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Hearing Transcript on Accelerated Education Benefits for Veterans.


 

 

ACCELERATED EDUCATION BENEFITS FOR VETERANS

 



 HEARING

BEFORE  THE

SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY

OF THE

COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

ONE HUNDRED TENTH CONGRESS

FIRST SESSION


MAY 3, 2007


Printed for the use of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs

SERIAL No. 110-18

 

 

U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
WASHINGTON, DC:  2008


For sale by the Superintendent of Documents,  U.S. Government Printing Office
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COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS

BOB FILNER, California, Chairman

 

CORRINE BROWN, Florida
VIC SNYDER, Arkansas
MICHAEL H. MICHAUD, Maine
STEPHANIE HERSETH SANDLIN, South Dakota
HARRY E. MITCHELL, Arizona
JOHN J. HALL, New York
PHIL HARE, Illinois
MICHAEL F. DOYLE, Pennsylvania
SHELLEY BERKLEY, Nevada
JOHN T. SALAZAR, Colorado
CIRO D. RODRIGUEZ, Texas
JOE DONNELLY, Indiana
JERRY MCNERNEY, California
ZACHARY T. SPACE, Ohio
TIMOTHY J. WALZ, Minnesota

STEVE BUYER,  Indiana, Ranking
CLIFF STEARNS, Florida
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
RICHARD H. BAKER, Louisiana
HENRY E. BROWN, JR., South Carolina
JEFF MILLER, Florida
JOHN BOOZMAN, Arkansas
GINNY BROWN-WAITE, Florida
MICHAEL R. TURNER, Ohio
BRIAN P. BILBRAY, California
DOUG LAMBORN, Colorado
GUS M. BILIRAKIS, Florida
VERN BUCHANAN, Florida

 

 

 

Malcom A. Shorter, Staff Director


SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
STEPHANIE HERSETH SANDLIN, South Dakota, Chairwoman

JOE DONNELLY, Indiana
JERRY MCNERNEY, California
JOHN J. HALL, New York
JOHN BOOZMAN, Arkansas, Ranking
RICHARD H. BAKER, Louisiana
JERRY MORAN, Kansas

Pursuant to clause 2(e)(4) of Rule XI of the Rules of the House, public hearing records of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs are also published in electronic form. The printed hearing record remains the official version. Because electronic submissions are used to prepare both printed and electronic versions of the hearing record, the process of converting between various electronic formats may introduce unintentional errors or omissions. Such occurrences are inherent in the current publication process and should diminish as the process is further refined.

 

       

C O N T E N T S
May 3, 2007


Accelerated Education Benefits for Veterans

OPENING STATEMENTS

Chairwoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin
        Prepared  statement of Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin
Hon. John Boozman, Ranking Republican Member
        Prepared statement of Congressman Boozman


WITNESSES

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:
    James Bombard, Chairman, Veterans Advisory Committee on Education
        Prepared statement of Mr. Bombard
    Keith M. Wilson, Director, Education Service, Veterans Benefit Administration
        Prepared statement of Mr. Wilson


American Legion, Ronald F. Chamrin, Assistant Director, Economic Commission
        Prepared statement of Mr. Chamrin
Michaud, Hon. Michael H., a Representative in Congress from the State of Maine
        Prepared statement of Congressman Michaud
Professional Truck Driver Institute, Chris Burruss, President, and President, Truckload Carriers Association, and North American Training Management Institute
        Prepared statement of Mr. Burruss
Vietnam Veterans of America, Richard F. Weidman, Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs
        Prepared statement of Mr. Weidman


SUBMISSIONS FOR THE RECORD

National Veterans Business Development Corporation, The Veterans Corporation, Walter G. Blackwell, President and Chief Executive Officer, statement
Paralyzed Veterans of America, statement


MATERIAL SUBMITTED FOR THE RECORD

U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration list entitled, "The President's High Growth Job Training Initiative"


ACCELERATED EDUCATION BENEFITS FOR VETERANS


Thursday, May 3, 2007
U. S. House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity,
Committee on Veterans' Affairs,
Washington, DC.

The Committee met, pursuant to notice, at 2:03 p.m., in Room 334, Cannon House Office Building, Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin [Chairwoman of the Subcommittee] presiding.

Present:  Representatives Herseth Sandlin, Donnelly, McNerney, Hall, Boozman.

OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRWOMAN HERSETH SANDLIN

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  The Veterans' Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee hearing on accelerated education benefits for veterans will come to order.

Before I begin with my opening statement, I would like to call attention to the fact that Mr. Walter Blackwell, President and CEO of The Veterans Corporation, and the Paralyzed Veterans of America have asked to submit a written statement for the record. 

If there is no objection, I ask for unanimous consent that these statements be entered for the record.  Hearing no objection, so entered.

Today we will be hearing testimony on accelerated education benefits.  In 2001, Congress passed legislation to assist veterans in paying for short-term, high-cost education programs.  Instead of paying the monthly education benefits, the accelerated education benefits provide a lump sum of 60 percent of tuition for certain programs.

To be eligible to participate in the accelerated education benefit program, individuals must qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) active duty, be enrolled in a short-term, high-cost education program such as life or physical science, engineering, mathematics, or computer specialties, and intend to seek employment in a high-technology industry.

In addition, the tuition fees must be 200 percent of MGIB benefits that an individual would receive for that term.  To date, approximately 4,000 veterans have or are benefiting from this important program.

