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Witness Testimony of Mr. Chad C. Schatz, Director, Veterans' Education and Training Section Missouri State Department of Elementary & Secondary Education

Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley and members of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, we are pleased to appear before you today on behalf of the National Association of State Approving Agencies (NASAA) to provide comments on “Executive Order 13607 and Its Impact on Schools and Veterans”.  We also will provide some additional comments that may be helpful to the Committee as it addresses concerns about maintaining the effectiveness and integrity of the administration of the GI Bills.  

Before offering NASAA’s observations with respect to Executive Order 13607 and the potential challenges to its implementation, I’d like to offer a few general comments about who serves, sacrifices, and benefits with respect to the GI Bill educational assistance programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs under Title 38, USC. 

General Comments

We believe NASAA’s longstanding presence as the “face of the GI Bill” in the 50 States has the potential to furnish value-added historical information for the Subcommittee; information that is germane to today’s public hearing.  

Who Serves

The Subcommittee certainly knows that America’s sons and daughters who wear the military uniform of the United States represent the very best of character, commitment, and resolve.  Like the 19-year olds who scaled the cliffs of Normandy, America’s post 9-11 generation’s greatness exceeds only its selflessness while in harm’s way. 

Disciplined by duty and enlightened through experience, our All-Volunteer Force indeed represents America’s most engaging and resourceful of individuals; a segment of our society that literally grows leaders; not just for their military time but for a lifetime.  They are mature beyond their years and are undaunted by being part of something so much bigger than themselves. 

Deployed to some 120 countries around the world, many of our service members have seen first-hand the insidious effects of tyranny over freedom and dictatorship over democracy.  As the late General Creighton Abrams observed: “Soldiers are not in the Army.  Soldiers are the Army.”  Ordinary Americans whom we ask to do extraordinary things in our defense both here at home and on the world stage.  Many of the same airmen, soldiers, Marines, sailors, and coast guardsmen are deployed again and again – year after year. 

Extraordinary things?  The National Leadership Index 2005:  A National Study of Confidence in Leadership conducted by the Yankelvich, Inc. Survey organization for US News and World Report/Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government found that Americans have more confidence in our military -- and military leaders -- than any other segment of our society.  They simply do whatever America asks them to do. 

Mr. Chairman, perhaps particularly  illustrative of the intended beneficiaries of Executive Order 13607 are the observations, first, of Representative Henry Brown of South Carolina, recently retired, who formerly chaired this Subcommittee while working closely with ranking member Michael Michaud; and second, Representative Ike Skelton, recently retired, who previously chaired the House Committee on Armed Services.

At the March 24, 2004 bipartisan House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs press conference titled “Wall Street and Main Street Agree: Veterans Give Business the Winning Edge” Representative Brown asked rhetorically:

“In what other aspects of society do technology-savvy 20 year olds maintain multimillion dollar tactical aircraft; navigate and troubleshoot multi-billion dollar nuclear powered ships; and operate and maintain space-based technologies to keep us safe in an increasingly unsafe world?”

Indeed while servicemembers and veterans may be new to postsecondary education and training, they are not new to initiative and responsibility.   

At his December 1, 2010 farewell, the former 17-term Representative Ike Skelton expressed concern that fewer and fewer Americans understand the sacrifices of military service: 

“I have always considered each young man and woman in uniform as a son or daughter.  They are national treasures and their sacrifices cannot be taken for granted.  They are not chess pieces to be moved upon a board.  Each and every one is irreplaceable.”

Who Sacrifices

Mr. Skelton answers this question well. 

By definition, sacrifices of military service are not required of average citizens.  For example, financial aid abounds for those who earnestly choose not to serve in our military.  As a matter of national policy, in fiscal year 2012 the United States will award about $36 billion in Pell Grants annually for which no service – and no “sacrifice”-- to the nation is required.

This was not always the case.  Former Senator William Cohen, who also served in the House of Representatives and then as Secretary of Defense, observed on the Senate floor on May 8, 1987 when the Senate passed H.R. 1085, as amended, by a vote of 89-0 to create the Montgomery GI Bill:

“We should remember that when GI Bill benefits were established in 1944, they were the initial step in the federal provision of educational assistance.  Until 1965, the GI Bill stood virtually alone as a source of aid to post-secondary students. And as late as 1975, the Vietnam-era GI Bill provided over 50 percent of all student aid to those in post-secondary schools.” 

