Errors in Housing Payments for Some GI Bill Students

Errors in Housing Payments for Some GI Bill Students

Errors in Housing Payments for Some GI Bill Students

Contributed by Debbie Gregory

Some 340,000 students using the education benefit of the GI Bill were shorted in their Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) in the month of August.

The new version of the GI Bill states that the amount students receive for their housing allowance each month should be based on where they take the most classes. The old version of the bill calculated that amount based on the location of the school’s main campus.

Either way, the calculations are equivalent to what an E-5 active-duty personnel with dependents would receive, and due to a technology issue, the VA was delayed in implementing the change.

A VA spokesperson said that the department is still working on the remaining technology updates and was in the process of preparing to notify students about the impact to their payments.

So when the fall semester started, student veterans received their BAH based on the previous system and the previous calendar year.

“Many of the benefits that (the Forever GI Bill) ensures have already been implemented; however it’s troubling to me that VA still has not yet finalized the IT systems needed to fully implement the law, despite having a year to do so,” said Rep. Phil Roe, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, whose Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity has held two hearings on the implementation of the bill.

Fifteen veterans groups penned a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie charging the VA of not being upfront about the problems, calling it “an organizational and customer service failure at the highest level.”

“It took several weeks into the current semester before any communication was sent to students, and schools have received little information beyond, ‘wait and see,’” their letter reads. “Transparency on what to expect and when to expect it, from all levels of leadership at VA, is critical to helping students and schools make informed decisions.”

Earning a Degree While on Active Duty: What You Need to Know

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Working toward a degree while serving on active duty is much different than attending classes on a traditional campus, or even taking online classes from home. Before you take on the challenge of school and active duty, there are some key points to know that will increase your chances of success.

Be Flexible

As you consider your educational options, you might develop a plan that involves taking a certain number of classes each term to finish your degree by a defined date. While planning is imperative, it’s also important to consider the need for a flexible enrollment schedule. Therefore, when weighing your schooling options, consider the following:

Does the school offer flexible scheduling? Can you take all of your classes from a distance, or will you have to spend time on campus? If you are required to spend some time “on the ground,” are there classrooms or branches of the college near your post, or will you have to wait until you have completed your commitment?

How military friendly is the school? Will the college be understanding of the demands on your time and be willing to make accommodations when you need to focus on your military responsibilities? Look for a university that offers accommodations for those who are active duty or veterans, including assistance with military benefits, access to military-specific services including development counselors and academic support.

How will your military experience coordinate with your studies? If you’re taking classes while you are still in active duty, determining the proper amount of transfer credit may be challenging. It is important to evaluate your options and work with your chosen school to determine the best course of action to ensure that you get proper credit for your experience and develop a course plan that accounts for the knowledge gained in the field.

GI Benefits and Military Promotions

Many service members are concerned about their GI Bill benefits should they opt to take courses while on active duty. You do not lose benefits if you earn a degree while serving, and you can use your tuition assistance benefits to pay for courses while you’re in the field. Therefore, you can still use your GI Bill to pay for a graduate degree, to supplement your income while you are in training for a federal job, or to transfer to a spouse or dependent.

Taking courses while on active duty can help you earn military promotions faster. All branches of the military consider civilian education when determining promotions. In the Army, for instance, you can earn up to 100 promotion points by taking classes at 1 point per credit hour. These points can add up, allowing you to move up the ranks and earn more money throughout your military career.

Education is a major priority for the armed services, and you don’t have to wait until after discharge to begin working on your degree. With time management and a flexible approach, you can finish your higher education while you’re on active duty.

Touro University Worldwide- Educating Those Who Serve

 touro updated logo 2018

The GI Bill is one of the most amazing benefits offered to those who serve. By using this benefit, veterans can earn a degree or vocational certificate, get paid while in school, and jump-start their post-military lives.

Touro University Worldwide (TUW) understands the importance of educating our country’s active military students and veterans who are preparing to enter the civilian workforce. To that end, in addition to government funding options, TUW offers discounts to to those who serve, past and present, as well as extending the benefit to their families.

