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Witness Testimony of Mr. Richard F. Weidman, Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs, Vietnam Veterans of America

Good afternoon Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley, and distinguished Members of the House Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.  On behalf of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) National President John Rowan and our officers and members, we thank you for the opportunity to appear today to share our views on H.R. 3329, H.R. 3483, H.R. 3610, H.R. 3670, H.R. 3524, H.R. 4048, H.R. 4051, H.R. 4057 and H.R. 4072.

I ask that you enter our full statement in the record, and I will briefly summarize some of the most important points of our statement.

H.R.3329, introduced by Representative Linda T Sanchez [D-CA], extends from 12 to 15 years after discharge or release from active-duty service the authorized period for veterans with service-connected disabilities to enroll in certain Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) vocational training and rehabilitation programs.

VVA favors this bill, as it is often the case that returning service members have to spend a significant number of years readjusting and acclimating to civilian society after their return, especially from a combat zone. The Pew Charitable Trusts produced an excellent report on this very subject in 2011 that we recommend to the Members of the Committee. (A copy of same was provided to key staff on both sides of the aisle.) Anything that affords more opportunity for deserving veterans to be trained in marketable skills is a good thing in the view of VVA.

H.R.3483, the Veterans Education Equity Act of 2011, introduced by Representative G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), revises the formula for the payment by the Department of Veterans Affairs of tuition and fees for individuals entitled to educational assistance under the Post-9/11 Educational Assistance Program and pursuing programs of education at public institutions of higher learning to include, as an additional payment formula, the greater of: 1) the actual net costs for in-state tuition after applying the receipt of any tuition waivers, reductions, scholarships, or other assistance; or 2) $17,500 for the academic year beginning on August 1, 2012 (such amount to be increased each subsequent year by the average percentage increase in undergraduate tuition costs).

VVA has no objection to this bill.

H.R.3524, the Disabled Veterans Employment Protection Act, is introduced by Representative Bruce Braley (D-IA). This legislation would entitle a person who is absent from employment by reason of the receipt of medical treatment for a service-connected disability to: 1) be retained by the person's employer; 2) the seniority and other rights and benefits determined by seniority that the person had on the commencement of such treatment plus the additional seniority and rights and benefits that the person would have attained if the person had remained continuously employed; and 3) be considered on furlough or leave of absence during such treatment and therefore entitled to other rights and benefits not determined by seniority as are other persons of similar seniority, status, and pay who are on furlough or leave of absence, and terminates such entitlement when a person knowingly provides written notice of the intent not to return to such position following treatment.

This bill would also allow the absent employee to use any vacation, annual, medical, or similar leave with pay accrued before the commencement of the treatment.

It also provides that an employer shall not be required to comply with the requirements of this Act if: 1) the employer's circumstances have so changed as to make such compliance impossible or unreasonable; 2) such compliance would pose an undue hardship on the employer; or 3) the employment in question is for a brief, non-recurring period without a reasonable expectation of continuing indefinitely or for a significant period. This proposal limits the application of this Act to periods of absence of not more than 12 workweeks during any 12-month period.

The bill applies health insurance continuation requirements to absences from employment described in this Act. It would prohibit any employer discrimination or acts of reprisal against an absent employee.

Vietnam Veterans of America strongly favors enactment of this legislation to protect the rights of veterans who have service-connected disabilities from losing their jobs because they have to take time to properly address the wounds, maladies, injuries, and illnesses that are adjudged by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to be directly connected to and resulting from the individual’s military service.

Frankly, this is legislation that should have been enacted forty years ago to protect the veterans who served in Vietnam from reprisals from employers, including federal agencies, because they had to take time to seek treatment for service-connected conditions. It was all too often a common story from Vietnam veterans that as they were all but felled from injuries such as PTSD and conditions resulting from exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides, tropical parasites, hepatitis C due to blood transmissions. Too many of these veterans were fired for seeking necessary medical help.

Even though this will not be of widespread help to our generation, or the fine young Americans who have served since 9/11 who have been the subject of discrimination and/or firing because they had to seek and receive treatment for their service-connected conditions over the past decade, it will be of significant assistance to returning veterans in the future. We salute Mr. Braley for his bold leadership on this important issue, and urge early enactment of this legislation.

H.R.3610, Streamlining Workforce Development Programs Act of 2011,
introduced by
Representative Virginia Foxx [R-NC], legislation would consolidate and streamline redundant and ineffective federal workforce development programs to increase accountability, reduce administrative bureaucracies, and put Americans back to work.