Observed former Representative and then-Senator Thomas Daschle – who previously served on this subcommittee -- during this same May 8, 1987 Senate floor debate:

“Every year we spend approximately $7 billion dollars on no-obligation educational assistance for college students.  This, of course, is a worthy expenditure and a prudent investment in the future of our country.  But we should not forget that it is also important that educational assistance be provided to those patriotic young people who have agreed to delay their education so that they can serve their country in a tour of military service.”                

And for those who wear the military uniform, NASAA notes that the 1999, bipartisan Congressional Commission on Servicemembers and Veterans Transition Assistance (created under PL 104-275) reported that it was unaware of any other student-aid program in which the student himself/herself pays-in $1,200 in ‘cold cash’ to become eligible for educational assistance. 

Not an in-kind family contribution, the $1,200 cash pay-in has been required of servicemembers under the historic Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB), which observes its 25th anniversary on June 1, 2012 (Public Law 100-48).  Even given the $1,200 requirement, since its inception in 1987 about

95 percent of servicemembers voluntarily have signed up for the Montgomery GI Bill.  Enterprising Americans indeed. 

To date, about 2.6 million veterans have used the Montgomery GI Bill in transitioning to civilian life producing untold numbers of business men and women, teachers, engineers, entrepreneurs, first responders, accountants, public servants, pilots, bankers, social workers and professionals in the full range of specialized technologies – to name just a few professions.         

Who Benefits

Our domestic economy.

Mr. Chairman, I share with the subcommittee the economic-return data on the Montgomery GI Bill, as NASAA is unaware of any such data yet available for the Post 9-11 GI Bill.  The data are important because it addresses outcomes and can serve as an indicator of future benefits for the Post 9-11 GI Bill.

The preponderance of veterans who have trained under VA educational assistance programs since September 11, 2001 have done so under the Montgomery GI Bill; thus creating economic opportunity at every turn and promise at every door for themselves and their families.  Under contract to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the 2000 Klemm Analysis Group’s program evaluation of the Montgomery GI Bill concluded that:

“The Federal Government realizes a sizable financial return on its investment for [Montgomery GI Bill] benefit users who complete a traditional academic program. 

“The Government return [projected increases in federal taxes collected as derived from the income gain beneficiaries realize] on [Montgomery GI Bill] investment is slightly more than 2 ½-to-one (2.54) for beneficiaries who complete a four-year college degree.  The Government return on investment for beneficiaries

who complete a two-year degree is more than two-to-one (2.14).

“The private return on investment[income gain beneficiaries realize as a result of their added educational attainment] is more than 8 ½-to-one (8.60) for a two-year degree and more than seven-to-one (7.36) for a four-year degree.”

Mr. Chairman, lastly, as the Subcommittee is aware, the ultimate measure of successful transition from military to civilian life is long-term, sustained employment.  And the ultimate judge of the Montgomery GI Bill’s – and the Post 9-11 GI Bill’s -- cost effectiveness is the employers who determine whether the program meets employers’ marketplace-workforce development needs. 

Fundamentally, employing veterans represents a good business decision. Notes former Marine pilot Robert A. Lutz, past Vice Chairman of General Motors:

“Veterans personify economic strength…veterans represent the ready work force for the 21st Century…veterans, regardless of their generation, have the soft skills that every employer seeks; team players with a strong work ethic, loyalty, the ability to start a job and get it done all the way through.”

Indeed NASAA shares the view expressed in 2004 by Representatives Christopher Smith and Mike Simpson:  “Hiring veterans for patriotic reasons expresses appreciation and respect.  Hiring them for business reasons gets results.”  The GI Bill allows veterans to obtain the degrees and training that will allow them to secure those jobs.  And employer-based on-job learning and apprenticeships under VA educational assistance programs even help veterans ‘earn and learn’ simultaneously.   