Many Touro academic staff members are also veterans, and since they have walked the walk, they can provide support and guidance through the military aligned students’ academic journeys.

While there are thousands of schools throughout the country that would like to be on the receiving end of the tuition funding that military and veterans bring via the GI Bill, TUW has a tradition of commitment to their military and veteran students.

Make this the year that you get started earning the degree that will give prepare you for an exciting career in business, psychology or health and human services.  Apply the skills and knowledge you acquired in the military to a bachelor’s or master’s degree with in-demand concentrations like: Cybersecurity Management, Global Management, Nonprofit Management, Human Resources Management and many more!

You’ve always risen to the challenge, make this the year that you pursue and complete your degree!

For more information, visit www.tuw.edu

Why Veterans Succeed in College Now More Than Ever Before

Blog Columbia Southern

In the past, graduation rates for veterans were significantly lower than those of traditional students. However, a major 2011 study by the Student Veterans of America revealed that the opposite was true. In fact, veterans are graduating at a rate close to that of more traditional students: an average 51.7 percent for veterans in comparison to 59 percent for other students, as of 2011, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In some branches of the armed services, graduation rates are even higher. Air Force veterans, for example have the highest graduation rate of all the military branches at 67 percent.

Clearly, veterans are succeeding in college more than ever before. Colleges have made great strides in eliminating many of the barriers that have stood between veterans and their academic success, and continue to find ways to provide more support for their needs.

What’s Holding People Back?

Most researchers involved in the analysis of veteran’s issues in education note that the challenges that veterans face are similar to those faced by nontraditional students, such as those who return to school after several years in the workforce or who have financial or family obligations that keep them from devoting all of their attention to school. However, former military personnel also have unique challenges including PTSD, social or financial challenges. These are just a few of the obstacles that veterans have historically faced when seeking education. However, many colleges and universities have taken steps to become more military friendly, and develop degree programs for veterans that ensure their success.

How Colleges Are Helping

Colleges and universities have recognized the challenges facing their military veterans, and are developing programs and resources to support their success.

For example, many colleges are opening veteran’s centers designed to provide guidance and support in all aspects of the transition from military to civilian life. Some universities are also offering more flexible options for earning degrees that better align with veterans’ needs and preferences. Online classes, fast track degree programs that offer credit for skills and education gained in the military, and open or rolling enrollment schedules are just some of the ways that universities are offering flexible options and making it possible for veterans to fit education in with their other responsibilities.

Above all, veterans are succeeding in college due to a growing acceptance of their presence and value to the overall college experience. In short, veterans are quickly becoming an important part of the student population, and schools are doing more to provide the support they need.

To learn more about the benefits for veterans at Columbia Southern University, visit ColumbiaSouthern.edu/Military.

Some of the Challenges Facing Student Veterans

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By Debbie Gregory.

Military veteran benefits such as the Montgomery GI Bill, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and now the Forever GI Bill, have enabled education for veterans by paying for expenses such as tuition, textbooks, and housing.

With those obstacles out of the way, there are still some challenges for veterans that are transitioning from the military to veteran education programs.

Gone is the military ranking system. Gone is the brotherhood. Gone is the sense of working towards the successful outcome of a shared mission. What remains, for most, is the drive towards personal, individual success, which may be confusing for some veteran students.

Additionally, since veteran students tend to be older than their civilian counterparts, they have not only had different life experiences, but they also have different life obligations, which may include spouses, children, mortgages, etc.

Another difference is that many veteran students have witnessed or experienced the horrors of war, and may be suffering from mental or physical issues.

So what can be done to support these students in order to improve their chances of success?

The VA Campus Toolkit offers tips on what faculty, staff, administrators and students can do to help veteran students.

A community site for veterans to gather on campus can empower students to share information, respond to one another’s needs, and relieve stress while providing a venue for veterans to discuss shared concerns.

Having a chapter of Student Veterans of America or a Veterans Resource Center on campus offers a safe haven for veteran students, without them having to overshare their veteran status.

