Trump Administration Wants to Legalize Payoffs to VA Officials by For-Profit Schools

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By Debbie Gregory.

Before taking office last year, Donald Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle multiple lawsuits claiming fraud at Trump University, his for-profit real estate school.

Last month, the Trump administration announced that Julian Schmoke Jr., a former official at for-profit DeVry University, would be in charge of a Department of Education unit that polices colleges for student aid fraud. Last year, DeVry paid $100 million to settle federal claims it misled students, including veteran education programs.

And now, the Trump administration is seeking to waive an anti-corruption law that has been on the books for 50 years. The law prevents officials who administer the GI Bill from accepting money from for-profit schools backed by taxpayer subsidies.

The waiver would allow employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs to receive “wages, salary, dividends, profits, gratuities” and services from for-profit schools that receive GI Bill funds.

Veterans’ advocates, who have battled for veteran education rights against predatory colleges, were blindsided.

“Bizarre and very likely illegal,” 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.

“There are federal laws – including federal criminal laws – that prohibit federal employees from engaging in this exact behavior,” she said.

The rule change could create conflict of interest where VA officials, who are charged with ensuring GI Bill funds are well spent, could accept payments from colleges facing scrutiny.

VA employees could also own or run a for-profit college that profits from the GI Bill.

The VA angered many veteran advocates by allowing for-profit Ashford University to continue receiving GI Bill money, this in spite of the fact that California and Iowa regulators revoked its certification from the program.

Ashford circumvented the revocation by moving its official address from Iowa to Arizona.

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 Can Be Trained For High Tech Jobs with New Federal Program

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By Debbie Gregory.

While the post-9/11 GI Bill provides funding for veterans to pursue traditional education programs, technological advancements have resulted in high tech jobs for military, high tech jobs for veterans, military high tech jobs and veteran high tech jobs.

These are great jobs that veterans interested in technology careers can and should fill. But unfortunately, most short-term tech training programs aren’t eligible for funding from the G.I. Bill,

A bill sponsored by CA Rep. Ro Khanna will now change that. The bill will launch a five-year pilot program so that short-term tech training courses will be able to get G.I. Bill funding much easier.

“These types of skills might be more beneficial in getting a good job than two years of college or even four years of college,” said Khanna.

The bill will fund programs like NPower, a nonprofit that offers courses in the basics of computer hardware, software, and advanced network administration..

The program, which costs between $6,000 and $10,000 per student, is currently funded by foundations and grants and doesn’t charge the veteran participants. But G.I. Bill funding would enable NPower to serve a greater number of veterans.

Khanna’s bill also allows veterans to collect their BAH housing stipends to offset their living expenses while they’re taking a training course.

High tech training will give veterans a leg up when it comes to securing good jobs. In fact, many veterans already have security clearances necessary for tech companies that contract with the government.

Khanna was the lead Democratic sponsor on the tech funding pilot program which was spearheaded by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield as part of a larger G.I. Bill expansion.

If the pilot program goes well, it could become permanent.

“This is reorienting the G.I. Bill for the 21st century,” Khanna said.

In a deeply divided Congress, it’s nice to see our elected officials reach across the aisle to benefit our 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.

 

Here’s What You Need to Know About the Forever GI Bill

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By Debbie Gregory.

The “Forever GI Bill,” a sweeping expansion of GI Bill education benefits, is on its way to the Oval Office.

Passed by both houses of Congress, the bill will increase veteran’s benefits by more than $3 billion over the next decade.

One important change, reserved for those who become eligible after January 1, 2018, is the removal of the 15-year limit on using their GI Bill benefits, which offers them more flexibility.

Additionally, the Forever GI Bill boosts education assistance for National Guard and Reserve troops, Purple Heart recipients and for the dependents of fallen troops.

Reservists called to active duty under sections 12304(a) and 12304(b) are now eligible. Previously, only reservists called to active duty by presidential order as a result of a national emergency were eligible. This applies to all reservists mobilized after Aug. 1, 2009, but reservists can receive payment only for classes that start after Aug. 1, 2018.

Reservists who were receiving REAP payments may now be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Currently, there are less than 4,000 people eligible for this benefit.

Purple Heart recipients will get the full GI Bill amount, regardless of how long they served on active duty.

For veterans who were caught up in the collapse of for-profit schools Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech, the legislation would fully restore their GI Bill education benefits.

Of course, all of this comes with a price tag, and the expansion will be paid for by reducing the increases in housing allowances paid under the GI Bill to new beneficiaries. As of January 1, 2018, the GI Bill housing allowance will decrease an average of $100 a month. Active-duty BAH is also affected, decreasing each year by 1 percent every year from 2015 to 2019,  so that by 2020, BAH will only cover 95 percent of a military member’s housing cost.

The housing allowance for GI Bill students will now be based on the campus location where classes are attended, not necessarily the main campus.

Effective August 1, 2018, Dependent’s Education Assistance (DEA) monthly payments will increase by about 50 percent, but the maximum number of months that a dependent can get DEA decreases from 45 to 36.