VVA staunchly opposes eliminating any of the (tiny but highly effective) Workforce Investment Act (WIA) programs for veterans, including the VWIP program. Furthermore, VVA strongly believes that the Homeless Veterans Readjustment Program (HVRP) should stay at the United States Department of Labor (DOL), but needs to be funded at the full authorized level of $50 million per year. This program is far and away the most cost-effective, cost-efficient program administered by the DOL. The primary reason why it needs to be at DOL is so that it can be used as “match” funds by the highly effective, cost-effective community-based organizations (CBOs) and faith-based organizations (FBOs) which need to “match” VA Grant & Per Diem grant monies.

For more than 40 years the veteran community-based organizations (VCBOs), although never properly funded, have continued to deliver the most cost-effective and cost-efficient services to veterans, especially veterans most in need.

While we need a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) that provides easy access to quality medical care, and we need other federal and state entities, it has consistently been the community-based organizations, and (often) the veteran service organizations (VSOs), that have been there for the veterans most in need. Unless this match requirement can be met another way, or surmounted by other means, we will oppose any move toward transferring the HVRP program to the VA.

Furthermore, it has been a decade since the inappropriately named “Jobs for Veterans Act of 2002” was enacted. (It was inappropriately named because the Employment & Training Administration (ETA) and the rest of DOL did everything they could to prevent “priority of service” from occurring at DOL or at the so-called Workforce Development Agencies. Sadly, for these reasons, not many veterans have ever gotten a job via this act, despite the noblest of intentions of the Congress.) Even though VVA repeatedly brought these failings to the attention of the top leadership of DOL, the previous Administration’s appointees there seemingly did everything they could to keep from promulgating regulations to implement the provisions of this law until the very last month they were in office.

The provisions have now been promulgated in regulation, but it appears from afar that the Chief Operating Officer at the Department of Labor in the current Administration has little or no interest in enforcing “priority of service” in Workforce Investment Act programs. It also seems to be the case that those inside of DOL who have tried to raise some very appropriate questions about this terrible (and some would suggest anti-veteran) record of non-achievement in regard to participation of military veterans being able to enter into WIA-funded programs at the state and local level, have been silenced and in some cases had their character besmirched unfairly.

The absolutely abysmal record of veterans participating in WIA training is demonstrated by the charts of states in Appendix I to this statement.

          While we applaud the good intentions, strong leadership, and hard work of Representative Foxx, we would like to see some of that resolve applied to guaranteeing that returning veterans get a fair deal in seeking classroom vocational training programs or On-the-Job-Training placements. Right now veterans are not getting anything like a fair deal, much less “priority of service” in these programs. As bad as the participation of veterans in WIA across the country, we have good reason to believe that many state and Service Delivery Area (SDA) entities could not survive even a cursory audit of this paltry tax record. (In plain word, imagine how bad their record would look if they hadn’t exaggerated veteran participation!)

Whatever else this proposed legislation in its final form does, it must set aside a proportional amount of WIA funds in each state to be at least the proportion of veterans in the population of those who are unemployed or who have dropped out of the labor force solely because they are so discouraged by looking for work to no avail that they become clinically depressed and hence unable to continue to look for work.

VVA also urges Congresswoman Foxx and her colleagues to reiterate “priority of service” as a requirement for any and all employment & training programs funded by or through the DOL. Further, VVA strongly urges creation of meaningful redress measures and sanctions for those states and for those SDA delivery areas which do not adequately demonstrate “priority of service” for veterans is occurring in all DOL-funded programs. As a last resort, the funding should be recaptured from the state and contracted out to entities (i.e., CBOs, VSOs, faith-based organizations, and other private or non-profit service providers) within that state who value veterans, and which have the expertise, creativity, and the will to assist veterans into jobs that will lead to a career.

Mr. Chairman, VVA urges you to also ask the General Accountability Office (GAO) to look into this area to discern whether this public record of the participation rate of veterans in WIA programs in each state is either incomplete or inflated, why “priority of service” to military veterans is not occurring at the service delivery level as required by law, and recommend course(s) of action for both DOL (in cooperation with VA) and the Congress to correct any deficiencies found.

VVA looks forward to working with the distinguished Members of this storied Subcommittee, and with the distinguished Members of the HELP Committee, to improve on the bill as introduced, so that VVA and others in the veterans’ community can enthusiastically endorse this proposed legislation.