You might recall that on May 25th, 2005, under the leadership of Mr. Boozman, this Subcommittee conducted a hearing on the issue of accelerated education benefits.  That hearing raised several interesting issues that we can build upon and explore further today.

While I am supportive of the program, I am very interested in receiving testimony to help the Subcommittee determine if the process time is adequate and meeting the needs of servicemembers, if expansion of eligible programs is warranted, and if expansion beyond the Montgomery GI Bill active duty Chapter 30 is warranted as well.

Ranking Member Boozman, I look forward to learning more from the testimony we receive today, building on the work of the last Congress, and working with our colleagues to ensure our Nation's veterans are provided the best education services that they have rightfully earned and deserve.

[The statement of Ms. Herseth Sandlin appears in the Appendix.]

I now recognize the Ranking Member, Mr. Boozman, for any opening remarks he may have.

OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN BOOZMAN

Mr. BOOZMAN.  Thank you very much, Madam Chairwoman, for bringing us together today to discuss the accelerated payment option of the Montgomery GI Bill.

First, I have a list of the approved high-technology programs taken from the VA web site and ask unanimous consent that the list be entered in the record.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Hearing no objection, so entered.

Mr. BOOZMAN.  Thank you.

[The referenced list entitled, "The President's High Growth Job Training Initiative," appears in the Appendix]

Mr. BOOZMAN.  The original intent of this payment option was to improve the affordability of the relatively high cost of the short-duration programs.  Absent specificity from Congress, the Department coordinated with the National Science Foundation and the Bureau of Labor Statistics to create the approved list and I am sure the Department is prepared to discuss and describe their process.

Despite what is a lengthy list, incongruities exist.  For example, urban forestry is approved, but nursing is not.  I believe it may be time to refocus the program and better define the goal of the program. 

While improving funding for high-tech courses is a valid goal, I think it ignores one of the major shortcomings of the GI Bill and that is that 30 percent of those who sign up but never use their benefit.

College is not for everyone nor does a long-term degree program fit in every life situation.  For example, those servicemembers who leave the military are often married with children and cannot afford four years away from the job market and need help in the form of affordable, short-term education or training in fields that may be normally viewed as non-high tech.

I believe, therefore, the accelerated benefit program should be a tool to make veterans education benefits more flexible to help these veterans.  We should focus primarily on improving access to non-degree programs.  That would include things like short-term certification courses but not a course that is part of a degree.

And given the level of sophistication in most sectors of the economy, it is hard to find jobs other than the most basic general labor that do not either require or strongly encourage formal education or training.

Truck driving, for example.  My district is the home to headquarters of five of the ten largest trucking companies in America and I know for a fact that they are constantly seeking new long- and short-haul drivers. 

With all the regulations regarding hazardous materials and driving standards, truck driving is becoming more technically oriented every day.  And I believe the industry needs about 100,000 more drivers for jobs that offer starting pay in the range of $40,000.

I note that one of our witnesses today will testify to the standards to certify truck driving schools.  I have seen their criteria and let us just say that certainly today's schools are not the schools that our fathers trained under.

Other transportation modes such as the railroads and certainly aviation also have significant technical training.  High technology should not be the only determinant. 

There are sectors of the economy crying for help these days, most of which require employees to master some measure of high technology.  Transportation, hospitality, construction, healthcare are just four of the dozen high-demand job fields that offer good wages and careers for our veterans.

[The statement of Mr. Boozman appears in the Appendix.]

Madam Chairwoman, I look forward to working with you as always to make our education benefits programs more relevant to all of our veterans.  Thank you very much.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you very much, Mr. Boozman.

I would like to welcome back those who have testified before this Subcommittee previously and also those who are here testifying for the first time today.

Joining us on our first panel is our friend, Congressman Michael Michaud of Maine, a senior member of our Committee and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Health.  I thank him for his leadership on a number of issues under the jurisdiction of the different Subcommittees and the full Committee.

Mr. Michaud, welcome, and we want to recognize you for five minutes.

STATEMENT OF HON. MICHAEL H. MICHAUD, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF MAINE

Mr. MICHAUD.  Thank you very much, Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin and Ranking Member Boozman and Congressman Donnelly.  I appreciate the initiative your Subcommittee has shown in considering my bipartisan legislation, House Resolution 1824, and allowing me the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss this very important piece of legislation.

As we all care about in the Veterans' Affairs Committee, we owe a great debt to those who put their lives in harm's way protecting our country.  When they come home, I believe it is critical that we provide them with an opportunity to live the American dream that they have risked to protect this country.

That means providing healthcare and benefits compensation, but it also means ensuring economic opportunity as well.  My legislation would allow accelerated payments of educational assistance under the Montgomery GI Bill to any eligible veterans enrolled in an approved program of education or training that leads to employment as an operator of a commercial motor vehicle.

Current law only provides such accelerated payments for approved training programs that will lead to employment in the high-technology sector.  I do not believe we should limit the range of opportunities available to our veterans and my bill will take a step further in expanding that opportunity.

My provisions would expand accelerated payment to the Montgomery GI Bill benefits to eligible veterans seeking employment in the high-demand field of commercial trucking as you heard Congressman Boozman mention earlier.

Many CDL training courses are short term and require up-front payment of tuition and, thus, do not conform with the current Montgomery GI Bill payment system of $1,075 per month over 36 months.

In addition, my bill includes an important provision that would exclude benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill from being considered as income for purposes of determining eligibility for education grants or student loans under any other provisions of Federal law.

