Veterans Groups, Lawmakers Oppose GI Bill Cuts for Veterans Housing Benefits

gi bill cuts

By Debbie Gregory.

Veteran advocates and House lawmakers rallied on Capitol Hill to oppose cuts to the Post 9/11 GI Bill Veterans Housing benefit for dependents that they say would break a “sacred” trust.

While the move would result in a savings of approximately $773 million over the next 10 years, Rep. Tim Walz, (D-Minn.) said, “This goes back on a promise that all of us here are unwilling to break. In the entire federal budget, there is nowhere else to fund [veterans] programs? That cannot stand.”

Officials from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) said the move goes back on a promise made to those families that the full benefit would be available when they need it, and for the first time pulls money out of the GI Bill to fund outside programs.

Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of IAVA, said, “This is about keeping a promise, investing in the future, about retention and recruiting and morale. Find the money somewhere else. Either you’re with us or against us.”

“When we ask our troops to make a promise to us to run into battle, we don’t accept it when they turn around and say, ‘You know what, now that the bullets are flying the cost is a little bit high,” Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said. “So how dare we decide years later after we’ve made this promise, after people have enlisted or stayed in the military partly partially because of this benefit, to say, ‘You know what, we decide it’s too expensive, you cost us too much.’”

But officials from Student Veterans of America (SVA) said that the issue isn’t that black and white. Derek Fronabarger, SVA’s director of policy, challenged the idea that the legislative proposal amounts to “cuts” in veterans housing benefits, saying that the cuts will impact dependents, not servicemembers.

And the savings from the change would go to pay for a host of other programs, resulting in a difficult choice, pro or con.

Walz suggested Congress instead cut bonuses to VA employees, which have been deep in scandal over wrongdoing for the past two years. But Walz said he will vote against the entire omnibus bill if the reduction in housing stipends remains.

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.

Attorney Generals Demand Veteran Education Restored to Defrauded Veterans

predatory

By Debbie Gregory.

Numerous state attorney generals are speaking out on behalf of veterans who were defrauded of their veteran education by for-profit colleges.

The attorney generals (AGs) in eight states sent Secretary Bob McDonald a letter demanding restoration of GI Bill benefits. They allege that the for-profit colleges used deceptive tactics in recruiting veterans that slipped by the VA, denying them the quality veteran education that they would have received by attending non-predatory veteran schools.

Recruiters, who were more like heavy-handed salespeople,  used proven psychotherapy techniques to manipulate veterans into enrolling. Veterans used up their benefits on a worthless “education.”

“Veterans earn educational benefits through their heroic service to our country… They should not return home and become targets of predatory, bogus colleges whose only interest in our veterans is to profit off them,” said Illinois AG Lisa Madigan. “It’s critical that our tax dollars allow student veterans to get a true education and the opportunities it provides.”

The aforementioned colleges provided such low quality educations that other colleges would not accept them for transfer credits. Graduates were promised jobs that never materialized.

To protect veterans education moving forward, the AGs are suggesting the VA adopt four strategies.

Exercise current federal statutory authority to provide relief to these veterans

Trigger Automatic Reviews

Take Proactive Steps To Provide Full and Accurate Information

Increase Cooperation.

For-profit colleges can receive up to 90 percent of their revenue from taxpayer dollars, with the additional revenue frequently coming from veterans’ benefits and private student loans.

These students—including veterans—enrolled to become equipped for the workforce, but often they didn’t get what they need. Instead, they found confusing or misleading information, excessive costs, poor quality, low completion rates, and programs that provide training for low-wage occupations or, in some cases, where there simply are no jobs.

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.

Jobs for Military Veterans Remains a Top Priority

veterans resources

By Debbie Gregory.

Jobs for military veterans is one of the main issues facing today’s veterans, with the unemployment rate for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan remaining the highest among all American veterans.

According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the 2014 unemployment rate for Gulf War-era II veterans, although down nearly 2 percent from the previous year, was at 7.2 percent. This was the highest amongst all veteran groups.

But the news isn’t all bad. The Department of Veteran Affairs reports that veteran school benefits, such as the Post 9/11 GI Bill, have impacted the unemployment figures as many veterans have decided to pursue an education instead of a getting a job right away. Additionally, female veterans have a completion rate 5 percent higher than female students in the general population.

So while women veterans have a higher unemployment rate, those who attend school and/or secure an employment opportunity are faring better than their non-veteran counterparts, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

When it comes to finding jobs for military veterans, Hiring Our Heroes is a nationwide initiative to help veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities.

To date, the initiative has found jobs for more than 27,000 veterans and military spouses. The listing of Veteran Job Fairs on MilitaryConnection.com includes Hiring Our Heroes on-site events that connect veterans directly with employers, as well as many other resources for employment and education including Post 9/11 GI Bill information, the Annual Stipend for books & supplies , a Job Board with thousands of openings, and our Virtual Job Fair.

But finding a job and staying at that job long term can be a challenge for many veterans. In order to avoid attrition, one of the best veteran job tips is to begin planning for a civilian job anywhere from 10 to 12 months before transitioning out of the military.

