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VA Widens Investigation of Helicopter Schools

Black Hawk over New York

The VA has ordered helicopter training schools in Arizona, Florida, Texas, and Washington to stop enrolling new Veteran students after it has come to light that they are charging Veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill up to $150,000 to complete the rotary wing qualification program.

This move follows the earlier suspension of GI Bill eligibility for similar programs at Yavapai College in Prescott, AZ and Southern Utah University in Cedar City, UT.

The VA has special GI Bill regulations for flight training students. Before receiving any GI Bill benefits the Veteran must have a private pilot's license and be medically qualified by the FAA. The VA will then pay a qualified student to earn a specialized certification, such as a quad-engine large passenger jet or a civilian helicopter qualification.

For Veterans who enroll in a private flight school, the VA will pay up to $11,563 a year for the entire training program including classroom and in-aircraft training. However. Veterans who are enrolled in a flight training program at a public school such as a community college can be reimbursed the entire training cost with no limits. Normally these programs are not offered as part of a program at a public school, but recently several private flight schools have contracted their programs out to these schools resulting in financial windfall.

The VA has also said several schools have violated a requirement that non-Veterans make up at least 15% of students enrolled in VA funded programs. This rule was created to ensure that schools didn't create training programs solely to get GI Bill money. VA had not been enforcing the rule, but recent investigations have discovered many helicopter training programs that were made up exclusively by Veterans using the GI Bill.

Further investigation found one school was training Veterans in expensive helicopters rather than the basic two - and four-seat models that other students used, for example: requiring Veterans to train in a turbine-powered Eurocopter Astar for $1,800 an hour, rather than the normal 2 seat model that other students used. This cost taxpayers six times the price of training in the cheapest model, and students generally are required to train at least 200 to 300 hours in the air, then go to work as flight instructors to reach at least 1,000 hours — the minimum that most employers and their insurance companies require.

While the VA has suspended new enrollments in helicopter training programs in at least seven schools to date, they have said that students who are currently enrolled in the programs under investigation can complete their current training.

Congress has taken up the issue by introducing legislation that would cap yearly tuition and fees at $20,235, the limit placed on all private colleges and universities. Current students would be exempt from the cap for two years.

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GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill
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