H.R.3670, To require the Transportation Security Administration to comply with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, introduced by Representative Timothy Walz (D-Mn), this legislation amends the Aviation and Transportation Security Act to require the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to comply with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act when carrying out certain personnel decisions with respect to the employment of air transportation passenger and property screeners. (Please note that Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) has introduced a companion bill, S.1990.)

          As usual, Command Sergeant Major Walz is to be commended for his efforts to address a real problem for National Guard and Reserve personnel. VVA strongly favors enactment of H.R. 3670, to require the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) to abide by the “Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act”(USERA). There is no reason for TSA, or any other federal agency or entity, to not be subject to the requirements of USERA.

VVA strongly favors speedy enactment, and expedited implementation, of this proposed law.

          It has come to the attention of VVA that there are parts of the VA and of DoD that have abridged the rights of returning veterans who are demobilized from active duty, and qualify for protection under USERA. VVA strongly urges this Subcommittee to work with the appropriate Subcommittee of the Government Oversight & Reform Committee to make violation or abridgement or threatened abridgement of a service member’s rights under USERA a “prohibited personnel practice” that shall subject a manager or supervisor who commits such an act to immediate reprimand, up to and including suspension and possible dismissal in any and all federal entities. At minimum, such an act should result in a two-year suspension of awarding a bonus for any reason to that manager.

          Further, VVA urges this Subcommittee to work with that same Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce of the Committee on Oversight & Government Reform to strengthen veterans’ preference. There should be no exception of any federal department, agency, or entity from being subject to veterans’ preference in all hiring, at all grades.

          While the Veterans Employment Opportunity Act of 1998 (VEOA) strengthened veterans’ preference in many ways, it is now way past time to correct a number of flaws in the VEOA. The statute made it a “prohibited personnel practice” to violate the rights of a veterans’ preference-eligible person.  First among those flaws is that the word “knowingly” was slipped into the law before “violate a person’s veterans’ preference rights.” This has enabled those same SES folks to avoid punishing managers and supervisors for the past fourteen years. Frankly, if a manager or supervisor does not know veterans’ preference laws by the time he or she gets into a position of authority, then they should be removed and dismissal proceedings started for either misfeasance and/or incompetence. (Incidentally, the word “knowingly” does not appear in the language that defines all other “prohibited personnel practices,” only in the veterans’ preference clause.)

It is also time to admit that the Senior Executive Service (SES) is a failure that has not met any of the supposed goals of the program that were used to justify exempting SES from veterans’ preference laws. As it has played out at the VA, at DOD, and at other departments and agencies, this exemption has enabled “Jody” (those who avoided the draft or enlistment to serve our country in the armed forces) to make sure that there are very few veterans or surviving spouses in SES positions. There is a generally patronizing attitude toward veterans that has been allowed to flourish in many quarters of the federal government. Even as the size of the federal workforce shrinks, these outrageous abuses must end.

          I would be remiss if I did not note that the current Administration has tried very hard to increase the hiring of veterans and the use of tools for agencies to increase the employment of veterans, particularly disabled veterans. There has, as perhaps you might come to expect, a great deal of lip service and passive resistance from the careerists. It has however resulted in some gains for veterans, but we must not only keep the pressure on them to do better, but also move to strengthen the law. Frankly there are very few things that you can do to really assist veterans, particularly disabled veterans, and dramatically improve their lives while also strengthening the effectiveness of the Federal work force that do not cost money in a time of both real and perceived austerity.

Making the veterans’ preference laws stronger is one of those few no-cost things you have the latitude to accomplish even in a tough year which can really improve the lives of disabled veterans. VVA urges you and your colleagues to seize this moment of opportunity, and act with alacrity and determination.

H.R.4048, Improving Contracting Opportunities for Veteran-Owned Small Businesses Act of 2012, introduced by Representative Bill Johnson (R-OH), would amend title 38, United States Code, to clarify the contracting goals and preferences of the VA with respect to small business concerns owned and controlled by veterans.

          This legislation can be read in two very different ways with very different consequences: 1) that the Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) and the misnomered “strategic sourcing initiative” (which is not based on any statute we can locate, and which has less than nothing to do with national security) has precedence over small business in general and service-disabled veteran- owned small business “Vets First” provisions of law in particular; or 2) that Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs) and Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (VOSBs) who are on the delegated (from the General Services Agency) Federal Supply Schedules shall have preference over all others on the VA-run FSS.

If the intent is the second meaning, then VVA can enthusiastically support this proposed law.