When looking for veteran jobs, don’t rule out working for the federal government. According to the President’s Council on Veterans Employment, in 2014, the percentage of veteran new hires hit a new high of 33.2 percent, surpassing the previous mark set in FY 2013, when 31 percent of all new Federal civilian hires were 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.

House Vote Reduces GI Bill Housing Stipend for Military Children

bah cut

By Debbie Gregory.

The House of Representatives approved a bill that would cut, by half, the housing stipend for children of service members going to school with transferred Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. The bill now moves to the Senate, where it would need to pass and then be signed by the president to become law.

The language, part of the Veterans Employment, Education and Healthcare Act, cuts the payment for children of service members using the transferred funding. It would not apply to benefits already transferred or transferred within 180 days of the bill becoming law.

The housing stipend, often one of the most valuable parts of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, is typically calculated based on the Basic Allowance for Housing that active-duty service members would receive if stationed where the school is located. The housing stipend may be worth as much as the tuition and fees the benefit covers, sometimes more.

A spokesman for the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee said the cuts were necessary to offset, or pay for, other aspects of the bill. He also noted that the cuts were less drastic than those recommended from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission.

Minnesota Democratic Rep. Tim Walz, said that while the bill has “absolutely wonderful programs,” paying for those by reducing a benefit that service members have been promised “is an egregious breach of trust.”

“Why come to the soldiers first? There’s no other place in the federal government we can find this [funding]?” Walz asked.

Veteran and military groups seem to be split on whether or not this is a good move.

Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans both wrote letters favoring the overall bill.

The Association of the United States Navy and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America are against the cuts.

The measure would not affect the stipends of veterans using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits they earned themselves.

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.

Housing Benefits Available for On-The-Job Training

ojt

By Debbie Gregory.

It’s a shame to leave hard-earned benefits on the table. In 2011, a benefit was added to the Post 9/11 GI Bill that gave living stipends to non-students who were seeking on-the-job (OJT) training or apprenticeships. Unfortunately, only about 2 percent of eligible veterans have taken advantage of it.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill was approved in 2008, covering tuition and living expenses for veterans who wanted to attend college. Three years later, Congress added the OJT and apprenticeship benefit to provide transition support for veterans who sought alternatives to education.

These programs typically involve entering into a training contract for a specific period of time with an employer or union. At the end of the training period, a job certification is issued or journeyman status achieved.According to the report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) the offer provides a full or partial housing allowance to working veterans.

So why are the other 98 percent of eligible veterans leaving this benefit on the table?

One reason might be that the Department of Veterans Affairs has the tendency to emphasize the educational components of the GI Bill, offering few details on how to access the on-the-job training and apprenticeship benefits.

Another key problem is the administrative burdens that make some employers reluctant to participate, forcing employers to fill out forms and submit them to the VA before participating veterans begin receiving checks. Employers must also agree to incrementally raise the veteran employees’ wages in accordance with the VA plan.

The VA has agreed to develop a guide for employers and apprenticeship sponsors about Post-9/11 GI Bill OJT and apprenticeship benefits.

Benefits may include a full housing allowance along with a small stipend for books or supplies for the first six months. For the second six months, the benefit is 80 percent of the housing allowance tied to the veteran’s location. For the third six-month period, the percentage of the housing allowance drops to 60 percent. For the fourth six-month period, the housing allowance is reduced to 40 percent, and any time beyond 24 months, the stipend is at 20 percent of the housing allowance.

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.

Veterans Racking Up Student Debt Despite G.I. Bill

 

GI Bill Students

By Debbie Gregory.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is by far the most comprehensive education benefits package since the original GI Bill was signed into law in 1944. More than 1.4 million veterans and their family members who have received transferred benefits have used the bill for their veteran education.

But despite the generous benefits, many of those attending college for their veteran education are taking out substantial student loans and diving into debt.

Twenty-six percent of undergraduates receiving veteran education benefits, meant to financially cover four years of tuition at a public university, have nevertheless been made to take out student loans to finance their education and living expenses

The average loan was $7,400 — slightly more than for students who had never served in the military. But over the course of four years, this figure could easily grow to more than $25,000.

Veterans groups are concerned about borrowing by GI Bill users, who ideally should be able to graduate debt-free. The GI Bill theoretically covers four academic years of tuition at public colleges and universities, and has programs to cover the vast majority of expenses at many private institutions. Veterans also receive a monthly living allowance — averaging about $1,300, depending on where they live — to help cover expenses while they attend school.

Federal law prohibits colleges and the government from considering GI Bill benefits when determining financial aid. This allows veterans to take out low-interest education loans to use however they want. Some use the money to pay off other debts or educational expenses not covered under the GI Bill. Others use it for bills or to help support their families.

Additionally, beneficiaries at for-profit schools, which have been under fire for their high costs and low job-placement rates, are more likely to take out loans.

The actual benefit amount varies, based on an individual’s total length of service.

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.

Setting Up Veteran Student and Military Student Success

successcenter

By Debbie Gregory.