Removing obstacles and red tape can go a long way towards student retention and in the reputation of your institution as a military-friendly campus.

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.

Pentagon Plans Changes to Post-9/11 GI Bill Transferability

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By Debbie Gregory.

While most people know that the GI Bill is administered and paid for through the Department of Veterans Affairs, what most people probably don’t know is that the Defense Department controls the transferability of the benefit. And the DoD is planning some changes to that transferability.

The transferability option under the Post-9/11 GI Bill allows servicemembers to transfer all or some unused benefits to their spouse or dependent children. Current GI Bill policy allows service members with at least six years of service to transfer their benefits to a dependent, provided they agree to serve four more.

The request to transfer unused GI Bill benefits to eligible dependents must be completed while servicing as an active member of the Armed Forces.

Anthony Kurta, currently the acting deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the department intends to issue a policy change affecting the transferability of benefits, which will be limited to service members with less than 16 years of total service.

The addition of a cap to one aspect of the GI Bill doesn’t sit well with veterans who recently fought for a provision in the new Forever GI Bill that lifted a 15-year time limit on the benefit.

“As a matter of principle, the American Legion is against anything that would degrade a veteran’s current benefit,” said American Legion spokesman Joe Plenzler.

With that said, as the transferability only applies to active duty servicemembers, this change should have no impact on veterans.

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.

Will VA Scrap Ethics Law That Safeguards Veteran Students?

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Debbie Gregory.

Statute 38 U.S.C. 3683 is an ethics law that prohibits Department of Veterans Affairs employees from receiving money or owning a stake in for-profit colleges.

But the VA is now pushing back, claiming that the 50-year-old statute is redundant due to the other conflict-of-interest laws that apply to all federal employees and provide sufficient safeguards.

You may be wondering why this is important.

Veteran advocacy groups believe that doing away with the law would make it easier for the for-profit education industry to exploit veterans with their rich GI Bill benefits.

There is mounting concern that suspending the statute would make it possible for high-ranking agency officials to enact policies that benefit for-profit schools in which they have a financial interest.

“The statute is one of many important bipartisan reforms Congress implemented to protect G.I. Bill benefits from waste, fraud, and abuse,” said William Hubbard of Student Veterans of America. “A thoughtful and robust public conservation should be had to ensure that the interests of student veterans is the top of the priority list.”

“Congress enacted a zero tolerance for financial conflicts of interest for VA employees precisely because Congress uncovered massive fraud by for-profit colleges targeting veterans.”

“Student veterans were already facing an aggressive rollback of their protections under the Trump administration’s Education Department,” said Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success.  The non-profit group works to protect and defend the integrity and promise of the GI Bill and other federal education programs for veterans and servicemembers.

The law already provide measures for any employee that it covers to receive a waiver if they can prove that there is no conflict of interest and that whatever arrangement they have or had will not be a detriment to veterans.

The VA proposal is set to go into effect on October 16 unless the agency “receives a significant adverse comment” by or on that date.

Unfortunately, to date, no such comments have yet been submitted nor have any public hearings been scheduled.

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.

GI Bill for On-the-job Training

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By Debbie Gregory.

When separating from their military service, there are many newly-minted veterans who aren’t desirous of attending a traditional college or university to cash in on their veteran school benefits.  A better fitting veteran education option for them might be on-the-job (OJT) training or an apprenticeship program.

Both OJT and apprenticeship programs are available for veterans using their VA GI Bill education benefits, one of the most valuable veteran benefit.

These programs give veterans the opportunity to learn a trade or skill through training on the job participation rather than attending formal classroom instruction. The programs generally consist of entering into a training contract for a specific period with an employer or union. At the end of the training period, the veteran has earned job certification or journeyman status.

Usually, employers pay a reduced OJT/apprenticeship wage, which must be at least 50% of journeyman’s wage, with periodic wage increases, unless it’s a government program. By the last full month of training, the wage must be at least 85% of the wage for a fully trained employee.