          If, however, the intent is to let the VA continue to ignore much of small business law that has been on the books for years, and to ignore the “Vets First” contracting provisions of Title 38, then VVA must rigorously oppose this legislation. The Veterans Entrepreneurship Task Force (VET-Force) will also vigorously oppose this legislation if that is the case.

As there was no summary on thomas.loc.gov that made clear the intent of HR 4048, and there were no remarks upon introduction that we could locate, the bill as written leaves us in a bit of a quandary. If we are in a quandary as to what was intended, we can only speculate and marvel at the mess the VA General Counsel’s office (never mind the Acquisitions people) will make of this proposal should it become law as currently worded, with no clear and unequivocal committee report. We urge that this be re-written and expanded for clarity, and a clear committee report be written, no matter which way the committee decides to proceed.

H.R.4051, TAP Modernization Act of 2012, introduced by Representative Marlin A. Stutzman (R-IN), would direct the Secretary of Labor to provide off-base transition training.

The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) has needed a significant overhaul for some time. The common vernacular description of the TAP program as it exists on military bases today is “death by power-point.” Many of those slides in the standard presentation date back to when some of the separating service members were in elementary school. What is particularly needed is not only an up to date and interactive experience that will engage those separating, but also to deliver this program to those who are members of the National Guard and the Reserves demobilizing, and are nowhere near a military base where this program is currently offered.

It is also true for many of the active duty service members when they separate from the service and return home that they are not near a military base that offers TAP. Reportedly, this is the most rural Armed Forces we have fielded since World War I, with about 40% coming from towns of 25,000 or less. What this means is that we must alter our paradigm and shape these very important services in such a way that the service(s) and vital information for these veterans and their spouses can be delivered where the new veterans can seize this opportunity, and in such a manner that they will grasp this important set of services and information.

Our nation spends a great deal of time and treasure to train these young Americans to be effective soldiers, sailors, Marines, and members of the Air Force and Coast Guard. This prepares them to be not only the best trained and equipped armed forces in the world, but the best in the history of the world. Surely we can spend the time and resources to train these young Americans to successfully reintegrate into civilian life.

VVA does favor enactment of this legislation at an early date, but urges that you and your colleagues consider speeding up the pilot to a much faster pace than three years in only five states. The services are needed now, not in the distant future.

H.R. 4057, Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2012, introduced by Representative Gus M. Bilirakis, (R-FL), would amend title 38, United States Code, to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to develop a comprehensive policy to improve outreach and transparency to veterans and members of the Armed Forces through the provision of information on institutions of higher learning.

          VVA commends Congressman Bilirakis for continuing the tradition in his family of bold advocacy for the men and women who have pledged their life and limb in defense of the Constitution.

VVA favors enactment of this proposed legislation, but we strongly urge that it be strengthened. Let me be blunt: VVA has good reason to believe that some predatory for-profit schools set out to enrich themselves and their investors by taking the hard-earned GI Bill for the 21st Century dollars, and then arranging “easy financing” of additional costs from what turns out to be a finance company owned by the same investors that locks these brave young people into a debt structure that is a heavy burden at exorbitant (if not usurious in the biblical sense). Then it is only after wasting time and all of their benefits that these veterans discover that the schools are not really properly accredited, that their “degrees” are phony and worthless as said “credentials” are not accepted by employers or licensing agencies or graduate schools.

In the most extreme of these cases, the future has literally been stolen from these veterans. These predators are practicing “Stolen Valor” in the extreme.

Let me state that VVA does not believe that all distance learning is bad, nor that being a for-profit school inherently means that the school can’t offer fair value for a fair price. They can – but the predatory for-profit schools do not.

We ask that you take into account these considerations:

(1)  Basic Eligibility Threshold:  No GI Bill or TA dollars if the graduate is not eligible to get licensed in that field.  In the Military and Veteran Students Educational Bill of Rights, one provision is, “If receiving a degree or certificate will fulfill the licensing requirements in a particular field.”  As our friend and colleague Ted Daywalt, founder and president of VetJobs  always says, a program’s graduates must be eligible for state licensing so that graduates can actually get a job in the area they studied for (for example, a nursing program must be approved so that its graduates can be licensed to practice nursing).  You could also suggest basic eligibility thresholds for graduation and job placement rates (such as, no GI Bill dollars if a school has a terrible graduation or job placement rate).