Current eligibility rules for receiving certain student Federal financial aid programs include Montgomery GI Bill payments in the calculation of resources.  In other words, what this provision is saying is that we should not penalize our veterans for taking advantage of this earned benefit.

Madam Chairwoman, easing the transition of our military personnel back into civilian life is a responsibility our government must fully embrace.  I believe my bill takes a step in the right direction. 

I would like to thank you once again and Ranking Member Boozman for your leadership on this issue and hopefully we will be able to move this legislation to the full Committee and ultimately on the floor so we can help our veterans in this great Nation of ours.

With that, I will answer any questions.

[The statement of Mr. Michaud appears in the Appendix.]

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you, Mr. Michaud.

At this time, I would like to recognize Mr. Donnelly of Indiana for any opening statement he may want to offer, and any questions that he has for our colleague at this time.

Mr. DONNELLY.  Thank you very much, Madam Chairman.

I would just like to thank my fellow member for providing such good legislation.  When we know that it is very, very difficult sometimes to make ends meet and then to look at a situation where you are trying to improve and have a career and then you find out that the tuition cost is up front, what this does is it provides the veteran with that opportunity.

And so, Mr. Michaud, I will fully support your legislation and am very proud for the opportunity to vote for it when it comes on the floor of the House.  Thank you.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you, Mr. Donnelly.

I would now recognize the Ranking Member for any questions he may have of Mr. Michaud.

Mr. BOOZMAN.  I do not have any questions.  I do appreciate you working very hard on this legislation. 

I have really enjoyed working with a number of different projects and you have shown great leadership.  There is a lot of difference in this and leading the Health Subcommittee and trucking, but it is all about trying to figure out how we can use the tools in the toolbox, given more tools so that we can allow them to use and utilize the benefits that they have earned.

And I think your bill really goes a long way in doing that from an educational standpoint.  So, again, I just appreciate you working hard on it and hopefully all of us working together, we will get it signed in law.  Thank you.

Mr. MICHAUD.  Thank you very much.  I really appreciate that.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you, Mr. Boozman.

I would now like to recognize the gentleman from New York, Mr. Hall, for any opening statement or questions he may have.

Mr. HALL.  Thank you, Madam Chair, Ranking Member. 

And, Congressman, I appreciate your being here and thank you for the legislation that you have submitted which I wholeheartedly support.  And I just have a couple questions to ask you, if you have been approached by anybody to consider expanding the scope of the legislation.

Mr. MICHAUD.  No one specific as far as other members of Congress, but that is something I am definitely open to.  I think we have to provide whatever opportunities that we can for our men and women who want to apply for the Montgomery GI Bill.  So I would definitely be open to expanding it.

Mr. HALL.  That was my second question.  So you already answered it. 

And I yield back.  Thank you.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  We appreciate that, Mr. Michaud.  I want to echo the sentiments of others on the Subcommittee for your leadership and your tenacity and your openness to looking at other sectors that may make as much sense as those that have been authorized previously.  As well as the opportunities that you have identified that exist within the commercial trucking industry. 

We will look forward to working with you further as we look at accelerated education benefits payments both as it relates specifically to the way the bill is currently drafted and working with you as we consider any amendments either at the Subcommittee level or as it makes its way to the full Committee. 

Thank you very much.  We appreciate your time.

Mr. BOOZMAN.  Madam Chairwoman.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Yes.

Mr. BOOZMAN.  Could I just ask one thing of the witness?

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Of course.

Mr. BOOZMAN.  Mr. Michaud, do you have a cost estimate just for the trucking aspect?

Mr. MICHAUD.  Just for the trucking estimate, it is estimated that for a ten-year period, it is approximately $6.6 million over ten years.  That is one thing I think we will have to look at.  How we expand it is the additional cost that that might be.  So I think this is low cost for the benefit that it will provide.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you, and we appreciate your testimony.

Mr. MICHAUD.  Once again, I want to thank you, Madam Chairwoman, and the Committee for allowing me to speak this afternoon.  Thank you very much.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you.

We now invite panel two to the witness table.  On our second panel of witnesses, we will hear from Mr. Chris Burruss, President of the Professional Truck Driver Institute; Mr. Rick Weidman, Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs for Vietnam Veterans of America; and Mr. Ron Chamrin, Assistant Director, of Economic Commission for The American Legion.

Mr. Burruss, we will start with you.  I would like to thank you all in advance for your testimony and we appreciate you being here.  You are recognized for five minutes.

STATEMENTS OF CHRIS BURRUSS, PRESIDENT, PROFESSIONAL TRUCK DRIVER INSTITUTE, AND PRESIDENT, TRUCKLOAD CARRIERS ASSOCIATION, AND NORTH AMERICAN TRAINING MANAGEMENT INSTITUTE; RICHARD F. WEIDMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR POLICY AND GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS, VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA; AND RONALD F. CHAMRIN, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, ECONOMIC COMMISSION, AMERICAN LEGION

STATEMENT OF CHRIS BURRUSS

Mr. BURRUSS.  Thank you, Madam Chairwoman, Ranking Member Boozman, and members of the Subcommittee.  My name is Chris Burruss, President of the Truckload Carriers Association, President of the North American Training Management Institute, as well as The Professional Truck Driver Institute, which is what I am here today to represent.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Could you pull the microphone just a little bit closer to you?  Thank you.

Mr. BURRUSS.  I do not have a hard time. 

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  There you go.