In addition to the wages paid by the employer, veterans who are participating in an approved program can use their GI Bill benefit and receive a tax-free stipend equivalent to the Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) of an E-5 with dependents.  However, the stipend is reduced 20% every six months as the Veteran’s wages regularly increase until the Veteran has attained journeyman status and pay.

If traditional college/university education, OTJ training or an apprenticeship doesn’t fit the bill, one other option is available: beneficiaries can use their educational assistance to pursue accredited independent study programs at career and technical schools that provide postsecondary level education and postsecondary vocational institutions. This change went into effect August 16, 2017.

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.

Documents Reveal U. of Phoenix Paid for Special Access to a Military Base

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By Debbie Gregory.

Newly released documents have revealed the unsavory military recruiting practices used by the University of Phoenix that led to a recruiting ban in 2015.

Military regulations adopted as a result of President Obama’s executive order were supposed to “ban inducements, including any gratuity, favor, discount, (or) entertainment” for the “purpose of securing enrollments of Service members.” Recruiting activities are supposed to be limited to education fairs and other narrowly approved activities where every school would have equal access.

But the regulations say nothing about sponsoring events.

The University of Phoenix paid the military $25,000 to sponsor a concert by country rapper Big Smo on the parade ground at Fort Campbell.

The for-profit college, which had become the largest recipient of taxpayer subsidies under the post-9/11 GI Bill, was also allowed to erect advertising banners and place promotional materials in high-traffic areas and in welcome packets for newly arrived soldiers at Fort Campbell, in exchange for financial payments.

For-profit colleges have been criticized for preying on veterans and low-income students. Two of them, Corinthian and ITT Tech, filed for bankruptcy and closed their doors.

Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Ochoa said the University of Phoenix is now in compliance with federal regulations and may resume sponsoring events on bases, as long as the sponsorship payments follow the protocols designed to prevent predatory practices.

Student Veterans of America’s vice president Will Hubbard said the contract between Fort Campbell and the University of Phoenix was crafted to make service members believe the military was endorsing the for-profit college.

“The University of Phoenix is spending substantially above and beyond what any public or nonprofit private school can afford,” he said. “Frankly, that’s because (other schools are) spending their money on education.”

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.

Better Protection from Student Loan Fraud Needed By Veterans and the Rest of Us

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By Debbie Gregory.

Veterans, with their attractive and generous GI Bill education benefits have been targeted by predatory, for-profit colleges. Often times, they leave with a partial education, or if they do graduate, the diploma comes with a mountain of debt. And for some, they find out too late that their credits won’t transfer or they don’t qualify for the licenses they need.

Until it filed for bankruptcy in 2015, the Corinthian College group was a leader in student loan fraud. Federal authorities, as well as the California attorney general’s office have gone after Corinthian. California’s AG successfully obtained a judgment for more than a billion dollars due to deceptive advertising and unlawful lending practices, and the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau obtained a 40 percent reduction in the private loans owed for tuition at Corinthian Colleges.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education discharged student loan debt for over 27,000 students who enrolled in one of Corinthian’s programs, and it has promised debt relief to 23,000 more former students seeking debt relief based on allegations of fraud.

ITT Tech was another for-profit that filed for bankruptcy, leaving more than 35,000 students in limbo when it closed.

Corinthian, like many other for-profit schools, used fine-print forced arbitration clauses in its student enrollment contracts to have any litigation against the school dismissed.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has not been able to secure loan relief to students.

Relief may be on the way in the form of a rule that requires schools taking federal aid to drop forced arbitration, allowing students to pursue fraud claims in court. But DeVos has delayed the rule and is considering reversing it.

Not all for-profit colleges are in favor of arbitration. The University of Phoenix has eliminated mandatory arbitration clauses in student-enrollment agreements. Greg Cappelli, CEO of University of Phoenix’s parent company said that the decision “is the right choice for all of our students.”

DeVry University has also eliminated mandatory arbitration clauses.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has issued a new rule that restores the ability of students, service members and other consumers to band together in court when banks, student lenders and other financial companies act illegally.

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.