(2)  Risk-Based Audits and Reviews:  Senator Webb is proposing a risk-based review system where State Approving Agencies would be tasked with performing an audit if one of these triggers occurred:  rapid GI enrollment, student complaints, high drop-out rates, high loan default rates, or legal action by a state or the feds against a particular college.  To quote from the Military and Veteran Students Educational Bill of Rights:  “Review any institution that shows a rapid increase in student dropout rates or student loan defaults, an increase in student complaints, a state lawsuit or probation, etc.  VA and DoD should decertify or terminate from TA and GI Bill eligibility any institution of higher education that has been put on probation or terminated by a state government from its student aid program, has been found by a government agency to have engaged in grossly deceptive recruiting practices, or has admitted fraud or been successfully sued for fraud.  VA and DoD should share information with the Departments of Education and Justice, and communicate information on adverse findings by those agencies with the State Approving Agencies for institutions that may require additional inspections or remedial action.”    

(3)  Data Collection, Student Disclosures and Reporting:  Here’s the applicable paragraph from the Educational Bill of Rights:  “Track the data on school performance and student outcomes under Tuition Assistance, Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bills, and Top-Up. Currently DOD and VA track dollars out the door, but not what those dollars have bought. (No agency is currently tracking even dollars out the door under Top-Up.) At a minimum, DOD and VA should track the number of credits earned and whether students remain enrolled, have successfully completed a program, or have dropped out. Metrics should be regularly reported to Congress.”

(4)  Disclosures.  You’ve got a serious list in the attached Educational Bill of Rights: “Disclose relevant educational and financial information to DoD/VA and to prospective students in plain language and in easily accessible, obvious places on all materials and websites:

                                                        i.      The actual costs per credit hour and/or degree or other relevant measures, including all lab and student fees;

                                                      ii.      Whether or not credits are transferrable to that state's public universities and community colleges;

                                                    iii.      If receiving a degree or certificate will fulfill licensing requirements in a particular field;

                                                   iv.      If the institution of higher learning (IHL) has been accredited by what national and/or regional accrediting entity;

                                                     v.      That programs of study have been approved for GI Bill benefits by a State Approving Agency;

                                                   vi.      Whether the institution is a public, private non-profit, or                     private for-profit institution; and if it is a for-profit entity, it   should be required to disclose its profitability, executive     compensation, and shareholder return annually and semi-annually, as well as what percent of its budget goes to marketing and recruitment; to career placement; and to actual instruction;

                                                 vii.      What the overall graduation and job placement rates have been for the past five years, as well as in the specific field of study in which a prospective student is considering majoring;

                                               viii.      What the dropout rates have been over the past five years; The student debt and default rates on loans at one year, two years, and three years after a student has graduated or has otherwise left the school;

                                                   ix.      Whether the college has dedicated support staff to assist students                   

                                                     x.        negotiate the educational terrain, especially support staff for military, veterans, and military families - in particular disabled veterans (it's one thing to get into a school; it's quite another to attain a degree while juggling family and work and studies); and whether or not the college has certified counselors available to assist students seek scholarships and other forms of financial aid;

                                                   xi.      The qualification level of the teaching and tutoring staff, e.g., what percentage of instructors have achieved a terminal degree in their field of discipline;

                                                 xii.      Whether or not the school has a career placement office with paid, dedicated staff to assist students in their job search upon graduation; or, in the case of online institutions, what is the availability of career placement services for students and alumni;

                                               xiii.      What percentage of the institution's budget is spent on advertising, marketing, recruitment, commissions, and sales; how much has been taken as profit over an institution's past five fiscal years; and the total annual individual executive compensation package for the senior corporate or college staff over the past years, as well as shareholder returns quarterly and annually over the same period.”

H.R.4072, Consolidating Veteran Employment Services for Improved Performance Act of 2012, introduced by Representative Jeff Miller (FL-1), would amend title 38, United States Code, to improve employment services for veterans by consolidating various programs in the Department of Veterans Affairs

VVA supports the part of this bill that would create the position of Deputy Undersecretary of VA for Veterans Employment and Economic Opportunities, and move the DOL Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS) to VA. While this begs the question as to the lack of accountability of the state workforce development agencies in regard to the proper deployment of the veterans’ personnel to work on assisting veterans, especially disabled veterans, to obtain and sustain meaningful employment at a living wage, it is at least a start in the right direction.