Mr. BURRUSS.  People can hear me pretty well, but I apologize for that.

I am pleased to be here on behalf of PTDI on an issue that it should be no surprise is very near and dear to our hearts in the industry.  And having served in the Marine Corps for five years on active duty, I understand the time that a veteran spends trying to reenter the civilian workforce and it can be a time that is full of a lot of uncertainty and it can be an extremely stressful time for the veterans. 

So I applaud the Subcommittee for trying to help out the veterans enter the workforce in a steadfast manner.

As a matter of background, the Professional Truck Driver Institute was established by the trucking industry in 1986.  And since that time, PTDI has become the Nation's foremost advocate of standards and professionalism for entry-level truck drivers.

This national not-for-profit organization's goal is to advance truck driver training proficiency, safety, and professionalism among drivers.  PTDI serves as an independent agent for voluntary certification of entry-level commercial driver training.

It is the truckload segment of the trucking industry that is facing a critical shortage of qualified drivers.  In a little more than a decade, the demand for truck services will increase by more than 30 percent which means that the trucking industry will transport 3.3 billion tons more of freight than it carries today.

In order to accommodate this higher demand, the number of the Class A trucks will increase by 32 percent, putting an additional one million trucks on the Nation's highways.  This equates to needing that same amount of drivers in order to move the freight.

The American Trucking Association has reported that between the years of 2004 and 2014, the size of the white male population, which is a key demographic for the trucking industry, will decline by three million people.

Further, global insight projection of trend growth for the potential supply of and demand for long-haul, heavy-duty truck drivers indicates a widening imbalance during that time period.

Currently there is already a shortage of long-haul truck drivers that we estimate to be as 20,000 today and that is to haul the freight as it exists in today's society.

Having grown up in the trucking industry and having worked in this industry for 18 years, one of the key critical issues that we have is being able to attract and qualify drivers for our industry. 

The national average tuition for professional truck driver training is on average about $4,000 a year or per course and I emphasize that that is just an average.  And driver training is essential and it needs to be taught by a reputable truck driving school in order for the driver to obtain the knowledge and the skills necessary to successfully pass the CDL examination.

For the prospective truck driver student who has the means to finance his or her education, then this is not really an issue.  However, for the student or the veteran in this case who would like to attend a truck driver training school but does not have the means, financing for his or her education can be daunting and often, quite frankly, a disappointing task.

These students in many cases must apply for high-interest personal loans, some of which are turned away due to poor credit history.  Others have to weed themselves through the Federal bureaucracy process to find alternative funding sources, and usually these come in the way of partial or full Federal grant funds.

Under the current MGI Bill or the GI Bill Program, veterans may receive a maximum monthly education benefit.  Most truck driving schools, through their financial aid office, then submit those to the VA or submit their DD-214 to the VA.  And from that point, it can take upwards of 45 days before the veteran receives its first GI Bill check.

Schools that work with veterans report that there is a tremendous lag time between payment and services rendered.  By the time the veteran receives his or her first check, the student may have completed one-half of his or her $4,000 worth of training, depending on the school that they select.

Public, private, or carrier-based truck driving schools do not typically operate on a semester-based system.  More or less, they operate on a rolling schedule with new enrollments and classes beginning every few weeks.

For a school that has been qualified by the VA to receive MGI Bill educational benefits, the current VA funding mechanism through which the school receives payment is far from efficient.

Upon the veteran student's completion of the two- to three-month truck driver training program, the school may have collected approximately two to three thousand dollars of the MGI Bill benefit monies of the four thousand in tuition owed.  Because the truck driver training school has no more control over the distribution of the funds themselves, when or whether the school will receive full tuition payment can create a concern for all parties involved.

There are a few industries where an individual with a high school diploma can enter a profession with only four to six weeks of training, to enter a profession which is unlikely to experience any downsizing, and offers them an entry-level possible salary of between 42 and $45,000 a year.  However, once trained, these positions can enable a veteran to make salaries upwards of 60 to $100,000 or more.

According to most truck driving schools, the reasons they like to recruit veterans is simple.  Former military personnel make some of the best students and have higher training graduation rates than their civilian counterparts.

From the trucking company's perspective, veterans have some of the key characteristics that they are looking for, leadership, respect for procedures, integrity, and teamwork.  And these are all characteristics that arguably are invaluable to all employers, but particularly in the trucking industry. 

Additionally, most veterans, particularly those who have been recently separated from the Armed Service, are able to pass the drug and alcohol testing requirements, the physical examination requirements, and may have a good civilian driving record.

Veterans whose military occupational specialty or MOS involved heavy truck driving as a military profession, then truck driving in the commercial environment may be a natural career path for them in civilian life.  Many PTDI schools have addressed this by developing special evaluations for veterans reentering the workforce with their military CDL.

In closing, Madam Chairwoman, I would like to ask that the Subcommittee join PTDI and TCA in support of Congressman Michaud's bill, House Resolution 1824.  Our veterans looking for a second career deserve, I think, our support.

As an industry projected to add substantial numbers of new jobs to the economy, the transportation industry and PTDI is interested in working with you to address the skill shortage and workforce challenges.

And, lastly, as an industry that has been recognized in the President's high-growth job training initiative at the Department of Labor, we look forward to working with the Subcommittee to further this initiative.

And with that, Madam Chairwoman, this concludes my remarks, and thank you.

[The statement of Mr. Burruss appears in the Appendix.]