Also effective August 1, 2018, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) programs are eligible for the “Edith Nourse Rogers Scholarship” which will pay veterans up to $30,000 if they have used up all their GI Bill benefits and have at least 60 semester/90 quarter hours credit toward a STEM degree. It also will pay those who already have a STEM degree and are working on a teaching certification.

The High Technology Pilot Program, scheduled to start in the spring of 2019, covers the full cost of high technology training offered by a company versus a school.

MilitaryConnection.com has a comprehensive education area, and we invite you to check out the numerous education resources at https://militaryconnection.com/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.

D’Youville Veteran Student Michelle Greene Rides for a Cause

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You could call Technical Sergeant Michelle Greene a bit of an overachiever.

The  27-year-old has already completed nine years of military service, while taking on a full time course load to complete her undergraduate degree in Exercise and Sports Science at D’Youville College, a Veteran School Salute awardee and Yellow Ribbon Program Participant.

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A natural at athletics, Greene took up road biking four years ago, and it quickly became her favorite hobby. So when you love to ride, and you have a generous spirit, what better to do then combine the two and ride for a cause?

“Simply put, I want to do this ride for those who can’t,” said Greene.

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Greene connected with Mission 22, a non-profit organization that raises awareness and enlists support to end veteran suicide in America. She has volunteered to complete a 22 day bike trek traveling from Buffalo, NY to Keesler AFB, Mississippi during the month of September, 2017.

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“If by me riding 1250 miles on my bike can help even one soul overcome the mental battle or depression and thoughts of suicide I would do it 100 times over,” Greene said.

On top of her studies and military service, Greene also volunteers at a local gym as a trainer, specializing in teen and young adult athletic development.

“I myself have known many people who have struggled with PTSD, depression, and a never ending mental battle with the outcome often times leading to suicide,” Greene shared. “I want people, vets and civilians alike, to become aware of the resources out there to help. I want them to know they are not alone in this mentally crippling battle and that there is help, there is a light, and there is a chance to become healed from the stressors military life puts on not only the member, but their family, friends, and cohorts.”

Greene’s long term plan is to earn her Doctorate in Physical Therapy.

It’s time to replace the words, “Thank you for your service” with an action that demonstrates the sentiment. If you would like to support Michelle Greene’s great cause, you can do so by either purchasing a shirt or through a direct donation.

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

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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.

Veteran’s Campaign to Make Stanford More Veteran Friendly

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By Debbie Gregory.

Adam Behrendt is on a mission. The former U.S. Navy corpsman who enrolled as a transfer student at Stanford University is trying to persuade the university to change some of their policies to make the school more veteran friendly.

Behrendt enlisted in the Navy in 2007, after several years at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, was medically retired from the Navy in March 2015. He applied to Stanford, with the game plan of attending medical school.

Unfortunately, the way Stanford applied the education benefits available through Behrendt’s Post 9/11 GI Bill did not make it financially feasible for his wife to give up her job in Wisconsin and move to California.

Fortunately for Behrendt, he was able to get assistance from Service to School, an organization that helps military veterans apply to and succeed in college. Through his relationship with the non-profit, Behrendt began mentoring other veterans to help them navigate Stanford’s financial aid policies.

Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) provides both tuition assistance and a housing and living allowance to veterans in order for them to pursue postsecondary education.

Stanford charged roughly $72,000 for an undergraduate — $47,000 in tuition, $18,000 in room and board, and about $7,000 for supplies and fees.

Under VA policy at the time, the typical undergraduate veteran at Stanford would be eligible for more than $50,000 — roughly $25,000 in tuition and fees support and another $28,000 toward housing and living expenses.

For veterans who also earned need-based funds from Stanford, the university would apply the entire $53,000 from the VA, and reduce its own financial contributions as a result. Stanford was counting the housing allowance as a resource that the student veteran was bringing to the table in calculating financial aid.

Behrend thought it was not fair for the university to take $28,000 in VA funds to cover $18,000 in room and board.

Behrendt had become an accidental advocate, and because of his efforts,  Stanford’s general counsel noted in a letter to Behrendt that the university would no longer take more than the amount of the housing costs out of the VA’s living allowance, and that the university would not use an outside donor’s funds to meet a federal requirement that institutions match VA contributions under the Yellow Ribbon program.

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 Groups Agree on Four GI Bill Changes

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By Debbie Gregory.

Last month, thirty-five veteran groups banded together and stalled a congressional hearing.

The groups were in the U.S. Capital to weigh in on changes to the Post 9/11 GI Bill.  They want change and to close some loopholes.