VVA still strongly believes that all of the veterans’ staff positions currently known as Disabled Veteran Outreach Program specialists (DVOPs) and Local Veteran Employment Representatives (LVERs) that are currently state employees should be federalized. VVA holds that this is necessary because there is presently no effective oversight of how the states are utilizing these personnel. Experience would suggest, however, that we are lucky if we are able to get the equivalent of one day a week of these half-time LVERs and DVOPs devoted to veterans. At minimum VVA strongly urges you to authorize only full-time positions as veterans’ personnel, and ensure that there is a meaningful oversight system to ensure veterans get their money’s worth of effort from each full-time position funded by DOL to serve only veterans. Lastly, we need more meaningful objective measures than the current mass scale manifestation of the “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” logical fallacy. We need real placements, not the current phony system.

However, VVA opposes the part of this bill that would move the HVRP grant program from DOL to the VA per VVA 2011 National Convention resolution: “HV-7 Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program to Remain at the US Department of Labor (DOL) and be fully funded at $50M”; resolved, thatVietnam Veterans of America opposes the transition of the HVRP Program from the US Department of Labor and further, that DOL should be held accountable for this program‘s function, oversight, and performance. Additionally, VVA urges full funding to the authorized level for the HVRP program.”

As noted above, the key issue here is that the very effective CBOs and faith-based organizations (FBOs), which operate on a very close margin, need the HVRP funds from DOL to serve as “match” funds in order to receive “Grant & Per Diem” funds from VA. Frankly, these CBOs and FBOs produce effective services to very poor and homeless veterans at much less cost than government can get the job done. Veterans tend to trust them more than the VA or other government agencies when beginning the process of trekking the long road back from the street to a productive role in society. If this “match” problem can be surmounted, then VVA would reconsider this position.

          Many thanks for the opportunity to appear here today to share the views of VVA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix I

 

MILITARY & VETERAN STUDENTS

EDUCATIONAL BILL OF RIGHTS

 

The VSOs and MSOs indicated below urge the Administration to establish an interagency working group, from among the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Education, and Justice, to develop appropriate protocols to protect active duty service members, reservists and members of the National Guard, veterans and family members who seek to use their GI Bill and Tuition Assistance benefits to pursue higher education from unethical and predatory institutions of higher learning. Several of our ideas on reining in the abuses that we know have been harming troops and veterans are offered below. We defer to the Administration on the appropriate agency or mechanism to implement these ideas, and are available to provide more specifics as needed. We have referred to the Military Student Bill of Rights developed by the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges Consortium (SOCC) as a touchstone on this issue. We also encourage reference to section 559 of the FY'12 National Defense Authorization Act.

1. REQUIRE (either through strong Memoranda of Understanding from both DOD and VA or through Executive action) all institutions of higher learning that want to accept students under Tuition Assistance or the Post-9/11 or Montgomery GI Bills to:

a. DISCLOSE relevant educational and financial information to DoD/VA and to prospective students in plain language and in easily accessible, obvious places on all materials and websites:

i. The actual costs per credit hour and/or degree or other relevant measures, including all lab and student fees;

ii. Whether or not credits are transferrable to that state's public universities and community colleges;

iii. If receiving a degree or certificate will fulfill licensing requirements in a particular field;

iv. If the institution of higher learning (IHL) has been accredited by what national and/or regional accrediting entity;

v. That programs of study have been approved for GI Bill benefits by a State Approving Agency.

vi. Whether the institution is a public, private non-profit, or private for-profit institution; and if it is a for-profit entity, it should be required to disclose its profitability, executive compensation, and shareholder return annually and semi-annually, as well as what percent of its budget goes to marketing and recruitment; to career placement; and to actual instruction.

vii. What the overall graduation and job placement rates have been for the past five years, as well as in the specific field of study in which a prospective student is considering majoring.

viii. What the dropout rates have been over the past five years;

ix. The student debt and default rates on loans at one year, two years, and three years after a student has graduated or has otherwise left the school;

x. Whether the college has dedicated support staff to assist students negotiate the educational terrain, especially support staff for military, veterans, and military families - in particular disabled veterans (it's one thing to get into a school; it's quite another to attain a degree while juggling family and work and studies); and whether or not the college has certified counselors available to assist students seek scholarships and other forms of financial aid;

xi. The qualification level of the teaching and tutoring staff, e.g., what percentage of instructors have achieved a terminal degree in their field of discipline;

xii. Whether or not the school has a career placement office with paid, dedicated staff to assist students in their job search upon graduation; or, in the case of online institutions, what is the availability of career placement services for students and alumni;

xiii. What percentage of the institution's budget is spent on advertising, marketing, recruitment, commissions, and sales; how much has been taken as profit over an institution's past five fiscal years; and the total annual individual executive compensation package for the senior corporate or college staff over the past years, as well as shareholder returns quarterly and annually over the same period.