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you very much, Mr. Burruss. 

Mr. Weidman, we would now like to take your testimony.  You are recognized for five minutes.

STATEMENT OF RICHARD F. WEIDMAN

Mr. WEIDMAN.  Madam Chairwoman, thank you for holding this hearing.

Mr. Boozman, Mr. Donnelly, and Mr. Hall, also thank you for being here.  We know there are multiple demands on all of your time to be many different places.

In 1994, I worked for then Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, and we put together a GI Bill poster that is displayed in these Committee rooms and has been for some time.  And people said what does that have to do with veterans' employment. 

We went back and looked at the course of the GI Bill in its first 50 years and discovered that 53 percent of the GI Bill had been used for direct vocational education, either farm education or an apprenticeship or on-the-job training.  That did not count those who got a degree and then went on to become doctors, lawyers, attorneys, businessmen, all the myriad of professionals for which a Bachelor's Degree or an Associate's Degree was a prerequisite.

It is, in fact, the crux event of the readjustment process is the ability to obtain and sustain meaningful employment or one's own self-employment.  That is the flash point of the readjustment process for the young men and women coming home, whether they are demobilized Guard and Reservists or our active-duty folks returning home.

I thank you very much for having this hearing and particularly for Mr. Michaud's bill, but it is not limited to that.  The nature of adult learning within our society, and these are adults when they come home even if they are still only 21, 22 years old, you come home with a maturity far beyond your years, and these are folks who are not going to sit in the classroom by and large and do the traditional four-year route.  Those who wish to get a Bachelor's Degree will do so.

This Committee under Mr. Boozman's leadership and with your active assistants moved several years ago to change the law in order to accommodate entrepreneurial training.  Unfortunately, the vessel within which that was delivered was not changed.  The State Approving Agencies are still bound by the laws and regulations of looking at classroom hours in a more traditional classroom and, therefore, many of the small business development centers have had a very difficult time.

It is not limited to the Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) and entrepreneurial training, but I would suggest that it is something that will affect across the board. 

The accelerated payment is necessary for the payment up front no matter what format that training or education is delivered in.  And oftentimes it is not going to be X number of hours sitting in a classroom en masse.  It is just simply not going to happen that way. 

And, therefore, if the attempt is on the part of the Congress to aid and abet and assist those young men and women coming home in order to get the training that is going to directly impact on either their career or their ability to succeed, not just get in the business, but to succeed in opening their own micro business or small business, then we are going to have to rethink the set of laws and regulations which we give to the State Approving Agencies in order to do their job of maintaining the quality and making sure that our people are not ripped off.

That is the main thrust of my statement here today, and certainly look forward to working with both sides of the aisle, both you, Madam Chairwoman, and Mr. Boozman and others to come up with a new paradigm that will not only work for entrepreneurial training and small business training, but will also work for many other high-tech occupations and it fits with the direction in which adult learning currently is going in this country to be able to assist these folks.

I would just mention two last things, is that VVA supports extending the current rates of payments for veterans who are enrolled in apprenticeship.  Apprenticeship in many States unfortunately has fallen into great disuse and it needs to be restored. 

And it is people make much about how folks are no longer in blue collar professions, but moving into white collar.  Try and find a plumber sometime.  You want your kid to always be able to earn a living.  Get him or her into doing plumbing as an example or electrician, a skilled electrician, in many parts of the country.

Last but by no means least, the SAAs are continuing to have to fight a battle to have the resources to do the job, what we need to have done in each of the 50 States plus the other three jurisdictions.  I would encourage you strongly to take the steps necessary to make sure that we do not have to go through this battle every year and to ensure that the resources are provided in order to provide a framework.

VVA strongly believes that the reason why the Montgomery GI Bill has worked so well now for over 60 years is that the veteran decides.  It is based essentially on a free enterprise system and the money follows the veteran.  But within the framework, you have got to make sure that people are protected against fly-by-night folks and we need the SAAs to have the adequate resources to do their job so that the free enterprise, if you will, can work within the context of the approved entities and programs.

I thank you very much.  I see I am over time, and thank you for indulging me, ma'am.  And, again, thank you for having this important hearing.

I have said it often, but I will repeat it.  Most of the important work of this Committee does not happen when the big lights are on and the place is packed.  It happens in hearings like this and the hard work where, frankly, many people are not listening and people will never know anybody who is here today's name will benefit and have a much better life after their service to country in uniform because of the work you do here today.  And I thank each and every one of you and each and every one of your staff persons.

Thank you, ma'am.

[The statement of Mr. Weidman appears in the Appendix.]

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you, Mr. Weidman, for your insightful testimony and recognition of the hard work of all those on the Subcommittee and our dedicated staff.  I appreciate that very much.

Mr. Chamrin, let us hear from you for five minutes, please.

STATEMENT OF RONALD F. CHAMRIN

Mr. CHAMRIN.  Madam Chair Herseth Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman, and members of the Subcommittee, American Legion appreciates the opportunity to share its views on accelerated education payments, the impact regarding veterans education.

American Legion supports granting veterans the options to request an accelerated payment of all monthly education benefits upon meeting the criteria for eligibility for the Montgomery GI Bill financial payments.

The selection of courses the veterans undergo remain exclusively the decision of the individual veteran and all earned veterans education benefits should be made available to the veterans in support of their endeavors.

Accelerated education payments allow veterans to achieve education goals in the manner that they decide.  Binding the time frame on the education payout may restrict education options for some veterans.

