly $30 billion since 2009 to send Veterans to college. Officials know that nearly 1 million Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have used their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. But no one in the government corridors can tell you how many Veterans have actually graduated.

Now, Veterans organizations fear that the lack of tracking on the government’s part will mean fewer dollars for future Veteran Education programs. Michael Dakduk, Executive Director of the Student Veterans of America, a Washington D.C. based organization, said that every previous version of the GI Bill has faced reductions of some sort. It may only be a matter of time before the Post-9/11 GI Bill does as well.

“We need to track these numbers to defend the Post-9/11 GI Bill,” Dakduk said. “It’s an investment into our military. It’s an investment into our country.”

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is the largest and most generous educational benefit package ever offered to Student Veterans. Money provided by the fund has been used for graduate and undergraduate degrees as well as technical & vocational training. Under the current Post-9/11 GI Bill, Student Veterans receive paid tuitions & fees, a stipend for books, and allowances for housing.

Some lawmakers have questioned the integrity of the schools that are receiving the funds and whether Veterans are actually receiving a legitimate education. In 2010 the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions launched a two-year long investigation into for-profit colleges. The study found that during the 2010-2011 school year, for-profit schools constituted eight of the top 10 schools that collected GI Bill funds. The University of Maryland at No. 8 and University of Texas at No. 10 were the only public institutions that made the top 10 list.

The senator committee questioned whether Veterans attending the for-profit schools were benefiting from those institutions or being taken advantage of by them to collect the generous Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. For-profit colleges can collect no more than 90 percent of their revenue from federal sources, such as Pell grants and similar U.S.-backed student aid. Because the Post-9/11 GI Bill is not counted as federal student aid, the Harkin report and others asserted that for-profit schools aggressively recruited Veterans in order to stay under the 90 percent cap.

The report cited constant phone calls by recruiters, pressuring prospective Student Veterans to sign contracts before speaking to a financial adviser, and similar tactics. The report also asserted that the money put toward the education of Veterans at these for-profit schools does not necessarily benefit them once they start looking for jobs. At a July Senate hearing before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Veterans advocates complained that for-profit schools “target” Veterans as “nothing more than dollar signs in uniform.”

Advocates say that without a tracking system to see how many Vets are actually graduating and securing jobs, doubts about for-profit schools and the benefit of spending billions of dollars on Veteran education could eventually convince lawmakers to reduce or even cut the program completely.

The  Student Veterans of America announced that it would collect college graduation rates for Student Veterans. Numbers aren’t expected until later this year. The project, estimated to cost $300,000 is still awaiting financial backing. Veteran Schools have also begun their own counts of military students. Arizona State University calculates Veteran retention rates by tracking Veteran Students within larger university-wide surveys.

No Agreement Yet on VRAP Improvements

no agreement

By Debbie Gregory.

A Veteran training program created in 2011, intended to assist unemployed veterans who don’t qualify for other veteran education program or VA disability payment, has created unintended roadblocks for Veterans who are trying to complete the program, and has lawmakers scratching their heads to find a solution.

The Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, or VRAP, was created in 2011 to help unemployed veterans, aged 35 to 60, by providing a one year of flat-rate GI bill benefits to those enrolled in programs providing Veteran education or Veteran training. Those attending training receive $1,564 a month in Montgomery GI Bill benefits. The program is intended to teach veterans a new, marketable skill, not provide for enrollment in a full-time degree program.

While there is money in the budget for the program and all of its 130,981 applicants, at last count, less than 59,000 veterans were enrolled. The reason for the low enrollment, Veterans say, is the program requires them to enroll in classes that have no connection to the skill or vocation that they are trying to learn. For example, a veteran interested in becoming a welder, using VRAP, is often required to take a full course load, including math, science or history courses, which don’t directly help in finding a welding job. Veterans have said that they have difficulty attending the 18-22 hours per week of this full time load of unnecessary classes.

Veterans also say that they have trouble finding accredited schools to attend. Currently only two-year public colleges are eligible, meaning student veterans cannot use VRAP at private, for-profit schools or one-year programs offered at four-year public schools.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s economic opportunity panel is seeking to change the program so that Veterans can attend school on a part-time schedule.

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee wants to extend the program for two more years, and in the process make it easier for veterans to find training by adding some four-year colleges and universities to the program. A four-year college or university would be covered if the specific training program offered “is not reasonably available” at a community college or technical school, under the Veterans’ Employment Opportunities Enhancement Act, passed by the Senate committee this summer.

Meanwhile, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has approved only a modest extension. The program is now set to expire on March 31, 2014, but legislation passed by the committee in June would extend the program through June 30, 2014, which coincides with the end of the spring 2014 school term.

Also pending before the House committee is a second bill that would relax the requirement for veterans to be full-time students to receive the monthly benefit. That bill, HR 1357, would provide pro-rated payments if a veteran attends school less than full time but spends at least 16 hours a week in classes. Generally, 18 to 22 hours a week is considered full time.