Remarks on Executive Order 13607

We compliment the President for wanting to ensure that those who are protecting and have protected our nation are not subject to the abuse of some who are more interested in padding their wallets than providing a quality educational experience.  The Executive Order is an effort to address some of the problems that have been identified in recent months and reported by veterans, veteran service organizations and government investigators. 

The idea of adopting and applying Principles of Excellence as outlined in the Executive Order is consistent with sound educational philosophy and practices and is currently recognized, respected and implemented throughout much of the education community.  Our experience tells us that while some of the proposed requirements in the Executive Order may be helpful to the achievement of the President’s goals, they also could result in the establishment of measures and systems that duplicate other approaches and services that already meet the objectives, although in varying degrees of comprehensiveness.  Full adoption and execution of the Executive Order Principles could lead to increased work for institutions and other entities without proportional value being added to the process of helping veterans reach their career goals.

For example, the principles related to the availability of other types of financial assistance and information regarding debt [Section 2 (a) & (b)]; and those which address the development of educational plans and the designation of points of contact for academic and financial advising [Section 2 (g) & (h)] are important to the vast majority of educational institutions and are generally integral to the services that they presently provide.  Similarly, the information about outcome measures referenced in Section 2 (a) and further elaborated upon in Section 3 (c) is currently available through various systems managed by the federal government and reputable private-sector organizations.  We suggest that these areas of concern receive additional study and analysis before mandating their presentation or publication in another separate and distinct format.  This will help to avoid unnecessary duplication and expenditure of limited resources.

We favor the general concept advocated in Section 2 (e) regarding readmission after temporary and documented absences.  Many institutions already have such a practice and while we understand that it may be unrealizable for some, especially those that offer occupationally-oriented programs consisting of highly sequential learning, most institutions do or can make appropriate adjustments.  Here again, the idea should receive further study before commitment to its development as an overarching Principle of Excellence with exacting requirements.

We support the need to redouble efforts to discover false advertising and fraudulent recruiting practices and to tighten policies and procedures that discourage such practices.  Section 3696 of Title 38, USC provides an excellent framework from which to work for GI Bill purposes.  We suggest that the Subcommittee consider holding a work session to address these issues and include representatives from the VA, State Approving Agencies, educational associations, the Federal Trade Commission and other stakeholders.  The session could help the Subcommittee to determine the actual extent of problems and how best to address them.

We do not support the concept advocated in Section 2 (d).  Without further qualification, it appears to limit the use of the GI Bills and discriminate against enrollment in some very good “non-accredited” programs of education, some of which are offered by quasi-governmental and not-for-profit entities.  Section 3676 of Title 38, USC provides the basic framework for State governments, through their State Approving Agencies, to ensure the quality and integrity of non-accredited programs.  Like many provisions in law, refinements can be made to meet the demands of today’s marketplace.  The Executive Order highlights the need for further review of the topic by the Subcommittee. 

Section 4 (a), (b) and (c) of the Executive Order regarding the development of a centralized complaint system with certain coordinated features also demands further study and discussion.  While we appreciate and applaud the President’s recognition of the critical role that SAAs play in overseeing and ensuring quality educational programming, most educational institutions and State Departments of Education already have comprehensive complaint procedures in place to address a wide range of issues, such as academics, student conduct and finances.  While we would welcome a system which would enhance the ability of the SAAs to respond to veteran concerns, this is another topic for an experienced Working Group.

Recommendations

Mr. Chairman, we encourage the Subcommittee to conduct a careful review of existing consumer safeguards and student-information initiatives; particularly those that may reside with the Department of Education, regional accrediting agencies, the Federal Trade Commission, State Approving Agencies, the Servicemembers' Opportunity College consortium, and other entities.  Additionally, we offer the following recommendations.  They seem especially timely in light of the increasing concern about negative reports about the use of funds available under the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the treatment of veteran students.

1. Convene a Working Group of Stakeholders whose purpose would be to research problems associated with the administration of the GI Bills and make recommendations to the Subcommittee on changes necessary in law and/or policy to address the problems.  Included in the charge to the Group would be a review of the various dimensions of the Executive Order and the topics addressed in the legislation that has been introduced in the House and Senate.