American Legion recommends that all GI Bill approved courses including the OJT and apprenticeship courses become eligible for accelerated education payments.

American Legion recommends the expansion of Public Law 107 to include but not limited to survivors' and dependents' education assistance, the post Vietnam era veterans' education assistance program, and the Reserve education assistance program.

American Legion is deeply concerned with the timely manner that veterans, especially returning wartime veterans, receive their education benefits.  Annually for the past six years, approximately 300,000 servicemembers, 90,000 of them belonging to the National Guard and Reserve, enter the civilian sector and have the ability to use their education benefits.

Any delay in receipt of education payments can adversely affect a veteran's life.  There are time restrictions on most veteran education benefits. Specifically the National Guard and Reserve must remain in the Selective Reserve to use their earned benefits.  Every effort should be made to ensure that the GI Bill and related veterans education benefits are delivered without delay.

American Legion applauds the initiative of veterans entering high-tech fields; however, the type of program available for accelerated payments should not be limited.  Ironically courses in education are excluded from this program.  Truck driving, program evaluation, policy, law, communication, early childhood education, human resources, recreation, and liberal arts are other programs that are also excluded.

American Legion is concerned with the ranges of program costs throughout the country.  Consideration should be made to lower the 200 percent threshold for receiving accelerated payments.  Not every veteran is destined for college; therefore, the GI Bill needs to be more accessible for those veterans with vocational aspirations other than college.

The overall cost of these short-term vocational training and licensing programs far exceed the monthly stipend provided under the traditional college student for 36 months approach and the current GI Bill.  Accelerated education payments would greatly assist qualified veterans enrolled in an approved program of education that leads to employment such as truck driving.  This expansion would give veterans more educational options and a better diversity of vocations.

Starting in 2001, the total use of education benefits by veterans continues to increase.  In fiscal year 2006, approximately 470,000 individuals received veteran-related education benefits.  This equates to approximately three million courses taken by veterans. 

With the increasing number of eligible veterans and increasing quantity of discharged veterans, the need for assistance and implementation of all elements of veterans benefits continue to rise.

American Legion asserts that due to the frequent call-ups of National Guard and Reserve forces, veterans are forced to divert from their traditional semester schedule in an attempt to finish their programs before the next call-up. 

National Guard and Reserve units are continuously training in preparation for war.  Leadership development, combat life saver, communications, language, airborne and air assault are examples of courses that are conducted year round.  One in particular, leadership development courses, are required for any promotion.

Student servicemembers must choose to either enter these courses to advance their military career and better prepare them and their units for war or remain at the universities, thereby slowing their military advancement progression.  Accelerated education payments will allow for these individuals to enter short-term, high-cost programs that will permit them to complete the course within the window between military requirements.

It is important to note that accelerated education payments are only available to Chapter 30 benefits.  The Reserve Education Assistance Program (REAP) beneficiaries and other programs are barred from receiving accelerated payments.  An example is an Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veteran using REAP.  If she chose to enter a high-cost, short-term program such as a teaching certification program, she would only be able to use her education benefits at the monthly rate.  Furthermore, her benefit would only be available to her as long as she remains an active member of the Selective Reserve.

I would like to share the story of Sergeant Bruce Dunlap who is currently recovering from devastating injuries at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center from service in Iraq.  He wishes to enter the vocational rehabilitation program and work towards becoming a teacher.  Bruce eagerly wants to become self-sufficient and restart his civilian life.

This amazing and strong person has further expressed his desire to begin teaching and after a few years of employment enter a Master's program with a more specific focus on advanced education.  Bruce plans on using his GI Bill to pay for his Master's program while simultaneously working as a teacher.  He would take high-cost, short-term night courses.  However, these programs are not currently eligible for accelerated payments. 

Sergeant Dunlap's educational plan is not specifically unique.  Civilians have a similar style of education plans to also encompass other fields.  What is unique and can never be overlooked is that this story is out of a veteran.  Specifically he is a severely-injured veteran that volunteered to enlist in the military and serve his country.

In conclusion, American Legion believes that honorable military service combined with improved education and vocational training opportunities enhances an individual, increases diversity, and betters society as a whole.

The education is continuous and ever-evolving.  The diminishment of support for educational opportunities for veterans will decrease the ability to recruit new servicemembers and unfairly subject veterans to barriers of benefits that they have earned.

It is our obligation to ensure that the earned education benefits of America's veterans are actually of value to those seeking a nontraditional route to their education.

The American Legion appreciates the opportunity to present this statement of record.  I welcome any questions from you, Madam Chairwoman, and the Committee.

[The statement of Mr. Chamrin appears in the Appendix.]

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you very much, all of you, for your testimony.  Let me start out with the questions, Mr. Weidman and Mr. Chamrin bring up a number of important issues as they relate to other sectors, other fields, other programs for which accelerated benefit payments may be appropriate, but I want to focus initially on the commercial driver's license program.

Mr. Burruss, do you know if there are any States that automatically convert a military license into a commercial driver's license?

Mr. BURRUSS.  I do not believe that there are.  To my knowledge, I do not know of any that do.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Has there been any comparison by your institute about the requirements as they relate to the standards in the military for conducting that particular responsibility versus what the CDL requirements are in the programs that are offered in the civilian workforce?

Mr. BURRUSS.  Yeah.  It has been studied.  It has been looked at.  Candidly, somebody coming out of the military can obtain a CDL if they can pass a CDL exam, both the written and driving portion. 

