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Witness Testimony of MG Robert M. Worley II USAF (Ret.), Director, Education Service Veterans Benefit Administration U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Chairman and other Members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to be here today to discuss the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) efforts to implement Executive Order (E.O.) 13607: “Establishing Principles of Excellence for Educational Institutions Serving Service Members, Veterans, Spouses, and Other Family Members.” 

In fiscal year (FY) 2011, VA provided education benefits to nearly one million Veterans, Service members, and dependents under a variety of benefit programs.  VA is committed to ensuring that VA’s education benefits provide access to high-quality educational opportunities that will enhance our beneficiaries’ ability to meet their academic and career objectives.  The actions required by the Executive Order align with these objectives, and reaffirm our commitment to ensuring Veterans are well served by these programs.    VA is working closely with other agencies to leverage current initiatives and resources to enhance service to Veterans.  My testimony today will review VA initiatives underway to assist Veterans in the pursuit of their education objectives and the impacts of E.O. 13607 on that effort.

Prior VA Initiatives to Inform Education Beneficiaries

Prior to the publication of E.O. 13607, VA had initiated several efforts to increase the amount of information available to Veterans as they pursue programs of postsecondary education.  These earlier endeavors provide a strong foundation for the Department to better reach out to beneficiaries in collaboration with other Federal agencies under the auspices of the Executive Order.

In 2011, VA updated the GI Bill website to include links to other VA and Federal resources on postsecondary education and employment, including a “Choosing Your School” guidebook.  The GI Bill website now links to the Department of Education’s College Navigator website, which provides comprehensive data on nearly 7,000 colleges and universities in the United States, and to the Department of Labor’s ONET on-line portal, which provides career-specific information on the educational requirements, working conditions, and other factors an individual might consider when choosing an occupation. 

VA also sponsors the VetSuccess on Campus program, which will place VA representatives on 24 college campuses nationwide in FY 2012 to support the readjustment needs of student Veterans.  In addition, VA’s oversight and compliance staff works closely with State Approving Agencies to ensure that institutional financial aid policies, program information and course guides, advertising, and recruitment practices, accurately present the important information needed by potential and existing student Veterans.

Executive Order 13607

Since the Post-9/11 GI Bill became law, there have been numerous reports of aggressive and deceptive targeting of service members, veterans, and their families by educational institutions.   Additionally, members of Congress, the GAO, and others have called attention to the need to provide our military and veteran students with better information about educational institutions prior to enrolling, so that students are aware of graduation outcomes, the true financial costs of educational programs, and other information that allows such students to choose where to spend their federal educational benefits. 

  In response, on April 27, 2012, the President issued Executive Order 13607, which directs VA, along with the Departments of Defense and Education, to develop and implement Principles of Excellence to ensure that Service members, Veterans, spouses, and other family members using military and Veterans education benefits have the information they need to make informed decisions concerning their well-earned Federal benefits.  They will also establish a centralized complaint system for students receiving military and veterans’ educational benefits, and will crack down on fraudulent and aggressive recruiting techniques on and off military installations.

The Executive Order seeks to provide better information and service to students and families in a few key ways.  First, it directs VA and other agencies to take steps to ensure that students are provided with the educational and financial information necessary to make informed decisions.  VA strongly believes that Veterans should have access to information they need to select high-quality educational programs that match their readjustment goals.  Clear information on the total cost of an educational program, including the tuition and fees, the amount of that cost that will be covered by Federal education benefits, as well as information on student outcome, is critical to helping Veterans and Service members navigate the variety of educational options available to them, and helping them choose the program that best suits their needs.  Informing students of their federal financial aid options first, helps mitigate the likelihood that veterans will be asked to take out more costly private student loans  prior to exhausting all of their federal benefits.  These steps are encouraged by the Principles of Excellence.

The Executive Order will also strengthen oversight, enforcement, and accountability within our education benefit programs.  It addresses enforcement and compliance mechanisms by requiring creation of a centralized complaint system for students receiving education benefits as well as procedures to address complaints and ensure compliance with the principles.  VA, in accordance with the executive order, will continue to expand oversight of schools to the extent permitted by existing law and coordinate with other relevant agencies to identify complaints and act upon compliance concerns.   

The Department shares the concern of many Members and Veterans advocate groups about deceptive and fraudulent marketing campaigns using the term GI Bill.  The Executive Order requires VA to initiate a process to trademark the term “GI Bill”, and in accordance with the directive, VA has already submitted an application to register the term GI Bill with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as a trademark.  We are continuing to work with the USPTO on the appropriate next steps.

To achieve its goals, this Executive Order requires action on the part of multiple agencies.  The VA will publicly post a list of colleges that have agreed to adhere to these principles on our website.  Over the next several months, the agencies noted in the Executive Order will submit a plan to the President detailing how they will carry out the Executive Order in each of their relevant programs. 

This Executive Order underscores the importance that VA and other federal organizations place on this vital issue.  The direction provided by the President will ensure roles and responsibilities are fully understood; coordination is clear; and implementation is efficient.  As we review and commence implementation of the provisions of E.O. 13607, we will keep this Subcommittee informed of our plans and any challenges that we may face. 

Conclusion

The Post-9/11 GI Bill greatly improved Veteran students’ educational opportunities.  VA has worked with key stakeholders to help ensure that Veterans utilizing this benefit are paid in a timely and accurate manner.  However, that is not enough.  By further continuing interagency cooperation and student outreach, VA will ensure that Veterans are informed consumers and schools meet their obligations in training this Nation’s next greatest generation.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement.  I would be happy to answer any questions you or the other Members of the Subcommittee may have.