2. Reinstate the approval and disapproval authority held by State Approving Agencies (SAAs) prior to the enactment of Section 203 of PL 111-377; remove the deemed approved provision from Section 3672 and re-designate State Approving Agencies as having disapproval authority in Section 3679.  These changes would help to restore the partnership between the federal and state governments that helped to make the GI Bills successful for over 65 years.  More importantly, the changes would provide the authority to states/SAAs to take definitive action to help resolve problem areas in a timely manner with minimal disruption to prospective and currently enrolled veteran students.  States have the infrastructure, the experience and the expertise necessary to assist Congress and the VA in meeting the challenges forthcoming by increasingly complex educational delivery systems so as to protect our veterans.  Where improvements in the processes used by SAAs become necessary, there are already existing provisions in law to help, such as the mechanisms in Section 3674A.

Closing

In closing, Mr. Chairman, I would like to thank you again for the opportunity to comment on “Executive Order 13607 and Its Impact on Schools and Veterans”.  We very much appreciate your efforts to make continual improvements to the administration of the educational assistance programs for those who defend the freedoms that we all cherish and enjoy.  From a grateful nation, they deserve no less.  I would be happy to respond to any questions that you might have.

Sources

Some of the wording used in this statement is not original to the NASAA or to me:

At page 1, “who represent the very best of character, commitment and resolve” is attributed to First Lady Laura Bush at a Troops to Teachers event, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, October 16, 2002. 

At page 1, “disciplined by duty and enlightened by experience” is attributed to the late Michael J. Bennett in newspaper articles that discussed the Commission on Servicemembers and Veterans Transition Assistance recommendations regarding the Montgomery GI Bill.  These included:  Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, July 5, 2003; Victorville, California Press Dispatch, July 6, 2003; and Stamford, Connecticut Advocate, July 8, 2003. 

Mr. Bennett is author of When Dreams Came True:  The GI Bill and the Making of Modern America.  Brassey’s Press, 1996.  

At page 1, “but for a lifetime” is substantively similar to words used thematically throughout the text by Suzanne Mettler, in Soldiers to Citizens:  The GI Bill and the Making of the Greatest Generation.  Oxford University Press.  Based on extensive survey analysis, Professor Mettler found that World War II veterans who used the GI Bill were twice as likely to be civic leaders, as compared to veterans who did not use it.  Dr. Mettler believes this phenomenon likely will hold true for the current generation, as well, once studied.   

At page 1, “tyranny over freedom and dictatorship over democracy” is substantively identical to words used by Prime Minister Tony Blair in an address to a Joint Session of Congress, July 17, 2003.

At page 2, the Creighton Abrams quote is attributed to A Better War by Lewis Sorley, p. 370.

At  page 2, The National Leadership Index 2005 finding is attributed to Creating a Veteran-Friendly Campus:  Strategies for Transition and Success:  New Directions in Student Services, chapter 10: “Stewards of the Public Trust:  Federal Laws that Serve Servicemembers and Student Veterans”, Robert Ackerman and David DiRamio, editors, Jossey-Bass Press, 2009.

At page 2, the Representative Brown “Wall Street and Main Street Agree” language is attributed to the Jossey-Bass publication above; same chapter. 

At page 2, the Representative Skelton quote is attributed to the December 2, 2010 Army Times article titled “Skelton Warns of Growing Civil-Military Split”, Rick Maze, staff writer. 

At page 3, the Senator William Cohen quote is attributed to page 145 of Across the Aisle:  The Seven-Year Journey of the Historic Montgomery GI Bill, a case study in the art of legislative leadership, by the Late G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery, University Press of Mississippi, 2011.

At page 3, the Senator Thomas Daschle quote is attributed to Across the Aisle, page 145.

At pages 3-4, the Klemm Analysis Group data is attributed to the “The Montgomery GI Bill:  25 Years of Achievement”, Mississippi State University, G.V. Montgomery Center for America’s Veterans, www.veterans.msstate.edu, research and development tab. 

At page 4, the Robert A. Lutz quote is attributed to Across the Aisle, page 181.