VFW staff in Washington have been busy over the last month, building a robust coalition, pushing for student-veteran success in higher education. The coalition, comprised of 10 organizations vested in supporting student-veterans, recently sent a series of letters to leaders in the House, Senate, and the Obama Administration, calling for improved consumer education for potential student-veterans and a streamlined method of recourse for veterans who feel they were victims of fraud, waste or abuse while using their benefits.
The VFW first scored a major victory for student-veterans in 2008, pushing for the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, which now offers unprecedented educational opportunities to veterans of the current conflicts and the dependents of career service members. Unfortunately, recent reports indicate that some of today’s newest student-veterans may lose their benefits by enrolling in schools that fail to confer relevant educational credentials.
While some continue to point fingers at certain sectors of higher education, the VFW has chosen to look at the root causes of the problem – a potentially uninformed consumer inundated with bad information and no process for recovery. Over the last few months, the VFW has learned that enough quality information is available for veterans to make informed decisions about how to best use their education benefits, and both the Department of Education and VA have already taken steps to collect more. Unfortunately, most of this information never reaches student-veterans. Plus, if veterans feel they have been victims of fraud, waste or abuse, conflicts are resolved on an ad-hoc basis, with little knowledge or interaction from VA.
Under Chapter 36 of the G.I. Bill, VA is obligated to make educational and vocational counseling available to service members, potential student-veterans, and dependents eligible for any chapter of the G.I. Bill. Unfortunately, very few student-veterans are aware that this benefit exists, and even fewer choose to take advantage of it. In its current form, veterans must first discover that such counseling is available, fill out the requisite paperwork, mail it to their nearest VA regional office and wait for a response. This labor-intensive “opt-in” process resulted in only 6,400 veterans receiving counseling in 2011, compared to more than 800,000 veterans utilizing G.I. Bill benefits.
With so much at stake for these future leaders, the coalition has asked for an overhaul to VA’s educational counseling procedures, mandating VA to actively contact veterans eligible for such counseling, asking those who wish to waive the benefit to “opt-out.” On the back end, the coalition has asked that VA leverage its resources to create a formal complaint process to address student-veteran issues, allowing VA and other agencies responsible for student-veteran programs to take action.
In addition to the VFW, the coalition includes some of the nation’s leading veterans’ advocates, including the American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and Student Veterans of America; as well as a diverse group of advocates in non-profit and for-profit education including American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers, American Council of Education, Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, National Association for College Admission Counseling, National Association of State Approving Agencies, and the University of Phoenix.
The VFW believes that by ensuring veterans understand their benefits and can take action when a school breaks the rules, student-veterans will be able to use their G.I. Bill effectively, molding the next generation of American leaders, as we intended. Check back regularly with this blog for updates.
(Image: Coalition letter recently sent to House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Ranking Member Bob Filner, D-Calif., asking for improved consumer education and recourse for student-veterans.)