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Witness Testimony of Mr. Michael Dakduk, Executive Director Student Veterans America (SVA)

Chairman Flores, Ranking Member Takano and members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for inviting Student Veterans of America to participate in this hearing to discuss pending legislation intended to increase support for military servicemembers and veterans.
Student Veterans of America (SVA) is the largest and only national association of military veterans in higher education. Our mission is to provide military veterans with the resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and after graduation. We currently have over 800 chapters, or student veteran organizations, at colleges and universities in all 50 states that assist veterans in their transition to and through higher education. SVA chapters are organized at four-year and two-year public, private, nonprofit, and for-profit institutions of higher learning. This diverse and direct contact gives SVA a unique perspective on the needs and obstacles faced by our nation’s veterans as they utilize education benefits in preparation for their future transition into the civilian workforce.

H.R. 357, GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013:

The Post-9/11 GI Bill pays the highest in-state tuition and fees. Due to military obligations, many veterans are unable to establish in-state residency for the purposes of enrolling at a public university or college. Ultimately, this becomes a financial burden that leaves veterans vying for additional financial aid due to out-of-state residency status.

According to a state-by-state landscape analysis conducted by our organization, 11 states waive the residency requirement for any veteran to receive in-state tuition.  They include Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Utah, and Virginia.
Eight states waive the residency requirement for some veterans to receive an in-state tuition waiver or the state’s public university school system offers the waiver.  They include Alaska, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Maryland, Mississippi, Rhode Island, and Texas.  
16 state legislatures are currently considering legislation that would waive the residency requirement for veterans to receive in-state tuition.  Those currently reviewing state legislation include Alabama, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington.  
However, the nuanced policies and variability between states and university systems are highly complex.

For example, the board of regents of the Alaska higher education system decided to waive the 12 month residency requirement, a virtually universal waiting period in higher education to gain in-state residency status, to all veterans and dependents.

In contrast, Maryland offers in-state residency only to those veterans that graduated from a Maryland high school. They currently have pending legislation to provide in-state tuition to all veterans.

There are many other unique examples across the spectrum of higher education related to veterans and residency status for the purposes of gaining in-state tuition.

We are proud to be working with the American Legion on a state-by-state initiative to see in-state tuition granted to all veterans. We are also very proud to be aligned with both the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in seeing this issue resolved in Congress. SVA fully supports H.R. 357 and we encourage Congress to recognize that veterans served our nation in its entirety, not just one state.

H.R. 562, VRAP Extension Act of 2013:

Many student veterans do not follow a traditional path toward college completion, which makes it very difficult to enroll in and complete programs of higher learning based on a set time block.  For this reason, SVA fully supports this bill to extend the VRAP program by three months. SVA is also in favor of quality measures to determine the success of this program in order to make data-driven decisions for VRAP and future veteran employment initiatives.

SVA, however, shares the same concerns as the VFW with regard to institutional and remedial course restrictions. The VRAP program should be expanded to include four-year institutions of higher learning. They too provide critical certificates and two-year degree programs designed to combat veteran unemployment. Additionally, remedial courses have been omitted from VRAP. We cannot reasonably expect veterans to succeed in a program of higher learning after being removed from the college classroom for several years and one or more combat deployments. Remedial coursework is critical to a student veteran’s academic success.  

H.R. 631, Servicemembers’ Choice in Transition Act:

SVA has long supported the reform of the military transition assistance programs (TAP). While we believe the improvements to TAP are a step in the right direction, we support formally linking TAP tracks to the mandatory curriculum.

Currently, there exist three optional tracks administered at the tail-end of the TAP course. The three optional tracks include education, entrepreneurship, and vocational training. However, none of the aforementioned tracks are truly integrated into the mandatory TAP program, leaving servicemembers at-risk of losing valuable information during their transition.

SVA supports institutionalizing tracks as a mandatory component of TAP as written in H.R. 631.

H.R. 844, VetSuccess Enhancement Act:

Student Veterans of America fully supports any initiative to extend the life of meaningful veteran programs. Veterans are nontraditional students, meaning some will return to school or other training programs later in life. By extending Vocational Rehabilitation programs from 12 years to 17 years, many wounded veterans would have more flexibility in using their benefits. Ultimately, SVA would like to see the delimiting date fully lifted.

H.R. 1305, To amend title 38, United States Code, to provide clarification regarding eligibility for services under the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program:

We understand this bill would clarify rigid language currently written in the law for the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. We stand with the American Legion and VFW in offering our support for this bill, which would ultimately increase employment support for veterans.

H.R. 1316, Directors of Veterans’ Employment and Training Accountability Act:

SVA supports accountability and consistency across the state workforce development agencies as it relates to Veterans’ Employment and Training. However, SVA respects the American Legion's reservations in supporting this legislation. Before fully endorsing this bill, we will work with our colleagues at the American Legion and the VFW to better gauge the full range of issues addressed by this bill.

H.R. 1402, To amend title 38, United States Code, to extend the authorization of appropriations for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to pay a monthly assistance allowance to disabled veterans training or competing for the Paralympic Team and the authorization of appropriations for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide assistance to United States Paralympics, Inc.:

Generally, SVA does not endorse legislation outside of education and employment unless such legislation has a clear link to education and employment. Therefore, SVA cannot endorse this bill. However, SVA stands in support of the VFW and the American Legion in recognizing that initiatives like the Paralympics remain a major part of many wounded veterans’ whole-life improvement, ultimately leading to greater success in academia and the labor force.

Draft Bill, Improving Job Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2013:

SVA supports increased awareness for on-the-job training (OJT) and apprenticeship programs. We remain a strong proponent of the OJT provisions in the Post-9/11 GI Bill and understand that some veterans seek better futures through apprenticeships and other OJT programs that may not be found in a traditional college classroom setting. We also support incentivizing employers to hire more veterans, especially now as the military force is projected to downsize.  

Draft Bill, To amend title 38, United States Code, to extend the authority to provide work-study allowance for certain activities by individuals receiving educational assistance by Secretary of Veterans Affairs:

Many student veterans use the work-study program as a supplement to pay for their bills and other costs not covered by primary VA educational programs. SVA strongly supports the VA work-study program.

Thank you Chairman Flores, Ranking Members Takano, and distinguished members of the subcommittee for allowing Student Veterans of America to present our views on legislation focused on supporting veterans, military servicemembers, and their families.