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Akaka, veterans introduce GI benefit watchdog bill


U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, joined with Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Mark Begich (D-AK), and Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from across the country to unveil the GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act of 2012.

The bill, which was introduced in the Senate today, will give servicemembers and veterans using the GI Bill and other VA education benefits access to information that would help them make informed decisions about the schools they attend so they get the most out of the benefit.

This bill would also require that VA and DoD develop a joint policy to curb aggressive recruiting and misleading marketing aimed at servicemembers and veterans using the GI Bill.

“The Post-9/11 GI Bill has offered tremendous opportunity to so many veterans since it was passed in 2008,” Murray said. “But like any benefit, we need to constantly monitor and improve on it to ensure that our veterans are getting the treatment that they deserve. This bill is designed to ensure that our veterans have the facts to make their own decisions and to defend themselves from being taken advantage of. We can’t allow them to get anything less than the full potential of this benefit – because so much is riding on it.”

“I am so proud of today’s service members and veterans taking advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits they earned – more than half a million this year alone,” said Akaka, a beneficiary of the original GI Bill after World War II. “It is disturbing to know that some institutions are using deceptive marketing to try to take advantage of them. That is why I am supporting the GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act of 2012, which will take on manipulative marketing and provide beneficiaries with easy-to-understand information so they can make informed decisions. It is the right thing to do for our veterans and service members who have sacrificed so much for us.”

“With the unemployment rate unacceptably high among our nation’s veterans, many of them find themselves without the information to access the skills and education they need to enter the workforce, leaving them susceptible to aggressive recruiting and marketing schemes,” Begich said. “This bill will expand access to information on topics like student debt and veteran enrollment, increase availability to academic advisors, and better coordinate efforts to curb aggressive marketing so that our former servicemen and women do not fall victim to predatory practices. With roughly 10 percent of Alaskans making up the ground forces in Afghanistan, the GI Bill is crucial to their future and their education. Strengthening the original bill with the GI Consumer Awareness Act will provide those who have so honorably served with the tools necessary to make the right decisions for their future.”

“As Chairman, Senator Murray has written a bill that supports, empowers, and protects veterans and service members, and sends a clear message that we must raise the bar to ensure that our brave men and women have access to the basic information and quality education they deserve. By enacting these common-sense and effective policies, Congress can safeguard students and taxpayers from predatory low-quality schools and promote success inside and outside of classrooms,” Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin said.

“The New GI Bill is one of the single greatest tools new veterans have to protect against unemployment in this tough economy,” IAVA Founder and Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff said. “IAVA fought hard for its historic passage in 2008, and we applaud Chairman Murray, Senators Akaka and Begich for stepping up to protect it. Every great career starts with a great education. But right now, vets lack clear and consistent information about their education opportunities. Identifying the right school or program is the first crucial step towards getting the best education and training for the job market. The GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act will give vets a head start, so they can apply to the school that’s right for them and take full advantage of the benefits they’ve earned.”

“Today’s veterans are being given the opportunity of a lifetime to improve their economic viability through education with the Post 9/11 GI Bill,” Student Veterans of America Executive Director Mike Dakduk said. “In order to most effectively take advantage of this generous benefit, however, we need to make sure that they are provided with the proper information to make informed decisions about their future alma mater, and Student Veterans of America is proud to support this Bill which does just that.”

“Senator Murray’s bill should help put the brakes on some of the more egregious and unconscionable practices of schools that take advantage of veterans seeking to use the Post-9-11 G. I. Bill to pursue their American Dream,” Vietnam Veterans of America President John Rowan said.

“Veterans have earned the right to a quality education, and the VFW believes Chairman Murray’s bill takes critical steps to ensure veterans can make quality choices in how to use their education benefits and that schools can deliver on their promises to educate our nation’s heroes,” VFW Executive Director Bob Wallace said. “When we entrust our service members to make life or death decisions on the battlefield, we take drastic steps to prepare them to make the right decisions. When we ask veterans to choose a school, we must take similar steps to prepare them for what lies ahead.”

“This legislation is a good first step in holding educational institutions accountable,” AMVETS National Executive Director Stewart Hickey said.

“Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) strongly supports Senator Murray’s bill to help our military and veteran students make better-informed choices regarding their options under military tuition assistance and GI Bill programs. The bill also provides more support for them when they enroll in a program of study on campus,” said MOAA’s National President VADM Norb Ryan, USN (ret.)

The GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act of 2012 complements veterans’ educational assistance programs by requiring VA to provide beneficiaries with easy-to-understand information about schools that are approved for GI Bill use.

* Information Availability: The GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act calls for disclosure of, among other data, statistics related to student loan debt, transferability of credits earned, veteran enrollment, program preparation for licensing and certification, and job placement rates.

* Information Dissemination: The GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act requires VA to provide educational beneficiaries with easy-to-understand information about schools that are approved for GI Bill benefit use.

* Staffing and Training: The GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act requires educational institutions to have at least one employee who is knowledgeable about benefits available to servicemembers and veterans. This legislation further requires that academic advising, tutoring, career and placement counseling services, and referrals to Vet Centers are available and that institutions offer training to faculty members on matters that are relevant to servicemembers and veterans.

* Curbing Misleading Marketing and Aggressive Recruiting: The GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act requires VA and the Department of Defense to develop a joint policy on aggressive recruiting and misleading marketing aimed at servicemembers, veterans, and other beneficiaries.

* Educational Counseling: The GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act makes educational counseling available to more beneficiaries.

In 2012, more than 590,000 servicemembers, veterans, and other beneficiaries are expected to enroll in educational institutions using the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is expected to spend more than $9 billion in 2012 on Post-9/11 GI Bill payments and more than $2 billion for the nearly 400,000 beneficiaries of VA’s other education programs.

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