b. REQUIRE institutions of higher learning to report data on graduation and dropout rates and other relevant measures of their commitment to providing quality higher education to the National Center for Education Statistics' College Navigator.

c. MANDATE that any institution of higher learning that receives Tuition Assistance, Post-9/11 or Montgomery GI Bill funds has a career placement office with dedicated, paid staff to assist students in their job search upon graduation; or, in the case of online institutions, provides career placement services for students and alumni.

d. MANDATE institutions of higher learning provide support services for military, veterans, including disabled veterans, and their families.

e. MANDATE under penalty that no institution of higher learning may provide incentive payments to recruit; and that no financial incentives may be offered to current or former students to recruit; nor may a school use GI Bill or TA dollars for recruiting or marketing.

f. MANDATE under penalty that any institution of higher learning receiving GI Bill or Tuition Assistance dollars must be brought under the rules of Title IV of the Higher Education Act governing institutions that receive Pell grants and federal student loans.

g. ENSURE that currently enrolled students will be given sufficient notice if an institution of higher learning declines to sign the MOU.

2. CLOSE the 90/10 loophole. A cornerstone of any effort must be closing the loophole in which GI Bill and Tuition Assistance funds are considered "private" funds, not "federal" funds in the 90/10

equation. This has opened the floodgates to extreme targeting of military and veteran students by predatory for-profit colleges, and has led to the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars. (Note: The American Legion does not have a Resolution that supports this proposal).

3. MANDATE counseling about educational benefits and the potential for abuse to the uneducated consumer student. Active duty troops should be informed by DOD and VA personnel about educational opportunities available to them - and their families - and the risks for abuse by predatory institutions, prior to receiving benefits. National Guard and military families should also receive counseling through appropriate avenues. Potential students should be told about the College Navigator. Those who are considering enrolling in an institution of higher learning, and those who are about to separate from service, should attend mandatory sessions that focus on what factors potential students need to consider when choosing a school. Similarly, all levels of command, from company commander through installation commander, should be alert to the risks of predatory institutions and take steps if necessary to bar these recruiters and their principals from coming onto their base. All levels of command should be encouraged to disseminate information through publications and periodic briefings by MSO and VSO representatives. Institutions of higher education should not themselves be given a platform to conduct education counseling under Chapter 36 or other avenues.

4. DEVELOP an online college comparison tool (e.g., a mandatory, not a voluntary, College Navigator) that can assist students compare actual costs, transferability of credits, eligibility to get licensed, key indicators or measures of student success, e.g., drop-out rates, graduation rates, student loan default rates, and job placement successes. This tool would also catalog an online database of student complaints. And this College Navigator should allow for social media integration so that potential students can rate schools by learning of the experiences of students at these institutions.

5. ESTABLISH an Ombudsman system at VA and DOD to take student complaints at a toll-free number, such as 1-800-GI BILL1, facilitated through existing infrastructure at the VA call center in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Student complaints could be made available online and connected to College Navigator, with all personal information redacted, so prospective students might see complaints about the schools they are considering. Require VA to develop an Education Benefits Customer Service portal, where student veterans can file complaints about benefits and report fraud waste and abuse. Veteran complaints should be assigned a case file and tracked as the VA works with agencies to find resolution to the problem.

6. TRACK the data on school performance and student outcomes under Tuition Assistance, Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bills, and Top-Up. Currently DOD and VA track dollars out the door, but not what those dollars have bought. (No agency is currently tracking even dollars out the door under Top-Up.) At a minimum, DOD and VA should track the number of credits earned and whether students remain enrolled, have successfully completed a program, or have dropped out. Metrics should be regularly reported to Congress.

7. REVIEW any institution that shows a rapid increase in student dropout rates or student loan defaults, an increase in student complaints, a state lawsuit or probation, etc. VA and DoD should decertify or terminate from TA and GI Bill eligibility any institution of higher education that has been put on probation or terminated by a state government from its student aid program, has been found by a government agency to have engaged in grossly deceptive recruiting practices, or has admitted fraud or been successfully sued for fraud. VA and DOD should share information with the Departments of

Education and Justice, and communicate information on adverse findings by those agencies with the State Approving Agencies for institutions that may require additional inspections or remedial action.

