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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.

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.

What Makes a School Truly Veteran Friendly?

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By Debbie Gregory.

Veterans who have transitioned out of the military do so with rich veteran education benefits, especially those who have the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. In addition to tuition, the benefit covers housing, books and supplies. It’s no wonder that schools want to recruit these potential students.

But because veterans can only spend these veteran education benefits once, finding the right institution to help guarantee success is of great importance. This is achieved by finding an institution that fosters a culture which is supportive, appreciative, respectful, embracing, and inclusive of the veterans it educates. Schools that genuinely value diversity will make an active, sustained effort to attract veterans, because they recognize the value of their presence in the classroom.

Being veteran friendly also means being responsive to the unique needs of their student-veteran population.

Here are some characteristics a veteran education program should provide:

  • A veterans lounge as a designated space for the veterans to gather, study, and socialize
  • Department of Veterans Affairs resources directly on campus
  • A chapter of Student Veterans of America
  • Fully covered tuition through the G.I. Bill, and a commitment to meet any shortfalls through institutional aid
  • Exemption from standard residential housing policies since veterans are older and may have families
  • Credit for military service
  • A quality education

Military bases maintain an education office, and conduct transition assistance workshops for servicemen and women preparing to reenter civilian life.

Additional resources include:

  • The Warrior Scholar Program empowers enlisted military veterans by providing them with a skill bridge that enables a successful transition from the battlefield to the classroom. The program works to maximize their education opportunities by making them informed consumers of education, and increases the confidence they will need to successfully complete a rigorous four-year undergraduate program at a top-tier school.
  • Service to School, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that provides free application counseling to military veterans. Their goal is to help veterans win admission to the best universities possible and to help them maximize their education benefits.
  • The Posse Foundation, which forms groups of 10 veterans who all are admitted to the same college at once, and form a ready-made squad of peers who can support each other throughout their college experience and succeed as a team.

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.

 

Would Changes to the GI Bill Impact Military Recruitment?

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By Debbie Gregory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Forever GI Bill Unveiled

Colmery

By Debbie Gregory.

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

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

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

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

Major changes would include:

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

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

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

What do you think?

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

Congress May Start Charging Troops for their GI Bill Benefits

GI Bill

The Post-11 GI Bill has been the most valuable Veteran education benefit for those who serve in history. Billions of dollars have been paid in these veteran education benefits. Veteran students are provided thirty-nine months of tuition, a housing allowance that is equivalent to an E-5 with dependents for the zip code of the school that the student veteran is attending and a $1,000 stipend toward books and supplies..

A major revamping of Veteran education benefits is happening with $3 billion in new spending is planned over the next decade. It is being referred to unofficially by Veteran advocate organizations and congressional staffers as “GI Bill 3.0”.   Some of the components are quite controversial too.

The major issue of debate is charging new troops $2,400 making them essentially having to buy in to their GI Bill benefits.   This will also create two classes with some troops contributing and others not paying anything. Some Veteran advocates believe this plan amounts to a new tax on the lowest-paid service members.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn, introduced the bill, known unofficially as the “Lifetime GI Bill Act.” The bill also contains other changes to current Veterans education benefits. The bill would also expand eligibility for wounded troops, families of deceased service members, and some reservists currently excluded from the current benefits.

Veteran advocate groups are divided with some against this bill and additional costs to soldiers and others taking the position that it would improve and protect the education benefit over the long haul. Some feel that it would be harder to decrease these valuable Veteran education benefits if service members were paying into them and that having skin in the game might be an added incentive to those who use their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.

“Ensuring veterans are able to successfully transition back to civilian life after military service is a cost of war, and not a fee that Congress can just pass along to our troops,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars National Commander Brian Duffy .“Charging incoming troops is absolutely a deal-breaker,” one Washington, D.C.based Veterans’ advocate with knowledge of the effort said. “We’re not going to stand for them taxing troops for their benefits.”
This proposed legislation would deduct from new enlistees$100 from their basic pay each month for two years for a total of $2,400, for them to receive Veteran education benefits. It should be noted that the lowest paying soldiers would be the ones being charged. The Post-9/11 GI Bill created in 2009 does not require service members to pay into it, but an earlier version of the benefit, the Montgomery GI Bill mandated recipients to pay $100 per month for one year.
Student Veterans of America feels that paying in will protect Veterans’ education benefits. “It’s infinitely more difficult to get rid of or cut the GI Bill if troops have paid into that benefit,” said Will Hubbard, Vice President of Government Affairs for Student Veterans of America. “This is about how we can make the GI Bill protected and buffered against budget fights for years to come.”

This is a complicated and heated issue. Both sides have expressed arguments with merit. Tell us what you think by emailing us at: info@localhost.

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.