All too often, veteran students and military students (active duty and reservists) find themselves struggling to succeed in higher education. For some, the pitfalls might be financial, while for others, it might be the challenges of dealing with physical or psychological injuries.

Returning to higher education for veteran and military students can cause added stress to an already stressful transition for those who have been away from academics for many years.

Also, the manner in which GI Bill benefits are processed, arriving well after the semester has started, can be a huge stumbling block.

One huge advantage is having a well-informed veterans’ resource center on campus.

Many veterans are entering higher education after a prolonged break from school. There are programs that can assist in preparing them.

The Wounded Warrior Project’s TRACK program is the first education center in the nation designed specifically for wounded service members. As part of the cohort model, Wounded Warrior Project Alumni join other wounded service members who have shared similar experiences. They enter and complete the program as a team. Through this 12-month program, wounded service men and women take part in a whole-life approach to education, earn college credits that can be applied toward a degree, and gain valuable practical experience through an externship.

The Warrior-Scholar Project is an academic boot camp aimed at veterans who plan on attending or transferring to a 4-year college. Funded by foundations and private donors, the one and two-week programs are immersive and demanding. Veterans run the sessions, which are taught by university professors and graduate students. The curriculum is designed to help participants prepare to tackle the reading lists of rigorous college courses.

Veterans Upward Bound is a federal program run by the U.S. Department of Education that helps veterans prepare to be college students.

Veterans who come to college do so with a certain level of intensity, mission focus, discipline and structure from military life that is different from the mindset of traditional students. Anything that can be done to set these veteran students and military students up for success benefits us all.

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.

Some For-Profit Colleges See GI Bill as Cash Cow: Military Connection

Some For-Profit Colleges See GI Bill as Cash Cow

By Debbie Gregory.

In 2009, the Post-9/11 GI Bill significantly increased the higher education benefits available to individuals who served on active duty in the U.S. armed forces after September 10, 2001. In the transition back to civilian life, many veterans are finding their way back to school to begin or continue their higher education and career plans.

With that said, the choice of school may be surprisingly complex. Economically, most students find the expense of school to be daunting. At the same time, many for-profit colleges are finding the way to stay open is to accept veterans – and their benefits.

Since 2009, $8.2 billion has been collected by for-profit colleges. As many as 30% of U.S. veterans have enrolled in college with the GI Bill.

The guarantee of funds from veteran students is appealing to these colleges, but for-profit schools have been accused of aggressively targeting veterans to enroll. Many of the schools have been hiring veterans as recruiters, hoping to appeal to the potential students’ sense of camaraderie.

For-profit schools are required by a federal student aid regulation, known as the 90/10 rule, to assure that at least 10 percent of their revenue is derived from non-federal sources. With tuitions rising, and the majority of students who are able to afford these costs being comprised primarily of veterans, this ratio is harder and harder to meet. Some schools, such as Corinthian College, have not able to maintain that ratio and have been forced to close their doors.

While students are acquiring the training they seek to pursue careers, veterans are advised to review the options presented by for-profit schools, such as whether their credits will matriculate to other institutions if they need to transfer. Veterans may find for-profit schools offer good trade skills, but may realize that some of them are up to four times the cost of an in-state, public school.

Veterans may want to keep these points in mind in case the school does have a risk of closing, for they will want to be in the position of continuing their education, keeping adequate resources, while still focusing on their career goals.

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.

VA Waives Choice Act Resident-Rate Requirements: Military Connection

Choice Act

By Debbie Gregory.

In order to make it easier for veterans and their families to receive their GI Bill benefits where they choose, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald has delayed the provisions of Section 702 of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 (Choice Act). This action will ensure all GI Bill students are able to continue training at their chosen institutions.

The time allotted for states and territories to comply with Section 702 of the Choice Act is challenging for some states and schools, due in part to the necessary legislative and/or policy changes.  This limited waiver by Secretary McDonald covers programs that are not in compliance for all terms beginning prior to January 1, 2016, in order to allow time for non-compliant states and territories to make the requisite legislative and policy changes.

Under Section 702, the VA must disapprove education programs at public institutions for Post-9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty (MGIB-AD) benefits if a school charges certain individuals tuition and fees in excess of the resident rate for terms beginning after July 1, 2015.

The current maximum tuition benefit is just over $20,000, so veterans have to dig into their pocket for any university that charges more than that. Out-of-state tuition at public universities often exceeds $20,000 a year.

“Our military members and their families make sacrifices that require them to pack up and move with little notice,” said McDonald.  “They shouldn’t be penalized after they leave military service by burdensome residency requirements.  This waiver will allow students to continue receiving the GI Bill benefits they’ve earned as states work to comply with this important law.”

Many states already offer In-state tuition to any veteran, but there are 18 states that will be affected by this new law. Those are Arkansas, California, Connecticut, D.C., Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Schools that participate in the Yellow Ribbon program grant veterans additional funds to help make up the difference between in-state and out-of-state fees. However, the program has limitations and special requirements, meaning not all veterans will qualify for funding that covers all their expenses.

For more information on GI Bill resident-rate requirements and to see which states comply, visit the GI Bill website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/702.asp.

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.