Passage of the bill has been delayed while the House panel and VA work out details about how to best count class time, as some schools award credit hours while others use clock hours.

An agreement between the House and Senate is needed for any changes to occur.

Accommodating Student Veterans on Campus

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By Debbie Gregory.

With Veteran Education benefits being the highest that they have ever been, there are hoards of Veteran students invading college & university campuses nationwide. The findings from a study conducted by the National Survey of Student Engagement found that student Veterans often experience what they described as “Culture Shock” upon their return to the class room.

Some Veterans liken the experience to the Adam Sandler movie, Billy Madison, where Sandler’s character returns to school as an adult and must re-complete grades K-12. The reference highlights the difference in age, some time 10 years or more, between Veteran students and students completing their education immediately after high school.

While Student Vets are seldom excluded, and never bullied; they can still feel like they don’t fit in on campus. Student Veterans are often older and have families and careers that they try to juggle with, along with their academic load.

While obtaining an education is the primary goal of all students, being connected socially, academically and communally can really facilitate everyone’s learning. Making Student Veterans feel like they are welcomed and appreciated is an obvious goal of many colleges and universities. Here’s what some Veteran-friendly campuses are doing to accommodate their Vets:

  • Publish information that summarizes the services offered to the veteran population.
  • Inquire as to veteran status upon application so that resources can be disseminated early and often.
  • Assign a member of your Admissions office to be an expert the direct contact for student vets with concerns about their admission status.
  • Use the members of your Veterans task force to be sure that you are addressing the needs of student Veterans and allowing their voices to be heard.
  • Encourage veterans to speak in classes about their experiences & service.
  • Host panels that encourage the campus community to learn about the veteran perspective on various topics.
  • Provide a space and time for Veterans to meet and bond with one another.
  • Create campus-wide involvement in Veterans Day activities in November.
  • Provide Employment Acquisition training: Résumé & interview workshops, etc.
  • Invite student veteran groups to get involved in large campus-wide initiatives that include other clubs.
  • Recognition Ceremonies for Veteran Students that graduate. (Some schools award medallions or stoles to be worn at commencement by Veteran Students.)

The Ins and Outs of the Post 9/11 GI Bill

The Ins and Outs of the Post 9 11 GI Bill

By Debbie Gregory.

Veteran students need to make use of their greatest asset when they return to school: the Post 9/11 (Chapter 33) GI Bill. This education benefit provides the largest investment in Veterans’ education that the nation has seen since World War II. The program will cover the entire cost of an undergraduate degree at any public university or college and many private schools too.

Need to know the basics? Here they are:

Qualifications: Student Veterans must have served 90 days on active duty since Sept. 10, 2001 or served 30 days and been discharged because of a service connected illness or injury. All users must have received an Honorable Discharge.

Living Allowances:  A paid Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) based on the BAH rate for an E-5 with dependents in your school’s zip code. Veteran students must be enrolled as a full time student to receive full benefits. Part-time students will received a prorated living allowance based on the number of classes they are taking.

Book Stipend: $41.67 per credit hour, but no more than $1,000 per year is paid in a lump sum for each term. The stipend is intended to cover the cost of books, supplies, equipment and other educational fees.

Tuition payments: Payments are made directly to the school each term. The VA covers 100 percent of in-state tuition for public schools for undergraduate or graduate programs and $19,198.31 per year for private schools. The program offers a total of 36 months of education benefits, equal to four academic years.

National Guard and Reserve students: Service members in the National Guard and Reserves qualify for veteran education benefits as well, as long as they have served 90 days or more on active duty since Sept. 10, 2001. Active Guard Reservists and Guardsmen responding to national emergencies will also accumulate days toward that 90 day mark to become eligible. Training and training schools do not generally qualify for eligibility. With 90 days of service, these service members will qualify for 40 percent of tuition, books and living allowance benefits. That number increases as their active duty time increases. After 36 months of active duty time they are entitled to 100 percent of tuition, books and living allowances.

Send your spouse and kids to school: Already have your degree? Think your wife or kids would benefit more from the program? Give them your benefits. The Post 9/11 GI Bill allows benefits to be transferred to immediate family members. To qualify for the transfer, service members must qualify for the benefits themselves, served at least six years in the Active Duty, National Guard or Select Reserves, have their spouse or child enrolled in DEERS and agree to commit to four more years of service.

Requesting Mental Health Assistance Shows Courage

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By Debbie Gregory.

At the outset of Suicide Prevention Awareness month, the Pentagon wants Service Members experiencing a crisis to make a call.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that seeking mental health treatment is a “choice that embodies moral courage, honor and integrity” and recommended those who need help to call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, anytime.

“The Department of Defense has no more important responsibility than supporting and protecting those who defend our country, and that means we must do everything possible to prevent military suicide. … No one who serves this country in uniform should ever feel they have nowhere to turn,” Hagel said in a prepared statement.