While they agree on more than they disagree on, the area of disagreement concerns whether or not to charge new enlistees for their GI Bill benefit.
The areas of agreement include:

  • There should be a fix to a Pentagon deployment authorization that is unfairly preventing thousands of Reservists and Guardsmen from earning GI Bill benefits. About 4,700 Reservists and Guardsmen who deployed under Title 10, Section 12304b have been restricted from accumulating education benefits.
  • Also in agreement among veteran groups is a measure to bring the mobilization authority up to par with active-duty entitlements
  • Expanding eligibility for the Yellow Ribbon Program to surviving spouses and children of servicemembers killed in the line of duty. The program allows veterans to attend schools or enroll in programs that cost more than the GI Bill tuition cap.
  • Expanding full GI Bill benefits to all Purple Heart recipients. Currently, a veteran must be medically retired from the military or have 36 months of active-duty service to qualify.  There are approximately 1,500 Purple Heart recipients who aren’t eligible for full education benefits.  If you’ve been wounded on the battlefield, you’ve met the service requirement.
  • Assisting student veterans whose schools close. Last year, for-profit ITT Technical Institute closed its doors, and thousands of veterans who attended the campuses were unable to recover lost education benefits. The situation has also happened with other for-profit schools that have closed.

The major issue that these groups cannot reach consensus on which has divided veteran groups is the Post 9/11 GI Bill expansion and funding it.   It has been recommended by some of the veteran groups that new enlistees would pay $2,400 over a two year period to opt into this benefit.

Some Veteran groups have described this as “a tax on troops”.

There will be further discussions between veteran groups on whether to charge servicemembers for the GI Bill.

Tell us what you think and check out the multitude of educational information on our site militaryconnection.com.

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.

Support Veteran Resource Center Funding

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By Debbie Gregory.

An estimated 70,000 veterans who have served in the War on Terror have enrolled into the California Community College system. Many of them face difficulties adjusting to civilian life after serving in the military, and receive support through Veteran Resource Centers (VRCs) located on California’s Community College (CCC) campuses.

The California State Assembly has shown unanimous bipartisan support in voting to approve funding for Veteran Resource Centers (VRC) at Community Colleges in the May Revision Budget Sub Committee #2.

While the $15 million on-going funding sustains the VRCs,  the federal VA has already agreed to match the state’s input, resulting in $30 million in funding to VRCs in the community college system.
Research performed by the CCC indicates that providing support services improves academic success for all student veterans. This is especially true of those who are using the GI Bill and need to maximize every available month of eligibility. VRCs offer services specifically tailored to the needs of our veterans all in one place: tutoring, on-campus support services from the VA, and veteran support groups and counseling. VRCs also provide a sense of community and the camaraderie of fellow veterans, which are invaluable to transitioning to civilian life.

Many of these students enter our colleges with service connected disabilities, basic skills gaps, lack of support systems and challenges navigating a new system when entering higher education. Professional Veteran Resource Center faculty/staff support the veteran population on each campus and assure benefits and payments are appropriately allocated to the student and the campus. They are also in place to help student veterans traverse the complexities and constant changes to VA regulations and educational benefits.

We honor our veterans and the sacrifices they have made for our nation by supporting their  educational journeys, culminating in successful careers.

In their May Revision, the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education passed a $10 million ONE-TIME funding to community college VRCs. All California residents need to urge the Senate to go with the Assembly budget, and assert that this funding needs to be on-going, NOT a one-time fund.

Contact your local Senator and urge them to #PutYourMoneyWhereTheVetsAre by supporting the #70KStrong! It’s up to us to ensure that $30 million in funding goes to crucial transition efforts that help our veterans!

State and Community Colleges Successful for Student Veterans

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By Debbie Gregory.

Student veterans face challenges that their civilian counterparts don’t; they are usually older than civilian students and in many cases, they are juggling college with families, jobs and service-related disabilities.

Student veterans believe that their discipline, maturity and drive aid them if facing their many challenges. But on the flip side, many of them find the less disciplined environment of a campus can be a problem for veterans used to being told what to do and when to do it

Many colleges and universities are eager to recruit military veteran students, attracted to the $10.2 billion a year in GI Bill benefits that come with them. Unfortunately, many of the large for-profit schools such as ITT Technical Institute and Corinthian (parent company to Heald College, Everest College and WyoTech) have gone out of business, leaving their veteran students hanging.

For colleges and universities looking to boost the number of veterans who will leave with a degree in hand, specialized support is key. According to the Departments of Defense, Education and Veterans Affairs, schools that don’t offer support to their student veterans have a very poor graduation percentage.

Many state and community colleges and universities with significant veteran support enjoy high levels of success. These schools will usually have some combination of a Veteran Center, dedicated veteran advisors and/or counselors, and a chapter of Student Veterans of America.

They also know how to convert military training and experience into academic credit. This can mean the difference between having enough GI Bill money to earn a degree, so that student veterans don’t have to choose between giving up or paying out of their own pockets.

According to Jared Lyon, president and CEO of Student Veterans of America and a Florida State grad, campuses that get it right are the ones “that look at the student veteran population as nontraditional students. It starts with the efforts to recruit, and there’s also a veterans resource office, a veterans center, a veterans lounge, a campus veteran success center.”

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.