Currently FMCSA, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, is looking at and will be issuing entry-level drivers' training standards in the near future which will cause some minimum training standards that all people will have to adhere to.

So in the future, that process is going to be even more difficult because now somebody that wants to get in is going to have to have some sort of entry-level training.  Now, that is our assumption.  But there are some glaring differences between military experience and over-the-road experience in a commercial vehicle.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Talk with us a little bit more about the types of programs that are offered across the country.  You were talking about the average cost of a course.  You pointed out the fact that often these programs are not offered on a semester-based system.

Mr. BURRUSS.  Right.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Are there CDL training courses offered at community colleges, vocational technical institutes that are on a typical semester basis?

Mr. BURRUSS.  Not on a semester basis, but there are courses that are run through community colleges.  Now, that is not to say that there are not any longer training programs that do it that way.  But the majority are on a shorter term that utilize vocational education facilities to do it.  And they range everywhere from those types of schools to the private industry schools and the prices range.  Usually if it is a public school, they are going to be less because they run on a not-for-profit basis.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  That leads to my next question.  Can you explain to the Subcommittee why a student might want to spend more money on a for-profit program?  Are there differences between these programs versus the lower-cost tuition that may be available for a program from a public institution?

Mr. BURRUSS.  Well, my answer to that would be there could be differences.  If they adhere to some sort of a standard, for example, the PTDI model, which specifies minimum training standards.  Now, that does not prevent them from offering more expansive training should they choose to do so.  But it would give them a set of minimum requirements.  And if drivers are educated to that standard, then there should not be any differences between the quality of the driver that is coming out of the schools.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you.  We may explore some of that further, but we may have votes in about five minutes.  I want to make sure we have plenty of time for my colleagues on the Subcommittee to pose questions to this panel. 

I would like to recognize the Ranking Member for any questions he may have at this time.

Mr. BOOZMAN.  Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.

I appreciate all of your testimony.  I think it is very helpful.

Mr. Weidman, you talked about the fact that we needed a new paradigm.  And when we look at how much life has changed in every aspect, whatever business you are in, whether it is going to the gas station now and sticking your credit card in or using it at Sonic in Arkansas, where I like to hang out you stick your credit card in there.  It is just so different.

We in government, find it is very difficult for us to keep up with the new patterns and education has changed dramatically.

Mr. Chamrin, you mentioned the plight of the soldier that has lots of downtime, he is rehabbing, he would like to do some on-line courses.  Those courses are just common now.

So we really do have to get on the stick and get more tools in the toolbox for these individuals as they seek employment.

So I really do not have any specific questions.  Again, I just appreciate the testimony.  I think it was very, very helpful.

The other comment that you made, and I think it is a good thing and it creates problems also, is that these individuals that are coming back after the experiences that they have had overseas and even the experiences that they had, the men and women stationed here, they really are very mature compared to how they left.  And it is difficult to go back doing the same thing that they were doing.  And they are positions of leadership, tremendous responsibility more so than the average person will ever experience in some cases and then all of a sudden to be thrust back.  So, again, that is just another reason that hopefully working together we will get this sorted out.

Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you, Mr. Boozman.

Mr. Hall, do you have questions for the witnesses?

Mr. HALL.  Just quickly I do.  Thank you, Madam Chair.

And thank you all for your testimony.

I wanted to ask Mr. Burruss, do you know of any projections on how many certified truck drivers might emerge from the veterans' community if the transportation industry were to be included in the scope of accelerated education benefits?

Mr. BURRUSS.  I do not have that number, no.

Mr. HALL.  Do you know of any other industries that have encountered similar roadblocks such as high tuition costs that might have prevented veterans from seeking employment in that field?  And I guess it could go to Mr. Weidman as well.

Mr. WEIDMAN.  I am sorry.

Mr. HALL.  I am curious of what other industries, what other educational paths to those industries have encountered similar roadblocks such as high tuition costs or the spread out duration of payment of tuition that might have prevented veterans from seeking employment in that field.

Mr. WEIDMAN.  There are many of the high-tech fields, number one.  Number two is entrepreneurial training is a good example, Mr. Hall.  The SBDC in Albany basically has given up getting some of their courses approved and so they do not even focus on the GI Bill anymore. 

What they do is people want to take their course, they come and pay full freight, whether they are service-disabled vets or a veteran-owed business or not.  And we need to find a different way to approach this, if I may suggest, and so it is so much of training today you buy a package and you do a lot of it on your computer and then you have consultation either on-line or via telephone and some in-person meetings. 

So the traditional thing where you gather all the students in a cluster for X number of hours over a given number of weeks just simply does not hold true for adults.  And that is what I mean when I say that we need a new paradigm that also protects the individual from being ripped off by fly-by-nights.

Mr. HALL.  Thank you, Mr. Weidman.

And to Mr. Chamrin, I just wanted to ask a three-part question.  Does the Legion support the inclusion of commercial driving license programs in the accelerated payment provision?  Does the Legion support expanding that accelerated payment provision to include all short-term, non-degree programs and/or should we give the veteran complete freedom to choose the program of interest?

Mr. CHAMRIN.  Congressman Hall, the American Legion does support that GI Bill benefits be used for commercial driver's license and truck driving training.  And The American Legion does believe that all short-term, high-cost elements be eligible for GI Bill education benefits.

What was your last question again?

Mr. HALL.  Should we give the veteran complete freedom to choose the program of interest?