This year, at least 157 Active-Duty, mobilized National Guard and Reserve troops have died by suicide, according to data provided by the military services.

The number is down from last year during the same period, but 2012 was a record year for self-inflicted deaths — 350.

Suicide Prevention Office Director, Jacqueline Garrick, said that officials are working to reduce the stigma of seeking behavioral health treatment and are promoting programs that facilitate stress prevention and intervention during personal crises.

“We are trending below both suicide and suicide attempts from the previous year, although many are still pending cases,” Garrick told Military Times in August. “We hope it is a measure that we are getting our message out and people are seeking help.”

The DoD has invested more than $100 million in research on substance abuse and mental health conditions and is also cracking down on alcohol and drug abuse in the ranks, Hagel said.

Pentagon studies have found that most service members who die by suicide are usually young white males who were never deployed. Forty-seven percent experienced a failed intimate relationship before they died, and 37 percent faced work-related or legal problems in the months before their deaths.

Roughly 20 percent of the 301 service members who died by suicide in 2011 were found to have been drinking at the time of their deaths, and 9 percent were under the influence of drugs.

But drug and alcohol use were more common in non-fatal attempts, with 64 percent of the 598 Service Members known to have attempted suicide in 2011 using drugs, and 31 percent involving alcohol.

A large study of Service Members by military researchers recently caused waves when it found that combat deployments and exposure to war have not been major factors in military suicides.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed that issues like mental health disorders and substance abuse played a significant role, as they do in civilian suicides.

Experts say that the study findings could hinder efforts to address suicidal behavior among troops and veterans.

“I’m concerned that some might take this and say, ‘It’s not deployments. We don’t need to worry about this,” Barbara Van Dahlen, founder of Give an Hour, a non-profit that provides mental health counseling to personnel and veterans, told the New York Times.

The Veterans Affairs Department earlier this year estimated that about 22 veterans commit suicide each day.

The DoD and the VA have combined some prevention and treatment efforts, promoting the Military/Veterans Crisis Line and programs to ease the stress of transitioning between active duty and veteran status.

In June, the departments also published clinical practice guidelines for physicians to understand the differences between at-risk troops and civilians.

Any Veteran or active Service Member experiencing suicidal thoughts is encouraged to call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255.

Nearly 20% of all U.S. Suicides are Veterans

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By Debbie Gregory.

Almost one in five U.S. suicides is a Veteran. According to one survey, approximately 49,000 Vets took their own lives between 2005 and 2011. An estimated 22 Veterans die by suicide each day. A 2012 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicated that in just 2009 alone, 98 men and women from post-9/11 wars took their own lives. That number is a major increase from an earlier report by the same agency that claims that between 2002 and 2005, 144 Veterans of post-9/11 wars committed suicide. In 2012, the number of active duty military deaths by suicide surpassed combat deaths in Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense. This is an epidemic that is ravaging the Veteran community.

A major contributing factor to the frequency of Veteran suicides can be traced back to training. Conditioning a person to maintain constant vigilance may keep a service member alive in a war zone, but can add the already difficult periods of readjustment that Veterans must face when they ultimately return to civilian life. Veterans transitioning into civilian life are already prone to experience struggles with: a lack of concentration, aggressive behavior, a loss of self-worth, and increased uses of drugs, alcohol & tobacco. Combat Veterans are at an even higher risk to experience extra reactions to their stress including: sadness, hopelessness, feelings of abandonment & rejection, and nightmares which also lead to sleeplessness. And Veterans who have suffered from a concussion or other head trauma are at an even greater risk to experience suicidal thoughts.

In 2007, Congress passed the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act. The law, which was named for an Iraq war Veteran who committed suicide in 2005, has required the Department of Veterans Affairs to increase suicide prevention measures in order to reduce the frequency of suicides among Veterans. The increased measures by the VA include: Providing more mental health resources, educating the Veteran community and the public about suicide risk factors and tracking Veteran suicides from state to state. These extra measures have caused the VA’s budget to grow by almost 40% due to the necessity of providing 1,600 more mental healthcare staff that are trained in suicide prevention techniques, factoring mental health risks, and providing referrals to treatment programs and suicide prevention counselors at VA medical centers, on the Vet’s request.

Another provision of the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act is that the VA now provides the Veterans Crisis Line. The toll-free, national phone line and web page offers Veterans troubled by suicidal thoughts the chance to have phone conversations and instant message chats with trained VA representatives 24/7. The web page also offers a self-check quiz. This quiz offers a safe way to reach those Veterans who are concerned about their mental health, but not are afraid of disclosing their status. The self-check quiz is completely confidential. Veterans will NOT need to provide their name, email, nor any other identifying information. A VA representative will respond your quiz, via reference code, in approximately 10-15 minutes.

Veterans with suicidal thoughts are urged to contact the Veterans Crisis Line online or by calling 800-273-8255.