NAICU Washington Update

Saint Leo President Testifies for NAICU at Post-9/11 GI Bill Hearing

July 11, 2011

Arthur F. Kirk, Jr., president of Saint Leo University, testified on behalf of NAICU at the recent hearing of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.  The hearing was to consider a proposal to delay payment of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits until after the student completed a term.  Nearly 2,800 students at Saint Leo are Post-9/11 GI Bill recipients. 

In his July 7 testimony, Kirk pointed out that, while the proposed legislation would reduce the number of payment adjustments the VA would have to make, it would increase adjustments by the colleges.  As a result, he said, both veteran students and their institutions would face more complications in participating in the program.  Cash flow to colleges and veterans would be problematic as well.

Though he heads a larger institution, Kirk is especially concerned about the impact of the proposed change on small colleges, and on the veterans who choose to attend them.  "While I would be quite pleased if every veteran looking for a college were to choose Saint Leo," he said, "I also believe passionately in the goal of the GI Bill to give veterans the widest choice possible of educational options." 

The subcommittee also heard from witnesses representing public colleges, veterans, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Susan Aldridge, president of the University of Maryland University College, testified on behalf of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.  She similarly expressed grave concern about the problems the bill would pose for program administration, emphasizing that "this particular legislation will not simplify the funds payment process.  Unfortunately, it will complicate it even further and cause even more delays for veteran students in receiving the benefits to which they are entitled."

Her assessment was confirmed by the VA's Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity, Curtis L. Coy, who noted that the bill "would potentially impact the timeliness of processing claims."  Nevertheless, this didn't deter the VA from supporting the proposal in the belief that it would minimize the likelihood of overpayments.  Coy offered no specific information about the extent of the current overpayment problem, but said he would supply it for the committee record. 

Jeff Steele, representing the American Legion, offered support for the measure on the basis that it would reduce overpayments.  However, witnesses on behalf of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars voiced grave reservations about moving forward with this approach. 

In his testimony, Tom Tarantino, representing IAVA, strongly opposed the measure - which he described as "well-intentioned" but with severe unintended consequences for veteran students.  The VFW's Shane Barker  testified that his association would urge "restraint in further manipulating the Post-9/11 GI Bill until we can gauge the initial success of the program," which he noted "recently has proven to be a headache for veterans struggling to understand how and why the benefit keeps changing."

The subcommittee leadership emphasized that they were pursuing this issue see if there are better ways to better coordinate the federal student aid and Post 9/11 GI Bill benefit delivery systems.  The subcommittee's chairman Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) noted that the hearing would not be the "last conversation" on this topic.  Ranking member, Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), noted there has to be a "better way to do this," and encouraged conversations between the Department of Education and VA to explore streamlining the process.

A related development was the June 29 approval of S. 745 by the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs for consideration by the full Senate.  This measure would provide a "hold-harmless" for veterans who would otherwise see their Post-9/11 GI Bill tuition-and-fee benefits reduced under legislation enacted last December (see Washington Update, 12/20/10).  Similar legislation was approved by the full House in May (see Washington Update, 5/24/11).  A date for full Senate consideration hasn't yet been set.

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