Vets Groups Urge Trump Administration to Keep Pressure on GI Bill Fraud

Defense officials are considering changing the rules under which troops may transfer Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to family members. Army photo

Twenty-eight veterans groups and military service organizations have called on the Trump administration to scrap deregulation proposals that they said would limit oversight of "bad actor" schools preying on veterans using the GI Bill.

In a letter last month to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the organizations urged her "to strengthen, not discard, common-sense protections against waste, fraud and abuse by bad actor colleges."

The letter was aimed at proposed changes to regulations under the government's Title IV authorities of the Higher Education Act, part of the administration's overall deregulation drive, which the White House has touted as a main factor in the booming economy.

"Weakening or discarding these regulations would allow low-quality colleges to defraud service members, veterans, their families and survivors -- as well as taxpayers," the letter said.

The organizations signing the letter included AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Blue Star Families, the National Military Family Association and Veterans Education Success.

The groups called on DeVos to retain the requirement "that colleges have 'regular and substantive interaction' between instructors and students" to ensure that schools "do not skirt their educational duties and charge exorbitant tuition for what amounts to an online textbook or YouTube video."

The groups also argued against limiting the ability of state authorities to oversee the quality of higher education, which they said would "strip individual states of their long-held ability to protect their citizens' right to receive quality educations."

Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success, said the groups would also like to make sure there’s a veteran or military representative on the panels that will decide on the rules changes following a period of public comment.

Of particular concern to the groups is the possibility that DeVos will eliminate regulations enacted during the administration of former President Barack Obama requiring for-profit colleges to show that they could provide reasonable access to "gainful employment" to the students they enroll.

Several veterans testified on the need for more oversight at public hearings held last month by the Education Department on the proposed rules changes.

At a public hearing in Washington, D.C., Army veteran Jarrod Thoma, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, told of his experiences in pursuing an engineering degree with the for-profit DeVry University, which was the target of a federal Trade Commission lawsuit in 2016 for deceptive advertising.

"Although DeVry was more than happy to cash in all of my GI Bill benefits, my complaints about the quality of materials and instructions fell on deaf ears," Thoma said. "When I tried to transfer, I was told by both a public university and a community college that they would accept only my general education credits -- even though DeVry had stated that their credits would transfer."

At the same public hearing, Tanya Ang, vice president of Veterans Education Success, testified that veterans, many of whom are the first in their families to try to earn a college degree, were particularly vulnerable to the deceptive advertising of predatory schools.

Weakening regulations would impact those veterans who "believe the federal government's stamp of approval for the school to offer Title IV funds means the school is a high-quality school," Ang said. "Unfortunately, we know all too well, this is not always the case. Unfortunately, students find out too late that this is not always the case."

The letter from the veterans and military service organizations to DeVos was the second recently in which it was alleged that the Trump administration's deregulation drive could impact negatively on service members.

In a letter to White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney in August, all 47 Democrats in the Senate and the two Independents who usually vote with them argued against rules changes that they said would ease up on oversight of predatory payday lenders.

In their letter, the senators said that easing up on routine examinations of firms by the Consumer Financial Protection Board under the Military Lending Act of 2006 could limit reviews of a lender's qualifications and expose troops to exorbitant interest rates.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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