Mr. CHAMRIN.  The American Legion believes that all veterans, they have earned their education benefits and whatever course of study that they choose to use, we should allow them to do that.

Mr. HALL.  Thank you.  I agree with that also.

And, Madam Chair—

Mr. WEIDMAN.  Mr. Hall, may I—

Mr. HALL.  Jump in on that if you prefer.

Mr. WEIDMAN.  As long as the program is on an approved menu with a paradigm approved by the Congress within the context of the law because there are unscrupulous folks out there.   

And Mr. Bombard who is going to be testifying on the next panel can tell you unbelievable stories about stuff that has gone on in the five burroughs to the south of you about unscrupulous folks who have set up programs that look great on the surface but turn out to really be shams.

Within the context of having an approved program, we do believe that it ought to be freedom of choice.  That is what has made the strength of the GI Bill and made it the most successful social program ever is that freedom of choice.

I would add something else, is a number of years ago, veterans community and a variety of folks, we got to working on trying to convert military skills into civilian skills.  And the only one that really made it was emergency medical technician so that people when they complete training at Great Lakes if they are in the Navy or if they complete training at Fort Sam Houston if they are an Army medic automatically are offered an EMT certification course which is accepted in all jurisdictions.

There is no reason why CDL could not do the same.  And if you wanted to take education beyond that in order to be more competitive to the best of the carriers out there, and it does make a difference which school you go to as to which carrier is going to pick you up, that would be something you can do beyond that.

But we have not failed and the Veterans Corporation has totally failed in the efforts given to the Congress in 1999 to look at this whole question of conversation of military skills into civilian certification.

Mr. HALL.  Thank you very much, and I yield back.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Thank you, Mr. Hall.

I would agree.  I think, there is a balance here that we can achieve so long as we are giving our State Approving Agencies adequate resources to do both.  The veteran should have the freedom and the choice.  But, like many other provisions that go along with an earned benefit, a government benefit, we need some consumer protection provisions. 

I do think that goes to the issue of the State Approving Agencies that I want to get to in a minute, I first want to explore one other thing with Mr. Burruss.

Mr. Hall asked if you have any projections on how many certified truck drivers would emerge if we were able to accomplish the accelerated education benefits for that training.  I know you do not have those projections, but you had mentioned earlier on when I asked the question about the military license and automatic conversion for the commercial driver's license.  Have you tracked that at all, about how many come out of the military that actually go in and take the written and driving part of the exam?  Have you tracked those numbers?

Mr. BURRUSS.  No, we do not.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Okay.  Mr. Weidman, we have somewhere in the neighborhood of five to seven minutes left before a vote which means we have to leave momentarily.  We will be coming back for the third panel and we will submit additional questions if we have them for this panel.  You do not have to stay if you do not want to. 

On the small business development centers, you were talking to Mr. Hall, and Mr. Weidman, about how up in Albany they have given up on getting the State Approving Agencies to approve these programs.  Where else in the country have small business development centers been more successful in getting State Approving Agencies to approve their programs?  Anywhere?  If so, have these been best practices and have they shared the know-how in different parts of the country with going through that process?

Mr. WEIDMAN.  Any place where they offer a more traditional classroom setting.  In other words, you have X number of hours in the classroom, in a group setting, if you will.

The problem here has to do with any time you change the room number, any time you change the instructor, you have to go through the process all over again and some of the SBDCs just say we are not going to play that game because it is not a major part of their income stream nor their clientele.  It is not the majority by any stretch of the imagination. 

So, you know, they want to do things for vets, but they are not going to stand on their head every time they have to change a room number or change an instructor who is an approved instructor, particularly if it is for something like the next thing or a fast-track course where there is already a certified instructor.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Mr. Boozman, do you have follow-up questions for this panel, so we will ask them to stay, since we—

Mr. BOOZMAN.  No.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  We may, in follow-up conversations with staff as well, have additional questions that we did not get to.  Based on your testimony and answering some other questions, some of them may have been adequately addressed, but there may be a few others.  We will submit those to you in writing and perhaps again work closely with you to get those responses as we investigate this area further.

We are going to go down to vote now and then we will come back for the third panel.  We hope that you will be able to stay.  But if not, we understand that, too, and we will see you soon, I am sure.  Thank you.

Mr. BURRUSS.  Thank you.

Mr. WEIDMAN.  Thank you, ma'am.

[Recess]

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  All right.  We will get back underway.  I know people have places to be later this afternoon. 

I do want to thank our second panel for being here and testifying.

I will now introduce our third panel and the witnesses are Mr. James Bombard, Chairman of the VA's Veterans Advisory Committee on Education and Mr. Keith Wilson, Director of Education Service for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  Thank you both for being here once again.

We will start with you, Mr. Bombard.  We appreciate your testimony.  You are recognized for five minutes.

STATEMENTS OF JAMES BOMBARD, CHAIRMAN, VETERANS ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS; AND KEITH M. WILSON, DIRECTOR, EDUCATION SERVICE, VETERANS BENEFIT ADMINISTRATION, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

STATEMENT OF JAMES BOMBARD

Mr. BOMBARD.  Chairman Herseth Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman, and members of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, I am pleased to appear before you today on behalf of the Department of Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Education to provide the Committee's view on how the GI Bill can be modified to expand the accelerated benefit program beyond the high-technology industry.

I have had the pleasure of working with the members of the staff and the Committee for many years as the Committee has worked to improve the GI Bill.

In general, much has been done in recent years to provide serviceme