8. ADDRESS access to military installations in CONUS and overseas. Installation commanders should utilize the rule against commercial solicitation on their base, as well as JAG procedures to ban predatory commercial entities. They should be encouraged to enter into MOUs with community and non-profit schools to teach on post; no national educational entity, e.g., Kaplan or Colorado Tech, should have entre into a national MOU with DOD or one of the services to have unfettered access to all bases. It should be in the province of a local commander and his/her educational officers to determine who is authorized to teach on campus, but there should be no limit to the number of MOUs they can sign. Access to bases by former service members should be limited if they are paid by schools to recruit on base.

9. TRADEMARK or otherwise protect such terms as "GI Bill" and "Military friendly" but provide a carve-out for recognized VSOs. (Websites owned by for-profit lead generators include GIBillAmerica.com, MilitaryGIBill.com, GIBill.Com, GIBenefits.com, and US-Army-Info.com.) The federal government has already trademarked terms such as "Social Security," "Medicare," "No Guts, No Glory," "PTSD Coach," "VetBiz," and "MyFuture.com."

10. DESIGN a method of recourse for service members and veterans who have lost their benefits because they were duped or tricked by a predatory practice by an institution of higher learning. If a troop or veteran has wasted his/her benefits on a worthless degree or certification because of misrepresentations made by unscrupulous representatives of predatory for-profits, they should be permitted to petition the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to have them reinstated.

The undersigned organizations have endorsed this military and veteran students’ educational Bill of Rights:

John R. “Doc” McCauslin

Chief Executive Officer

Air Force Sergeants Association

Rear Adm. (Ret.) Casey Coane

Executive Director

Association of the U.S. Navy

Tom Tarantino

Deputy Policy Director

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Vice Adm. (Ret.) Norbert R. Ryan, Jr.

President

Military Officers Association of America

Joe Wynn

Legislative Liaison and Regional Director

National Association for Black Veterans

President, Vets Group

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Gus Hargett

President

National Guard Association of the U.S.

Carl Blake

National Legislative Director

Paralyzed Veterans of America

Michael Dakduk

Executive Director

Student Veterans of America

Peter Gaytan

Executive Director

The American Legion

Raymond C. Kelley

National Legislative Director

Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S.

Ted Daywalt

President

VetJobs

Heather L. Ansley, Esq., MSW

Vice President of Veterans Policy

VetsFirst, United Spinal Association

Rick Weidman

Executive Director for Policy &

Government Affairs

Vietnam Veterans of America

VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA

Funding Statement

March 8, 2012

            The national organization Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is a non-profit veterans' membership organization registered as a 501(c) (19) with the Internal Revenue Service.  VVA is also appropriately registered with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives in compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.

            VVA is not currently in receipt of any federal grant or contract, other than the routine allocation of office space and associated resources in VA Regional Offices for outreach and direct services through its Veterans Benefits Program (Service Representatives).  This is also true of the previous two fiscal years.

For Further Information, Contact:

            Executive Director of Policy and Government Affairs

            Vietnam Veterans of America

            (301) 585-4000, extension 127


Richard F. Weidman

Richard F. “Rick” Weidman is Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs on the National Staff of Vietnam Veterans of America. As such, he is the primary spokesperson for VVA in Washington. He served as a 1-A-O Army Medical Corpsman during the Vietnam War, including service with Company C, 23rd Med, AMERICAL Division, located in I Corps of Vietnam in 1969.

Mr. Weidman was part of the staff of VVA from 1979 to 1987, serving variously as Membership Service Director, Agency Liaison, and Director of Government Relations.  He left VVA to serve in the Administration of Governor Mario M. Cuomo as statewide director of veterans’ employment & training (State Veterans Programs Administrator) for the New York State Department of Labor.

He has served as Consultant on Legislative Affairs to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV), and served at various times on the VA Readjustment Advisory Committee, the Secretary of Labor’s Advisory Committee on Veterans Employment & Training, the President’s Committee on Employment of Persons with Disabilities - Subcommittee on Disabled Veterans, Advisory Committee on Veterans’ Entrepreneurship at the Small Business Administration, and numerous other advocacy posts. He currently serves as Chairman of the Task Force for Veterans’ Entrepreneurship, which has become the principal collective voice for veteran and disabled veteran small-business owners.

Mr. Weidman was an instructor and administrator at Johnson State College (Vermont) in the 1970s, where he was also active in community and veterans affairs. He attended Colgate University (B.A., 1967), and did graduate study at the University of Vermont.

He is married and has four children.