When it comes to protecting veterans, service members, and their families from getting bamboozled for their GI Bill benefits, President Obama isn’t taking any chances. Though members of Congress have introduced legislation to protect veterans from deceptive and misleading practices by educational institutions, the president recently bypassed Congress, issuing an executive order to protect vets.
“It’s not enough to just help our veterans and service members afford school – we need to make sure they have all the tools they need to make an informed decision when it comes to picking the right program,” says President Obama.
Unfortunately, when some schools see veterans and service members, they see dollar signs. (So far, colleges have collected more than $4.4 billion under the new GI Bill.) The president gives an example of a college recruiter who visited a Marine barracks and enrolled Marines with traumatic brain injuries so severe that they couldn’t recall what courses they had been signed up for. That may be a worst-case scenario, but the reality is that aggressive recruiters have a long-standing reputation for preying on GI Bill beneficiaries.
These beneficiaries include active-duty service members (under the Pentagon’s Tuition Assistance Program), veterans who have served after September 10, 2001 (under the Post-9/11 GI Bill), and their family members (under the Military Spouse Career Advancement Account Program).
“The sad truth is that there are people out there who are less interested in helping our men and women in uniform get ahead and more interested in making a buck,” says the president. “They bombard potential students with emails and pressure them into making a quick decision. Some of them steer recruits towards high-interest loans and mislead them about credit transfers and job placement programs.”
The executive order contains new rules for how institutions receiving military and veteran education benefits recruit students, disclose financial information, and track student outcomes. The goal is to help veterans and service members make informed decisions about higher education.
Institutions participating in the Tuition Assistance Program will now provide service members with a “Know Before You Owe” fact sheet, which discloses information about tuition, fees, financial aid, student loan debt, and graduation rates. GI Bill institutions will be encouraged to provide vets with the same information. Schools will also be required to offer counseling to help students finish their degree even if they have to move or deploy.
In addition, the Department of Veterans Administration is beginning the process of trademarking the term “GI Bill” in order to crack down on fraudulent and deceptive websites. (Just Google “GI Bill Schools” and you’ll see how many sites are trying to reel in vets.) The order is also directing the Defense Department to develop a uniform set of rules in order to keep dishonest recruiters from accessing service members on base.
And for those times when predatory practices slip through the cracks, the executive order is creating a centralized complaint system to make it easier for students to file grievances and for the Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments to act on those complaints.
“When our men and women in uniform succeed, our country succeeds,” says the president. “They have our back – now it’s our turn to have theirs.”
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